First Week Thoughts
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.
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.