Cubs by the Numbers: Plate Discipline

Plate Discipline is a stat from Fangraphs that measures how frequently a hitter swings at pitches in and out of the zone. There are several factors that go into this metric, but in the end you get a story of a given hitter’s approach.

Definitions (note: averages change from year to year):

  • O-Swing% = Swings at pitches outside the zone / pitches outside the zone-Average= 30%
  • Z-Swing%  = Swings at pitches inside the zone / pitches inside the zone-Average=65%
  • Swing% = Swings / Pitches-Average=46%
  • O-Contact% = Number of pitches on which contact was made on pitches outside the zone / Swings on pitches outside the zone-Average=66%
  • Z-Contact%  = Number of pitches on which contact was made on pitches inside the zone / Swings on pitches inside the zone-Average=87%
  • Contact% = Number of pitches on which contact was made / Swings-Average=80%
  • Zone% = Pitches in the strike zone / Total pitches-Average=45%
  • F-Strike% = First pitch strikes / PA-Average=59%
  • SwStr% = Swings and misses / Total pitches-Average=9.5%

Now that we have a clear picture of what goes into the Plate Discipline metric and the average for each, we can start looking at the Cubs’ approach in 2014. This post will focus on the hitters, but the pitchers have a flip-side of this stat that shows the value of their pitches; I will investigate this for my next post.

I focused on the main Cubs players that I think could have a role on the 2015 roster, as well as (fingers-crossed) Russell Martin.

O-Swing%: who chased the most pitches and who was the most selective?

The biggest chaser was none other than Javier Baez, who swung at 41% of the pitches he saw outside of the zone. He was followed by Arismendy Alcantara, who swung at 34.6% out of the zone, which is just a little more than average.  Anthony Rizzo (32.5%), Jorge Soler (32%) and Starlin Castro (31.5%) all finished around league average.

Ironically, the hitter that chased the least was Mike Olt, who only swung at 22.7% of pitches out of the zone. He was followed by Luis Valbuena at 27.6%.

Russell Martin’s O-Swing% was 24.7%, compared to incumbent Welington Castillo’s 30%.

Z-Swing%: who swung at the most pitches in the zone?

Chris Coghlan was the leader in terms of swinging at the highest percentage of pitches in the zone with 67%.  Valbuena (66.7%), Castro (65%) and Soler (64.1%) were all around average in 2014.

Arismendy Alcantara swung the least at pitches in the zone with 57.6 percent. I must say I was not surprised by this result; I was always surprised at how many strikes he would watch before he would swing. I think overall it was a more mature approach, but he often would watch strikes and get behind in the count only to strike out swinging on pitches out of the zone.

Russell Martin swung at 62.4 pitches in the zone, which would be right ahead of Rizzo’s 62.1%.

Swing%: who swung the most? (pretty simple)

Javier Baez led the team with 47.9%, which really is only barely above average; he was followed by Castro with 47.1%. These two are probably the most aggressive of the hitters on the team, so it was not surprising that they led.

Mike Olt swung the least (41.1%), followed by Arismendy Alcantara (44.2%) and Anthony Rizzo (44.5%). Of those 3, Rizzo’s approach was head-and-shoulders the best. As I just said, Alcantara would take strikes and then swing at stuff out of the zone for a strikeout.

Russell Martin swung 41.3% of the time, which would have been just behind Olt for the team lead.

O-Contact%: who made the most contact on pitches out of the zone? (think Vladimir Guerrero)

Vlad had a career average in this category of 67.4%, with his season high being a ridiculous 73.6% in 2011 (the average that year was 68.1%).

Unsurprisingly, Starlin Castro was the leader this year for the Cubs with 67.2%, which, incidentally, was his career low. Coghlan (66.8%) and Anthony Rizzo (66.1%) were the next best at making contact out of the zone.

Also, no shocker here, but Javier Baez was the worst at making contact out of the zone with 42.1% followed by Mike Olt (43.8%) and Arismendy Alcantara (56.8%).

Russell Martin would have been 4th-best for the regular Cubs with 63.4%.

Z-Contact%: who made the most contact on pitches in the zone?

This is a stat that starts to show even more of a player’s approach. First, it takes discipline to get that pitch in the zone; second, it is important that once you get a pitch in the zone, you make contact with it.

Anthony Rizzo led the team with a 90.1% contact rate on pitches in the zone, followed by Coghlan (89.6%), Castillo (89.2%) and Castro (88.1%).

Mike Olt (75.2%) and Javier Baez (77.5%) were the worst at making contact on pitches in the zone. Jorge Soler (81%) and Arismendy Alcantara (82.2%) were both below average for the Cubs as well. These will be interesting cases to watch as 2015 progresses.

Russell Martin would have been 4th on the team with 88.3% (above average).

Contact%: who made the most consistent contact?

Chis Coghlan led the team with 81.8%, followed by Castro (80.6%) and Rizzo (79.7%), with a score around the 80% average.

The worst at making contact?  Do you really even have to ask? Javier Baez made contact only 59% of the time. Ouch! Mike Olt (66%), Arismendy Alcantara (70.7%), and Jorge Soler (72.3%) were the next worst at making contact. This has to be a point of emphasis for the kids.

Much has been made of Mike Trout winning the MVP with the most K’s ever for a winner, but even he had an 80% contact rate with all those Ks. Not that anyone on this team is going to turn into Mike Trout, just saying that you can have high K numbers but still make contact.

Russell Martin would have been 3rd on the team with an 80% contact rate.

Zone%: who saw the most pitches in the zone?

This is a look into how a pitcher may attack a certain hitter. If a hitter has a higher number of pitches in the zone that means that they are waiting for their pitch or they get attacked with pitches in the zone because the pitch knows they aren’t aggressive.

It could also mean that the book is out on a hitter and the pitcher knows that they can get him out by throwing pitches out of the zone (talking to you, Javier).

Welington Castillo saw the most pitches in the zone with 47.7% followed by Mike Olt (47%), Starlin Castro (46.5%) and Chris Coghlan (44.5%).

Looking at who saw the least amount of pitches in the zone is a perfect example on approach and respect. Javier Baez saw the least with 39%, followed by Anthony Rizzo at 40.4%. This highlights my point; pitchers tried to work around Rizzo and not make a mistake to a patient hitter, but with Baez the opposite is true: pitchers knew he would swing out of the zone to get himself out, so they consistently went out of the zone.

Russell Martin was at 44.1%, which is right around average.

F-Strike%: who saw the most first pitch strikes?

Arismendy Alcantara saw the most first pitch strikes with 61%, which really highlights a young hitter who, in my opinion, was not aggressive enough on pitches in the zone. He was followed by Valbuena (59.1%) and Castillo (58.5%).

Javier Baez and Mike Olt each saw only 55% first pitch strikes, which again speaks to a pitcher’s plan of attack against an aggressive hitter. It is on the hitter then to learn not swing at those pitches, thereby forcing the pitcher to come into the zone.

Russell Martin saw 56.7% first pitch strikes, which also could show a pitcher’s attack in not wanting to give a good, but aggressive, hitter a strike to start the at-bat.

SwStr%: who had the most swinging strikes?

Super-aggressive Javier Baez had 19.1% of his strikes come from swings and misses, followed by Olt (13.7%), Alcantara (12.7%), and Jorge Soler (12.5%). Obviously, these were the least experienced Cubs on the 2014 roster, so there is room for growth.

Coghlan (8.1%), Rizzo (8.7%) and Castro (8.9%) were all better than average in SwStr% for 2014. Russell Martin would have been tied for the lead with Coghlan with 8.1%.

This a neat metric that really shows the approach of a given hitter and the ways that a pitcher attacks him. There is a lot of room for growth from the young hitters, but I think it is reasonable to expect a decent step forward for all of the young players; especially Javier Baez.

In Alcantara’s case, I think he could benefit from a being a little more aggressive on pitches in the zone. Baez would be better served to stop swinging at pitches out of the zone and getting himself out; if can force the pitcher to come into the zone, he has shown that he can punish the ball.

Not saying these will be easy adjustments to make, but they are definitely possible and if they are made…look out Waveland!

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