Mistake Avoidance - for Batters
This week at BJOL


For Your 10c a Day, dept.

From the "Hey, Bill" answer bag:



You are right about the term Triple crown. In a recent Sunday night game, Orel Hershiser and John Kruk were talking about how seldom Joey Votto pops up. Twice only this season. Edwin Encarnacion pops up once a game. Is there a skill involved, or is it something else?
Asked by: DavidTodd
Answered: 6/18/2013
It's a manifestation of a very central skill.    Batters have to make decisions at an extraordinarily high rate of speed.   There are three or four common mistakes they make--because they are making decisions at a fantastic rate of speed--which lead to 90% of pop ups:   Chasing high pitches, triggering late on a pitch inside, trying to pull an outside pitch and letting it get too deep on you.     If Votto never pops out, that reflects a remarkable high-speed decision-making process. 
Data Mining

McCracken's BABIP theory allowed us to capture a small fraction of hitting theory with pure algebra.  That subset of hitting theory / technique then became what, 90%, or 98%, of sabes' focus over the next ten years.  There is one simple question -- "Did the batter strike out, or put the ball into play in fair territory?" -- that has riveted our attention.  Disproportionately!

Recently James pointed out that a big part of the pitcher/batter duel consists of whether the batter can pull the ball in the air.  So far, the mainstream sites have not organized their data to attend to this simple question -- "Did the batter get his pitch, and launch it high to his pull field, or did he just put it in play randomly?".


4-Way BIP Paradigm

James offers another fundamental suggestion here -- mistake avoidance by the hitter.  We used to divide outcomes like this:

  • Balls hit into fair territory
  • Strikeouts (and homers)

Now, if we liked, we would be able to divide batted balls like this:

  • UP:  Balls hit into the air to the pull field
  • MID:  Balls "fought off" or batted randomly at the fielders
  • LO:  Mistakes by batters that result in skied pops or chops off home plate, etc
  • LO-LO:  Strikeouts


On BABIP, we did in fact discover that some kinds of hitters have higher BABIP's than others.  Would we find that some batters make "mistake" BIP's more often than others?

I don't know, but James has already climbed the mountain peak and is waiting for us there:  he suggests that those batters with excellent "mistake" rates are making decisions quickly.


The Local Nine

Who are the Mariners who seem to make great "high-speed decisions"?  Rauuul seems like one -- though his bat is slowing.  (Nope -- his infield popup rate is a little higher than average for his career.  So, there's one strike against our little morning noodle.  Of course, it could be because of his swing shape, or 100 complicating variables.)

By the way, if you checked for league leaders in "fewest infield pops," would it tend to confirm James' intuition?  Well, here are the 2012 leaders:   Joe Mauer is #2, and his itty-bitty 1.0% rate isn't captured by his groundball tendencies.  Michael Young, Derek Jeter, Billy Butler, Buster Posey ... it would be interesting to look into.


And this factor, right here, is what I'd been groping for when watching Nick Franklin.  Also Kyle Seager.

  • Seager's career infield pop rate is 7.9%, compared to a league average of 10%.
  • Franklin's running at 8%, although the data set is way too small right now.  (Remember that Franklin is working against a confusion factor.)
  • Mike Zunino has yet to hit an infield pop!

I don't know how much of this "mistake avoidance" you'd ever be able to capture with simple math.  But this is a big part of what the scouts talk about with a "pro at-bat," not getting caught in a poor "late-swing decision."  And visually, through the "late-swing decision" lens, Nick Franklin looks like a jewel to me.  He stays very, very focused as he triggers the bat or checks his swing.


Dr D




He's swung PERFECTLY at two pitches now that would have been homers if he'd had a touch more bat to apply to them.  Instead, they became lazy flies. Maybe he just needs to stand an inch closer to the plate. Knowing how to get that extra inch of plate coverage with the bat, what pitches are an inch too high to drive, that's what makes some players into monsters.
As V said in a certain vendetta movie, it's all about that last inch.


Saw the first one.  He had another one like that?
Funny, how much strategy there is behind plate coverage.  One reason that Ackley and Saunders are all wrapped around the axle, no doubt....


How he can yank pitches on the outer edge back over the RF wall (pull power, not just going the other way) with flush contact, in his 40s, is amazing.
If there's one skill I would love to give to all our players but especially outer-edge sufferers like Ackley, it would be that one.

Brent's picture

It's certainly not a matter that's unique to Zunino. I watched the replay of the 1995 playoff game 4 against the Yankees, and it looked like Blowers was standing in a different zip code when at the plate. Considering how much trouble he had with low and away pitches (again, not exactly unique in that) I wondered why he didn't move a little closer. There are a lot of guys who stand, to my eye, way too far off the plate and flail at a low and away pitch. I'm not talking about a slider that breaks off the plate, I mean an actual strike on the outside corner that the batter can't reach because he's standing too far away. Maybe they can't fight off the inside pitch if they move in? Edgar was the master at that. Covered the outside, could handle the inside.
As far as a different length bat, that one inch makes more difference than you may think. Unless you want to go up in bat weight, then the bat has to be thinner somewhere to make up for it. I admit to ignorance as to whether Zunino's bat is cupped on the end - I've been out of town and haven't been able to watch the games since he came up; only listen on the radio. If he uses a standard bat, then he could go up an inch in length and cup the end to keep the weight similar. But that one inch can make your swing feel different, and I think I'd rather have him comfortable with what he has instead of doing something new at the major league level during the season. During the off-season... go for it.


But he has been RIGHT on those pitches, just couldn't quiiiite reach em. I'm with you, don't change bats mid-season, but I want to watch him the rest of the year and see if a slight bit of plate positioning could make a difference if he keeps having that happen.
It's little things that make the difference.  I wanna see him get busted inside a few times though to see if he can fight those off - or get the hands in to crush em.  Zunino's plate appearances are all fun to watch. :)
Though right now Franklin is still taking the cake in that dept.

GLS's picture

To me, it seems at times that Ackley was standing waaaayyyy too far off the plate. I have no idea if that's a legit critique or not. Seems like something so obvious the batting coach would point it out.

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