Stubbs’ Strikes: Should Speedster Shorten Swing?

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Drew Stubbs strikes out far too often for a leadoff hitter…He needs to be more patient…He needs to shorten his swing to make more contact…” You’ve all heard someone say these things. I’m sure many of you have said these things. If you are one who has repeated the chorus above, I have some questions for you. First, are strike-outs really that bad, compared to other outs?  Secondly, is it more important for a leadoff hitter to put the ball in play than other hitters in the lineup? Also, why does Stubbs strike-out so much? And finally, if Stubbs changed his approach to reduce strike-outs, would he be a better player? Luckily for you, I have the answers!

Striking Out, Just Another Out? Leadoff Hitters

Obviously, the impact of a strike-out is situational. A strike-out is “worse” than a fly-out with a runner on 3rd with less than two outs. However, with no one on base, a strike-out is the exact same as any other out. Having said that, let’s go to the numbers…

Of Stubbs 278 plate appearances this year, 96 have come with runners on base.  Therefore, 65% of Stubbs’s PA come with the bases empty. 57 of Stubbs’ 80 strike-outs have occurred with no one on base.  In other words, 71% of Stubbs’ strike-outs are no more harmful to the team than any other type of out. Additionally, Stubbs has struck-out only ONCE in situations where contact is most important (runner on 3rd with less than 2 outs).

In short, Stubbs’ strike-outs rarely “hurt” the Reds’ offense any more than outs in the field of play. As for the argument that a contact is most important from a leadoff hitter, the opposite is actually true. Since strike-outs are most costly with men on base, contact is more important for every other position in the lineup. The leadoff hitter, in general, has the fewest AB with runners on base over a full season. Therefore, if you can afford strike-outs from any spot in the lineup, it’s the leadoff hitter.

Stubbs Approach, Contact Rate, Cause of Ks

Ok, so there’s something I’m leaving out. In saying Stubbs strike-outs are the same as other outs, I have ignored the fact that putting the ball in play doesn’t always result in an out. Likewise, with the speed that Stubbs possesses, a routine groundball can often result in a base-runner. Fair enough, we can agree that fewer strike-outs from Stubbs is desirable, but at what cost?

I’ve heard many suggest that Stubbs should change his approach and shorten his swing, in order to make contact more often. I’ve heard others say he needs to be more patient, and swing at fewer pitches out of the zone. So how does Stubbs compare to the Reds’ two best hitters (Votto & Bruce) in terms of pitch selection and contact rate?

Swing% – Total percentage of pitches a batter swings at
Stubbs – 42.1%
Bruce – 48.5%
Votto  – 41.7%
Stubbs swings the bat less often than Bruce, nearly the same as Votto.

O-Swing% – Percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone
Stubbs – 23.8%
Bruce – 30.4%
Votto – 24.3%
Stubbs chases fewer bad pitches than Bruce & Votto.

Contact% – Total percentage of contact made when swinging at all pitches
Stubbs – 75.4%
Bruce – 75.2%
Votto – 80.1%
Stubbs makes contact at the same rate as Bruce, slightly less often than Votto.

Z-Swing% – Percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone.
Stubbs – 63.9%
Bruce – 73%
Votto – 65.9 %
Stubbs takes more pitches in the strike-zone than Bruce & Votto.

This information debunks the theory that Stubbs needs to be more patient. It also proves that Stubbs doesn’t swing-and-miss too often. He takes bad pitches more often than Votto and Bruce. When he does swing, he makes contact at a respectable rate. The “problem,” it appears, is that he takes too many pitches in the strike-zone.

Change?

So, we now know that Stubbs’ high strike-out totals are the result of being “too patient,” at the plate. Should he change his approach, and swing more often, with the hope of putting the ball in play? The answer is no.

For the year, Stubbs averages 4.15 pitches per plate appearance, well above the league average. Stubbs sees more pitches per plate appearance than any of his teammates, and ranks 6th in the National League. You may not like the strike-outs, but his ability to work the count is a valuable asset.

Stubbs’ patience also results in walks. For the year, Stubbs takes a walk in 9% of his plate appearance, above the league average. So, if Stubbs changed his approach, he might strike-out less often, but he’d also take fewer walks.

Pitch selection also contributes to his power. For the year, Stubbs is hitting a HR once every 28 AB, better than league average. For comparison, Joey Votto has hit a HR once every 27.1 AB this year. Therefore, changing his approach might result in fewer strike-outs, but it would likely take away some of Stubbs’ power.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater…

We’d all love for Drew Stubbs to be Rickey Henderson. The fact of the matter is, Drew Stubbs is a very productive player, despite striking-out nearly as often as Wily Mo Pena. The cause of Stubbs’ high K% (hyper-selectivity), is the same attribute that allows him to hit for power and take walks at an above-average clip. To change his approach with the intention of reducing strike-outs would likely come at a great cost. And for what? We’ve already established that 71% of the Stubbs’ strike-outs occur with the bases empty. Is reducing strike-outs worth decreasing his power and patience? In the words of Mr. Horse from Ren & Stimpy, “No sir, I do not like it.”

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