The start of August marks the start of the final third of the season and, if the Mariners play anything less than stellar baseball, it could also be their final month/week/day of meaningful baseball. We've checked in on their playoff odds, and we've examined the emergence of strong bullpen pieces like Nick Vincent and Emilio Pagan. You know what we haven't a look at this season? The team's plate discipline stats!
* muffled groans and yawns *
Alright, alright. Pipe down, you dinger-thirsty monsters. I know plate discipline is a less sexy topic than, say, home run rates and Robinson Canó's quest for 500 doubles, but these numbers are another piece of the puzzle in figuring out a) what's been going wrong with the team and b) what should, and hopefully will, change if this team decides to make a run.
Let's start big picture, with a look at overall team plate discipline stats. Note: If you want a quick refresher on the definitions of some of these stats, here is a link to the very straightforward Fangraphs glossary page on plate discipline.
In my mind this is the biggest takeaway from the team-based stats: the Mariners have seen the most pitches in the zone of any team in the majors. This seems like a good thing - more pitches in the zone, more opportunities to mash the ball, right? Except, hmm, let's look at how often this team is swinging at all these pitches in the zone...
That's a pretty unfortunate discrepancy. Ideally they would have a high Z-Swing%, because that would mean that they were taking advantage of all those pitches in the zone. Take the Rays, for instance: they see only 42% of pitches in the zone, less than any other team except for the Rangers (perhaps pitchers are residually intimidated by their one-run game devil magic last year), but when they do get pitches in the zone they're going after said pitches 70.7% of the time.
We could try to defend the Mariners' numbers, and posit that they are being especially choosy in the pitches they decide to swing at to ensure that they're pitches they can absolutely mash. Regrettably, with a Z-Contact% of 86.3% (squarely in the middle of the team rankings), this isn't quite the case. They're seeing more pitches in the zone than any other team in baseball, but have been reluctant, and only marginally successful, at capitalizing on that advantage. To their credit they have one of the lower swinging strike rates, at 9.5%, but they're going to need to start attacking more pitches in the zone to capitalize on this unexpected advantage.
Beyond these inside the zone percentages, the M's have controlled the zone admirably: they're only swinging at pitches outside the zone 28.4% of the time (7th lowest in the league), but when they do swing they're making contact 64.6% of the time (good enough for 8th best in the league). That solid O-Contact% is fueled by Jean Segura, who is 7th in MLB, and 3rd in the American League on contact on pitches outside of the zone.
And now, since it's Friday, and Friday is a time for fun, here are some Mariners plate discipline fun facts:
*Note: these are set with a minimum of 100 PAs
- Three of the top six players in Zone% are Mariners: Carlos Ruiz (51.2%), Guillermo Heredia (50.7%) and Taylor Motter (50.7%). League average this year is 45.0%
- Mike Zunino has the fifth lowest Z-Contact% in baseball at 71.7%, and directly behind him is Danny Espinosa
- Zunino also has the 7th highest swinging strike rate in the majors, but this time Espinosa beat him out with a 2nd highest SwStr% of an even 20%
- Nelson Cruz, ya know, our designated hitter has the second-lowest Contact% of any player on the team, save for Zunino
- ...I'm sorry, these facts were supposed to be fun, weren't they? Okay, let's try again...
- Robinson Canó is swinging more than any other player on the team
- Kyle Seager is in the middle of nearly all team-sorted plate discipline statistics and, though he's struggled this season, he still manages to be a caricature of his steady-Eddy self
- Cruz (whose seeming inability to punish/make contact on pitches in the zone is what sparked this dive in the first place) is puttering along more or less in line with his career plate discipline numbers, save for a seven point decrease in his ability to make contact on pitches outside of the zone
- Guillermo Heredia has the highest Z-Contact% of any Mariner on the team, at 93.1%- good enough for 22nd out of 384 players
- Heredia is also tied with Austin Barnes and Chase Utley for 11th-lowest swinging strike percentage, at an even 5%
- If that wasn't enough, Heredia is also the 11th best contact hitter in baseball, judging by Contact%
- (I promise I didn't write this as an excuse to gloat more about Heredia. Just a happy accident!)
Super Special Carlos Ruiz Fun Facts:
- Out of 384 baseball players with min 100 PAs Carlos Ruiz has seen the second most pitches in the zone this season (it seems pitchers are only slightly less afraid of Gregor Blanco than they are of our 38-year-old backup catcher)
- Chooch also has the second-lowest O-Swing% in baseball