Let me start here: Baseball Savant is just about the coolest publicly available tool on the internet for baseball fans right now. You can spend days deep diving into their databases, and they are regularly releasing more and more data: from OAA (Outs Above Average) to Barrels to xwOBA, you can find some sort of advanced metric for almost any aspect of baseball that, while not gospel truth, are really neat and take us closer and closer to the proprietary information and metrics that MLB clubs are using.
Today they dropped the coolest tool I’ve seen in quite some time: Statcast Swing Take. To make it a little more clear, I’d have called it Swing/Take, but in a shocking twist, they did not call and consult me. The conceit is fairly straightforward, although intimidating at first. The plate is divided into four concentric zones, from the inside out:
You find it by going to player pages, which look like this:
The actual strike zone lies in between the “Shadow” and “Heart” zones, which you can see in the diagram. That gives us an idea of what we’re looking at: the “Heart” pitches are the true meatballs, while the “Shadow” pitches are, whether in or out of the zone, OK pitches to hit but not really amazing. From there, working towards the right, we get the frequency of pitches to each zone that a hitter has faced, along with a parenthetical indicating league average.
On to the next: Then we get to see how many pitches a hitter has swung at or taken in each zone, with a percentage (for that player) and a gray percentage underneath, indicating league average. Last comes the Run Value in each zone, which unfortunately is not fully explained. You can glean a little bit from this Tom Tango blog, talking about where Christian Yelich and Mike Trout have added or lost Run Value. The events that add or subtract runs are exactly what you’d expect, but the correlation is not 1:1 and for now we can’t see under the hood to glean exactly how many batted ball outs equal a lost run (while we can do some math to make guesses, we just don’t know enough to say there’s a precise counting formula.)
Here’s what Daniel Vogelbach’s Swing Take chart looks like:
Don’t you like it when data exactly confirms a previous data set? Because our good friend Ryan Blake nailed Vogey’s problem previously.
Vogelbach is swinging at just 57% of pitches he sees in the heart of the plate, 16% (!) less than league average. While he generates good value on the pitches he does swing at—+11 runs on swings in the heart of the plate!—he’s getting absolutely killed by his takes, losing -15 runs and resulting in a Run Value on Heart pitches of -4. He’s doing even worse on Shadow pitches: again, swinging 16% less than league average, and ending up with -19 swing Swing Runs on Shadow pitches, because he’s just not swinging enough at pretty decent pitches. It’s in the Chase zones where he’s generating a lot of Run Value, with a +30 on his takes (and he’s taking 7% more than league average, there). Unfortunately, his overall profile is running into a Ty Kelly problem: he just isn’t swinging enough.
You can make this problem a lot more striking by looking at another barrel chested AL DH: New York’s Luke Voit. Voit and Vogey both have two jobs: mash baseballs and don’t play first base too often. Voit has had significantly more sustained success this year, with a 131 wRC+ despite slightly worse power, home run, and walk numbers. So what can Swing Take identify that Voit does that Vogey doesn’t?
Unlike Vogey, Voit is swinging 13% more than league average at pitches in the heart of the plate That in turn means he has a -6 Take Runs on Heart Pitches, as opposed to Vogey’s -15. The same thing happens in the Shadow Zone: He swings a shade more than league average, but has lost 9 runs in this zone on Swings compared to Vogey’s 19. This is the place where I’d really like to see more granular data to try to identify exactly how and why his swings have been better in the Shadow Zone. Unfortunately, Vogelbach isn’t even making up ground on Voit in the Chase and Waste zones: Both of them do excellent and very comparable jobs in those zones of avoiding junk. The result? Voit is a much more aggressive hitter in the Heart and Shadow zones and it’s letting him generate much more Run Value.
There’s a lot that isn’t captured by Swing Take, and it’s definitely a tool that gives us a very good but incomplete slice of what a hitter does. At least at this early stage, it can quickly identify whether a hitter is swinging enough at good pitches—or laying off bad—and subsequently tell us how much damage the hitter is doing on those swings. In this case, it confirms what we already suspected about Daniel Vogelbach: He’s not swinging enough on the pitches that will allow him to do the greatest damage.