Last week, I introduced a series of blogs named after the 1971 Ted Williams book, The Science of Hitting. The Science of Hitting was one of the first instructional primers on hitting. Written by one of the game’s greatest hitters, it featured an illustration of Williams and a rectangle representing his strike zone. In the illustration, Williams attempted to estimate his hitting success for each pitch location.
In last week’s blog, I compared the hitting achievements of Joey Votto and Jay Bruce for each pitch location. The Splendid Splinter never dreamed that technology would make it possible to reproduce his mere approximation with precision. The Bill James Baseball IQ app for the iPhone makes this kind of analysis straightforward for anyone. It generates graphic representations that examine how a hitter performs by pitch location.
This week, I will compare Reds right-handers Brandon Phillips and Drew Stubbs. Phillips is a career .272 hitter, coming off of a 2011 season in which he posted a career high .300 average. Stubbs, on the other hand, is a career .251 hitter. In 2011, he posted a career low .243 batting average. Keep in mind, Phillips racked up 3,316 plate appearances during the period analyzed below (2007-2011). Stubbs accumulated just 1,460.
Batting Average by Pitch Location (2007-2011)
Phillips’ diagram indicates his success with the ball below the waist on the inner half of the plate. His “wheelhouse” is the ball just above the knees in the middle third of the plate. When Phillips gets the ball above the waist, he prefers the pitch on the outer two-thirds of the plate. Pitches thrown up and in or down and away give Phillips the most problems.
The Stubbs diagram paints an interesting picture. His highest success area is out of the strike zone. Stubbs’ highest success comes on the pitch off of the outside part of the plate at the level of his hands. He struggles with anything on the inner third of the plate. Because of his swing, Stubbs succeeds most when he can see the ball longer and extend his arms. Within the strike zone, Stubbs has the most success with the thigh-level pitch over the middle of the plate. There is no region in the strike zone, however, where Stubbs has outstanding success. There’s very little yellow in the Stubbs diagram and no orange.
Swing Percentage By Pitch Location (2007 – 2011)
Phillips is a reasonably aggressive hitter with a good understanding of the strike zone. From 2007 to 2011, Phillips swung at strikes 68% of the time. The Phillips diagram shows a lot of orange in the middle of the plate, especially at thigh-level. There is some correlation between his high swing area and his high average area. The graph suggests, however, that Phillips should be more aggressive with pitches in the low-inside quadrant of the strike zone where he hits for a high average.
Stubbs is less aggressive than Phillips. From 2007 to 2011, Stubbs swung at strikes 70% of the time. Stubbs swings at more pitches above his waist than anywhere else in the zone. The graph suggests that Stubbs looks at a lot of good pitches. There is very little orange or red in his diagram.
Strike Three by Pitch Location (2007-2011)
Phillips strikes out in just 13% of his plate appearances. He handles the bat well and is reasonably tough to fan. Most of his strikeouts (60%) come on pitches outside of the strike zone. A disproportionate percentage of them are thrown down and away. His aggressiveness is evidenced by the fact that only 20% of his strikeouts are looking.
Stubbs strikes out in 29% of his plate appearances. He is far less aggressive than Phillips. Thirty-one percent (31%) of his strikeouts come looking. Interestingly, umpires are far more likely to extend the strike zone for Stubbs than Phillips. Why? For good reason, they trust Phillips understanding of the zone more than they trust Stubbs’ understanding. Ten percent (10%) of Stubbs strikeouts are looking outside of the zone versus only 6% for Phillips. With two strikes, Stubbs has a giant hole in the low-outside quadrant of the zone.
2007 – 2011
Out of Strike Zone
In Strike Zone
Swinging Out of Strike Zone
Looking In Strike Zone
Swinging In Strike Zone
Looking Out of Strike Zone
Brandon Phillips and Drew Stubbs have very different approaches to hitting. Phillips spreads his feet very wide and takes almost no stride at all. As a result, he gets his front foot down quickly. His head remains still. His timing is consistent. The end result is high contact rates and good strike zone coverage. Stubbs, on the other hand, begins his stride by lifting his front foot about five inches off the ground. Consequently, it takes him longer to get his front foot down. There is more head movement and his timing is inconsistent. So, he strikes out a lot and sees the ball poorly, by comparison.
Phillips has proven extraordinarily consistent since 2006 in nearly every phase of his game. Stubbs has seen his average dip and his strikeouts increase in his two and a quarter big league seasons. Pitchers have learned how to exploit Stubbs’ weaknesses and he has failed to adjust. Statistical performance begins to decline around 30 years of age. Motivated by the specter of a big payday, I look for Phillips to continue his high level of production for the next few seasons. At 27 years of age, Stubbs is at a crossroads. If he doesn’t show improvement offensively, Reds management will have to determine whether his defense warrants 200 strikeouts per season. If he is able to make adjustments to his swing that cut down his strikeouts, the average will follow. His speed will ensure that.
Please comment! Let me know what you would like to see in future installments of The Science of Hitting.
Click here to read the Science of Hitting: Joey Votto and Jay Bruce.
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