30 September 2015

Comparing Machado's And Schoop's Plate Discipline

After a poor offensive 2014 season in which Jonathan Schoop had a wRC+ of 64, he now boasts a wRC+ of 111 (as of games occurring after Wed Sept 23rd) in 2015. This year, Schoop has shown good power with a HR/FB of 19.2% (32nd out of 291 batters with 250 or more PAs and second highest for all middle infielders) and has improved his BABIP from .249 to .333. His weakness is that he has a BB% of 3.1%, a K% of 25.8% and would be better offensively with better plate discipline.  Schoop’s teammate, Manny Machado, has improved significantly in this regard in 2015 and therefore it makes sense to compare their performances to see where Machado improved and the areas where Schoop is weak.

The way I want to do this is by downloading data (this data is from ESPN Stats and Information) and using it to determine the likelihood of a called ball, strike, miss, foul ball or ball put into play for Machado, Schoop and the 10th, 25th, 75th and 90th quantiles in 2015 for all batters with at least fifty starts. I define these stats by taking the parameter (called balls for example) and dividing by total pitches which is different than how some sites aggregate this data. 

This first chart shows how they have performed overall. Machado has improved at racking up called balls as his numbers have increased from the 25th quantile to between the 75th and 90th quantile. Machado’s called strike percentage also increased, but his swinging strike rate decreased and has resulted in Machado being less likely to have a pitch result in a strike in 2015 than in 2014. Machado is a bit less likely to put the ball into play in 2015 than in 2014 but by a minimal amount and dropped from the 75th quantile to slightly above the median. This explains why his walk rate has significantly increased without other adverse consequences.

In contrast, Schoop was below the 10th quantile in called balls in both 2014 and 2015. He had a low called strike rate in 2014 and has the lowest called strike rate in the majors in 2015 (the player with the second lowest is Adam Jones with Paredes at #7). Unfortunately, he also has the second highest swinging strike rate in the majors in 2015 (the player with the highest is Jimmy Paredes). It suggests that Schoop is swinging at too many pitches without a significant increase in his likelihood at putting the ball into play.


This next chart shows their performance with three balls. Machado has been consistent in these situations in both 2014 and 2015. This is surprising because in most other situations his plate discipline has improved in 2015 from 2014. Provided that he can continue to improve and become less aggressive in these situations, it would make sense that his walk rate should increase in the future to above 11%.

Schoop has a higher swinging strike rate than called ball rate in both 2014 and 2015 in these situations indicating that he is swinging at too many pitches he can’t hit which suggests he has a poor plan of attack. Infuriatingly, being swing happy hasn’t helped him actually put balls into play. All of those extra swings are merely turning into swinging strikes in these situations.

This next chart shows their performance with two strikes. In these situations, Machado has done a solid job at being sure that he can hit the pitches that he swings at and simply laying off the ones that are hard to hit making it hard to strike him out. This has resulted in Machado having a 40% chance of having a ball while getting a third strike less than 14% of the time. 

In contrast, Schoop is missing more than 20% of the time. Such a high swinging strike rate results in a lot of strikeouts. Interestingly, Machado is more likely to put the ball into play than Schoop in these situations despite the fact that Schoop swings more often. It’s pretty clear that swinging at bad pitches isn’t helping Schoop in the slightest. 

This basic pattern remains the same for other indicators. In situations when batters should swing, like when a pitch is in the strike zone or against a fastball, Machado doesn’t swing as often as Schoop does and this does result in a higher probability of a called strike. But because he chooses his spots better, he also has a lower probability of a swinging strike and puts the ball into play a similar percentage of the time as Schoop. 
This causes Machado to receive a higher called ball percentage and a similar percentage of actual strikes. 

In situations when batters shouldn’t swing, like when the pitch is out of the strike zone, Machado has a considerably higher called ball percentage and a lower actual strike/foul percentage. Schoop is more likely to put the ball into play in these situations which isn’t a good thing being as batters usually do better when putting pitches in the strike zone into play rather than putting pitches out of the strike zone into play. 

Schoop is struggling to reach his full potential because he swings too often at pitches that he is unable to put into play. The reason why he is doing this is that he’s actually had a lot of success this year if he can just put the ball into play regardless of whether the pitch is in the strike zone or not.  In 2015, Schoop has a .468 wOBA when putting pitches in the strike zone into play, which is about the 90th quantile. For a middle infielder, those are excellent results. He also has a .401 wOBA when putting pitches out of the strike zone into play and that’s well above the 90th quantile. In addition, his wOBA of .401 is above the average result for pitches in the strike zone. Schoop is swinging at a lot of pitches because he’s been successful when putting the ball into play. 

It doesn’t matter much whether he’s facing “hard” pitches (fastballs, cutters, splitters) or “soft” pitches (curveballs, sliders, changeups). Schoop has a .441 wOBA against hard pitches which is between the 75th and 90th quartile and a .459 wOBA against soft pitches which is well above the 90th quantile. The bottom line is that Schoop is able to hit the ball when he puts the ball into play and therefore is overly enthusiastic.

The problem with this is that Schoop had a wOBA of .380 against pitches in the strike zone in 2014 or slightly below the mean result and a wOBA of .212 against pitches out of the strike zone or between the 10th and 25th quantile. If Schoop is able to continue crushing pitches put into play in 2016 like he did in 2015, then he can be aggressive and still be successful. If, however, his 2016 numbers regress to something between his 2014 and 2015 results, then he’ll only be able to be successful when putting pitches in the strike zone into play but not when putting pitches out of the strike zone into play. It would be possible for Schoop to be above average against pitches out of the strike zone while still having terrible numbers compared to average offensive performance against pitches in the strike zone.

In contrast, Machado was pretty consistent in 2014 and 2015 when putting balls into play. In both 2014 and 2015, his wOBA when putting pitches in the strike zone into play was around the 75th quantile and about average when putting pitches out of the strike zone into play. His wOBA when putting pitches out of the strike zone into play was below the 10th quantile of putting pitches in the strike zone into play. One reason why he may have become less aggressive at the plate is because he saw that he wasn’t having much success even when putting bad pitches into play.

Going forward, Machado improved significantly offensively in 2015 because he was able to improve his plate discipline. In contrast, Schoop improved significantly because he was able to crush opposing pitching when he was able to make contact. Schoop can make an even better improvement in 2016 by simply being more patient and waiting for his pitches rather than swinging at everything he can possibly hit.


Anonymous said...

Great piece, Ron Johnson was talking about something like this in reference to Dariel Alvarez (though Johnson suggested that Alvarez actually has an ability to hit balls with authority that is ultimately negative because it expands his zone further and causes him to swing and miss at pitches wayy out of the zone). I think an offensive key for the Orioles in 2016 is cutting down on swinging at balls out of the strike zone for Schoop, Paredes, and Alvarez. Jones is what he is (still a very good player) at this point. Schoop, Paredes, and Alvarez, however, all have above average bat speed and power that could be useful if they can maximize those tools. I'm sure many would argue that Alvarez and Paredes aren't going to improve much at this point, and it is true that Schoop is 4 years younger with higher upside and more time to get there. Paredes' Cano impersonation over the first couple months of the season got me interested, however. He really needs to go play winterball and work on plate discipline (and also learn Lf/Rf). I think a Paredes/Alvarez RF platoon could be pretty solid (with a good bit of upside) if those guys could cut down on swinging at bad pitches. I would be interested in a future article examining what makes a good platoon if anyone wants to indulge me. Good read though.

Matt Perez said...

Interesting about Alvarez.

I've always presumed that a good platoon is made up of one player that can do well against lefties and another that can do well against righties. There may be other ways to build a platoon; for example having one player that's good against power pitches and another that's good against finesse pitching. But the basic concept remains the same.

I wonder whether the Orioles having a number of players with no plate discipline is in part due to the coaching. If so, I wonder whether a new batting coach is the answer. Schoop would be putting up better statistics if he decided to stop at swinging at pitches that he felt were borderline. Or if he only swung at pitches that were clearly strikes.

Jon Shepherd said...

A platoon that I have not seen utilized much is groundball pitcher vs. "normal" pitcher. Batters with uppercuts do well against GBers, but have some struggles against four seam pitchers. Oakland A's almost utilized them a couple years back. Maybe it is difficult to find them as a pure platoon.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, those are some interesting suggestions.
Of course RvL-LvR is the classic platoon model.
Matt, I feel like people have said that for a couple years and we've went through multiple hitting coaches, none of who have made much of a difference. Very frustrating to see higher-upside players struggling when they really just have to lay off any soft stuff that starts on the outside corner. Of course, it's much more difficult than that, but still. Haha as I'm typing this Schoop just doubled on a low-and-away Marcus Stroman slider (per gameday).
But coaching seems, to me, a major concern for the Orioles, both hitting and pitching.
Hitting: plate discipline is the main concern, what we mentioned with Schoop, Paredes, and Alvarez
Pitching: Mike Wright's velocity loss is baffling and annoying to me. He looked incredible in those first couple starts. Even against the Blue Jays, recently, his stuff was way up there in terms of velocity. How does that just disappear? Matusz, Arrieta and Rodriguez come across as guys we handled very poorly. Kevin Gausman too, though I hold out hope for him. Obviously, it isn't totally fair, all teams have these difficulties, but it really does seem that the Orioles have an inclination for messing up players, or at least not getting the most out of talented guys.
Jon, that's super interesting, thanks for the info.

Anonymous said...

In fairness, the Orioles seem to have done an awesome job with Givens, have gotten more than expected out of Brach (same WAR, albeit in more innings, as Andrew Miller per bref???), found a way to make Gonzalez a useful pitcher for a few years (my gosh he's looked awful lately, horrible stuff and poor command).
Schoop has made some progress. They didn't mess up Manny. And Davis seemed to have rediscovered his stroke.
In the Minor Leagues, they did a better job with Chris Lee than the astros, apparently. Trey Mancini had a Goldschmidtian year at Bowie (actually though, both 8 round picks, possible career comparison? Just kidding of course, I can dream though).
Also, I think we goofed with our choice of Garcia over Verrett. Garcia's stuff has regressed a lot while Verrett's has improved. I don't know if you saw any video of a couple of his better starts, but Verrett is no longer the high 80s soft-tosser that was getting torched in the PCL.
Anyway, I wanted to give the Orioles a little credit in there. For all the mistakes this year, the last few years have been pretty great.