I'm going to let you know right here that, in order to read and understand this post, you first need to read and understand this post by Geoff Baker. I don't usually begin with a warning but some of you get so upset with Geoff Baker that you can't help but complain about Geoff Baker every time he's mentioned. This post riffs on a Geoff Baker post, and not in a mean-spirited way. Continue to read or do not continue to read, that is your choice. It is also your choice whether or not to turn the comment thread into a place to tear Baker to shreds. If you make that choice, you will hear about it. Do not make that choice. (But it is your choice.) (Don't make that choice.)
Baker writes about the' seemingly improved plate discipline, but low walk rate. He notes that the Mariners as a team have seen a high percentage of pitches in the strike zone, and you can't draw walks on strikes. He follows by stating that, if the Mariners want to drive pitchers out of the strike zone, they need to punish strikes, like they did this past weekend. At present, pitchers simply aren't that intimidated, and why would they be?
This is something we've talked about before, but not for a little while. I'm going to arrange my responses in little nuggets because I'm shaking off the Monday cobwebs and haven't quite found my flow. When I'm dealing with brain fog, you get short-form nuggets.
(1) The data cited appears to be Baseball Info Solutions plate-discipline data, from FanGraphs. I always prefer to use the PITCHfx plate-discipline data, from FanGraphs, because the BIS data is based on subjective human interpretation, and the PITCHfx data is automated. There's inconsistency and potential bias in the former, while there's none of that in the latter. As far as I'm concerned, if you have the PITCHfx data available, there's no reason to use the other.
(2) The PITCHfx data still agrees with the general point. The Mariners rank in the middle of the pack in swings at pitches out of the strike zone. They haven't been hacking, as a team, the way they used to hack as a team. They have the seventh-highest zone rate, just 1.2 percentage points behind the leading A's. The Mariners haven't really been hacking, but they've also seen more strikes than most.
(3) In March/April, the Mariners posted the third-lowest walk rate in baseball. So far in May, they've posted the 15th-lowest walk rate in baseball, or the 16th-highest. The Mariners' walk rate has picked up.
(4) In March/April, the Mariners saw the second-greatest rate of pitches in the strike zone. So far in May, they've seen the eighth-lowest rate of pitches in the strike zone. May is currently a smaller sample than April was, but it's not like pitchers have been working the Mariners right down the pipe.
(5) According to PITCHfx, the Mariners have seen fewer pitches in the strike zone than the, who obviously have an intimidating offense. According to BIS, the Mariners have barely seen more pitches in the strike zone than the , who obviously have an intimidating offense. This isn't just about pitchers going after the Mariners because they aren't afraid of them. That's a part of it, I'm sure, but that isn't the whole story. The Mariners' walk rate is only loosely connected to the Mariners' power.
(6) These might all read as disagreements, but again, we're most concerned with the general point, and Baker's general point is that the Mariners need to do a better job of hitting hittable strikes when they get them. Nothing to disagree with there. Anecdotally, it doesn't feel like the Mariners have done a good enough job, and statistically, it doesn't look as if the Mariners have done a good enough job. Fixing it isn't as simple as saying "hit strikes better", of course, but this is an important component of plate discipline. It's not just swinging at the right pitches; it's also then hitting them well, on a fairly consistent basis.
The Mariners' walk rate is showing encouraging signs. Miguel Olivo is about to get back into the lineup so that's going to be a problem, but hopefully he doesn't play as much as he used to. Based on the Rangers and the Red Sox, the Mariners can't just make pitchers throw more balls by punishing more strikes, but it'd be great if the Mariners started punishing more strikes. It'd be great if the Mariners started punishing more pitches. It'd be great if the Mariners started hitting better. It'd be great if the Mariners started doing better. It'd be great if the Mariners were better. It'd be great if the Mariners were good. It'd be great if the Mariners were great. I'm just distilling things for you. I wish that the Mariners were a great baseball team! is apparently the point of this post.