First Week Thoughts

Dave · April 8, 2013 at 10:06 am · Filed Under Mariners 

This post is going to be shorter than I planned because Ryan Divish beat me to much of what I was going to say. Man, is it good to have him back on the beat. If you’re prone to overreacting to seven games, go read his post.

As for things I have to add, I’ll note that the fastest statistics to have meaningful value are things that measure swing data — on FanGraphs, we call these “Plate Discipline” stats. I prefer the PITCHF/x plate discipline stats because they’re updated nightly, while the BIS plate discipline stats lag a day behind due to the manual entry that is required to create them. So, with the caveat that no numbers — not even plate discipline stats — should be taken too seriously through seven games, here’s a quick table of the Mariners hitters’ swing related stats for week one.

Name PA O-Swing Z-Swing Swing O-Contact Z-Contact Contact Zone
Michael Morse 31 34.6% 78.3% 53.2% 42.9% 70.2% 60.0% 42.6%
Kyle Seager 30 23.1% 56.7% 40.2% 60.0% 92.1% 83.0% 50.8%
Kendrys Morales 27 28.3% 67.4% 47.8% 61.5% 87.1% 79.6% 50.0%
Michael Saunders 25 17.0% 70.5% 42.9% 62.5% 90.3% 84.6% 48.4%
Justin Smoak 25 22.2% 65.8% 40.2% 66.7% 84.0% 78.4% 41.3%
Franklin Gutierrez 24 29.4% 68.3% 46.7% 46.7% 82.1% 69.8% 44.6%
Dustin Ackley 22 31.4% 50.0% 40.4% 87.5% 95.8% 92.5% 48.5%
Jesus Montero 22 19.4% 73.8% 48.7% 42.9% 83.9% 76.3% 53.9%
Brendan Ryan 20 35.1% 37.5% 36.2% 61.5% 91.7% 76.0% 46.4%
Raul Ibanez 12 24.2% 46.4% 34.4% 37.5% 92.3% 71.4% 45.9%
Robert Andino 11 21.1% 42.3% 33.3% 75.0% 90.9% 86.7% 57.8%
Jason Bay 10 19.1% 40.0% 29.3% 50.0% 87.5% 75.0% 48.8%
Kelly Shoppach 7 14.3% 64.3% 39.3% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 50.0%

The table is sortable, by the way, so clicking on any of the headers we reorder the list by that column. O-Swing and O-Contact are for pitches that PITCHF/x labels as outside the zone, while Z-Swing and Z-Contact are for pitches in the strike zone. Swing rate and contact rate are for all pitches, and Zone% is what it sounds like – the rate of pitches a batter is seeing in the strike zone.

There are a few interesting things to found here, though again, with the caveat that the samples are too small to be predictive in any real way.

The first thing I’ll point out is Michael Saunders’ swing decision numbers. He’s chased the fewest pitches out of the strike zone of any of the regulars, and yet he’s swinging at more strikes than anyone not named Morse or Montero. A few years back, Saunders was frustrating primarily because he’d look at strikes and swing at balls, and that’s a recipe for lousy hitting. For the first week of 2013, he swung at strikes and let the balls go past. That’s kind of neat, because last year, he simply became more aggressive in the strike zone without making the adjustment on pitches out of the zone. If he can become more discerning in which pitches to swing at, that would be a nice boost for the team.

The second thing that jumps out to me is that Michael Morse is doing a pretty amazing Josh Hamilton impression. Last year, I wrote a bunch of pieces at FanGraphs documenting Hamilton’s remarkable run during the first few months, when he was among the league leaders in both offensive production and wild swing-at-anything approach. Hamilton was selling out on every swing, chasing pitches indiscriminately in an effort to hit everything out of the ballpark. The result was a lot of power and a lot of whiffs. It got to the point where it became obvious that pitchers should just never throw Hamilton a strike again, since he wouldn’t make them pay for missing the zone. They made the adjustment, he never really did. And it was one of the reasons Texas let him go over the winter.

One week in, and Michael Morse’s numbers are Hamilton-esque. He leads the league with five home runs, but among players with 20+ PAs, he has the seventh worst contact rate. After striking out four times yesterday, Morse noted that pitchers are using his aggressiveness against him, so there’s every reason to expect him to make some adjustments and tone down the whiffs. His career contact rate is 75%, so he’s not going to keep swinging and missing at his current clip. I’d imagine when you’re hitting home runs everyday, it’s probably hard to convince yourself to not swing at everything. But, the homers will slow down, so it will then be on Morse to start taking more pitches and forcing pitchers to give him better pitches to hit. This is the constant battle for aggressive power hitters. It’s nothing to be concerned about, nor am I trying to downplay the fact that Morse had a very productive first week. It’s just interesting to note that they spent a good chunk of the off-season trying to get Josh Hamilton, and one week in, the guy they got instead hit just like Josh Hamilton.

Finally, I’ll note that you still shouldn’t be too worried about Dustin Ackley. His 92.5% contact rate is 8th best in the majors, and pretty much any hitter who can make contact 90% of the time can be reasonably productive as long as they aren’t also chasing pitches out of the strike zone. Even if Ackley never develops any power, his current offensive skillset isn’t so different from a guy like Marco Scutaro, and he’s been a useful, underrated middle infielder for years. I know it’s annoying to watch him keeping rolling balls over to second base, but there just aren’t examples of guys with Ackley’s skillset who didn’t eventually see better results than he has in the last year and change. The power remains a question, and if he doesn’t drive the ball regularly like he did when he first came up, he might not ever be more than an average second baseman, but you shouldn’t be jumping off the bandwagon yet. He’ll be okay. Give him time.


17 Responses to “First Week Thoughts”

  1. Miles on April 8th, 2013 10:16 am

    As far as Ackley goes, I don’t want “OK”. What’s the status on Romero’s oblique?

  2. bookbook on April 8th, 2013 10:29 am

    Don’t much matter what you want, sadly. “OK” would be a big on-trivial step forward for our young phenom. After a few years in the workforce, your college GPA doesn’t make no never mind.

  3. Miles on April 8th, 2013 10:38 am

    Harper and Trout are young phenoms. Ackley is a young kid trying to figure things out. There very well could be better options on the DL right now in Tacoma and playing SS in Jackson. Ackley deserves the benefit of the doubt and given the month of April to get it rocking and rolling. Come May it’s time to look at options. The same goes for Smoak. It’s great to finally have enough depth in the minors that there are multiple internal options to turn to.

  4. Westside guy on April 8th, 2013 10:39 am

    I seem to recall that the one thing Saunders did well, back when he sucked at hitting, was to draw walks. Last year, as Dave noted, he didn’t walk a ton. If he can keep his new-ish hitting mechanics and start taking more walks again, that definitely would make him a valuable commodity.

    It’s also interesting that Jason Bay is apparently trying to out-Cust Jack Cust. He’s not swinging at much outside the zone… but he’s not swinging at stuff in the zone either! His OBP is better than Miguel Olivo’s or Jose Lopez’s were, but with very few hits to go with the walks.

  5. shortbus on April 8th, 2013 11:26 am

    Ackley’s spring numbers were heavily BABIP-driven and it’s funny that BABIP is continuing to give a poor impression of his ability, but in the other direction. At this point my hope for him is that he gets back to about .275 / .350 / .400 by the end of the year.

    But his swing still looks awkward to me. I watched one of his AB’s yesterday where he just got under a 92 mph fastball in the middle of the plate for a popup. It looked like he kept his bat on his shoulder a hair too long. Is this organization bad at helping young hitters figure out a swing?

  6. Klatz on April 8th, 2013 11:48 am

    Remarkably, Ackley’s unorthodox batting approach appears to be working on a contact level; many of the hits are pretty well hit they just often find gloves. And his groundball rate is quite high at 59%.

    If he can get some elevation I think he’ll get more extra-base hits. But I’m not sure the new stance/approach is helping the GB/FB rate.

    In regards to Smoak, he does seem more balanced and selective. Hopefully the results follow soon.

  7. jordan on April 8th, 2013 12:13 pm

    Form follows function. keep at it and these things will even out. Hopefully for the better.

  8. ppl on April 8th, 2013 1:12 pm

    Happy Saunders day?

  9. DennisP on April 8th, 2013 1:16 pm

    It looks like Ackley is just trying to slap the ball like Ichiro used to do rather than attempting to hit line drives. His swing just looks bad to my very untrained eye.

  10. PackBob on April 8th, 2013 1:17 pm

    Divish is my go to guy for the meat and potatoes of the daily grind. He lets you know what is going on with the team, provides some insight, and writes in a concise, professional manner. Didn’t know he was a catcher though, which adds some gravy to the meat and potatoes.

    In a week’s worth of games chance plays a big part in results, as much in Morse’s hot start as in Smoak’s and Ackley’s cool starts. Time will tell.

  11. BackRub on April 8th, 2013 1:50 pm

    That news about Ackley is the best thing I’ve heard about the M’s in awhile. Even with an understanding of sample size and the foolishness of “eye-tests”, it was a little disconcerting to watch him hit a bunch of soft ground balls and flyballs that had little opportunity to become hits. I think that many people in the fanbase need to understand that a 2B with good defense has a lower offensive bar; a 245/315/355 line would result him being ~ league average. Considering Ackley is inexpensive and in a good spot on the aging curve, he’s a valuable asset to the M’s even without a big leap forward.

  12. Paul B on April 8th, 2013 2:48 pm

    Bay’s approach is what I’d expect from a guy that knows his reactions have slowed.

  13. Choo on April 8th, 2013 4:23 pm

    I was disappointed to see Ackley’s retooled swing still involves the collapsible front leg on contact. The kid has tremendous hands. It’s a shame he isn’t getting the most out of them.

  14. henryv on April 8th, 2013 4:25 pm

    Happy Saunders day?

    That is the same has saying “Happy colonoscopy day!”

  15. bookbook on April 8th, 2013 5:24 pm

    Prevented Cancer for me, twice. So happy colonoscopy day, indeed!

  16. Bryce on April 8th, 2013 8:18 pm

    Am I wrong in feeling like a middle infielder that is useful and underrated, like Dave describes above, is a complete disaster of a pick at #2 overall? For Jack Z’s sake, I sure hope Ackley winds up being more valuable than that.

  17. BackRub on April 8th, 2013 9:46 pm

    List of # 2 picks from last 10 years includes Greg Reynolds. Luke Hochevar, Matt Bush, Delmong Young (never has a 2 WAR season) and Bryan Bullington were number one picks. Getting an average player from top of MLB draft is fine.

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