Looking at hit location and trajectory tendencies for Rays hitters can give an idea of where Rays hitters have had some success and failure with regards to putting the ball in play. As these are all players with more than 100 career plate appearances we can gain an idea of the areas where a player can be a contributor and weaknesses that opposition pitching may be apt to exploit. All data comes via Baseball-Reference‘s valuable splits tool and includes all career data. Luke Scott has been included as it’s looking like there is a high probability to him coming back to the Rays.
The first column headers are pretty self-explanatory and batters have been grouped by handedness moving from righties, to lefties, to switch-hitters. Don’t get too concerned about the color-coding here. The main interest should be in realizing that many of these categories feature small samples even for the well-established players.
Next, is a look at wOBA (or more aptly wOBAcon) for each batter for each category:
Here is the real meat and potatoes of this compilation. The best way to make sense of this is to look down each column to see where each hitter has seen previous success and to look across each row to see how each player compares to one another. Each color-scheme has been formatted, such that, righties are compared to righties, lefties to lefties, and so on.
A batter like Evan Longoria, unsurprisingly, has success pretty much no matter what he does. When the ball winds up in the outfield he has enjoyed a wOBA of .662, but even when he keeps it on the infield he has seen a wOBA of .102 placing him behind only Escobar when it comes to the righties. Balls in play have had a wOBA of .322 while he has shown a .481 wOBA when the ball isn’t in play. These are the three true outcome categories of walks, homers, and strikeouts. When pulling the ball he has an astounding wOBA of .634, but he also has seen plenty of success going up the middle where he has compiled a .364 wOBA in his career. Going opposite field might be one of his few weaknesses as he “only” has a wOBA of .273 putting him behind some of the other righties. Another weakness is his lowish .246 wOBA on grounders, but when he elevates the ball he’s showing a ridiculous .416 wOBA on flies and .823 on liners.
Evan is a complete hitter, which is rare and a big reason why he’ll spend the majority of his career as a Ray, or whatever they’re called once they move. For other hitters it can be beneficial to see the tendencies of the less complete hitters.
Escobar has had some relative success when the ball stays in the infield, which is good when you see how often he hits a groundball later on in this story. He does ok whether putting the ball in play or flexing his old man skills and while his pull numbers leave much to be desired he shows that he’s a very good hitter when going oppo and merely good when going back up the box.
Jennings is a similar hitter to Junel, but he has seen more success when getting the ball into the secondary of the defense. The discerning reader will notice that when Jennings does not put the ball in play he’s having less success than either batter profiled so far. This can be explained quite a bit by his BB:KO rates and will be a theme for the hitters that follow. He pulls the ball with authority, but still sees some success going up the gut, while his opposite field approach has not worked out as well as some of the other guys. With his wheels it should not be a surprise that when he puts the ball on the ground he has some success and this could be an area that allows him to post sustainable better-than-average BABIP figures during his career.
Molina is not here due to his ability to hit, and that’s a good thing. Whether hitting the ball to to the infield or outfield or not putting it in play at all he has not had much success relative to his peers. He’s at his best when pulling the ball and has not had much success going up the middle or to right field. His combination of no speed and little power means that (much) lower than normal BABIP figures should be expected based on his trajectory tendencies.
Roberts profiles as a guy that gains a solid amount of value via his non-ball-in-play results. His ball-in-play, whether to the outfield or infield, results leave much to be desired, but his combination of a decent eye and good power allow him to overcome some of his deficiencies. Looking at which field he hits to tells us a lot about the player. When pulling the ball he enjoys a fair amount of success, but he’s really good when going back up the middle. These help offset what can mildly be described as an inability to have success going to the opposite field.
Like most middle infielders Sean Rodriguez does not profile as a well-rounded hitter. He has some success when he does manage to put the ball in play, but when he doesn’t put the ball in play a combination of high strikeouts and low walks damns him being not much of a contributor while at the plate. He’s below average no matter which field the balls ends up in, though not egregiously in any case. He has shown a decent amount of success when hitting the ball on the ground, but bad contact on fly balls negates what should profile as solid in-game power.
Gimenez is pretty useful at going to right field, but that’s probably about it. Among the right-handed batters, he has the lowest wOBA when putting the ball in play and he does nothing to earn back brownie points when not putting the ball in play. As mentioned, he has seen quite a bit of success going opposite field, but this approach means that he brings nothing to the table when he does manage to pull the ball and not much more when hitting back through the box. His lack of speed coupled with not-enough power means he’s only really going to have success the times he manages to square up a pitch resulting in a line drive.
Joyce’s approach of patience and power goes a long way when he’s managing to get the ball through the infield. The walks and dingers help offset some of the strikeout issues meaning he’s a threat whether he’s putting the ball in play or not. Joyce has seen very good results when pulling the ball or going back up the middle, but being so pull-heavy means that when he does go oppo it’s not by design. He should continue to see pitchers pound him away until he shows that he cares more than not about hitting the ball the other way with authority. Joyce is at his best when he’s hitting ropes or fly balls and as one of the few pure power hitters on the Rays that’s a good thing.
New Ray first basemen James Loney has been a target of vitriol throughout most of his career due to a contact-first approach without the backing power to make him much of a threat. He profiles similarly to Joyce whether the ball is in play or not, but he’s at his best when spraying left field. Players that are better at going oppo than pull are generally trading power for contact and there’s a fine line between keeping a pitcher honest and getting the most out of an at bat. Loney has shown a real ability to hit to left field, but his approach leaves him not having much success up the middle and his pulled balls in play don’t offset the overall this deficiency. These things combine to leave him not able to take advantage of a relatively high line drive rate (more on this later) and his middle of the road wOBA figures for grounders and fly balls can’t make up for the bad results on what would ordinarily be considered a successful plate appearance.
Fuld is mostly known as a glove-first player and that seems to bear out here. He’s had moderate success when the ball stays on the infield due to his good speed, but his balls to the outfield leave a bit to be desired. When not putting the ball in play his approach is mostly middle of the road, which doesn’t do enough to offset his lack of power nor ability to consistently spray all fields. While he’s at his best going oppo, it’s not a strength compared to other Rays batters and he’s very weak when pulling the ball or going up the middle. His wOBA on fly balls is one of the lowest on the team though he does enjoy a bit of relative success on his liners.
It’s doubtful that Brignac is still on the team as games start to mean something, but he’s currently on the 40-man and has nil trade value. A flyball heavy approach without the resulting success on balls to the outfield signifies a player that’s hitting more lazy flyballs than walloping cowhide over opposition defenders. He does nothing when not putting the ball in play to help his cause between a combination of swinging at everything and taking nothing. What’s interesting is that he has had a fair bit of success when hitting grounders, even those that stay on the infield, but he doesn’t hit enough of them to make up for a very low wOBA on fly balls and a not great wOBA on liners. Without an option this is probably his last chance to show the team that he can pair a non-useless bat with a decent enough glove.
As of this time Luke Scott is not a Ray, but it appears likely that he will sign up for another tour with the Rays. This is a good thing for the team as Scott profiles as a well-rounded hitter that’s capable of helping the team in a variety of ways, provided he’s actually on the field and in good health. He has the best wOBA on the team when an outfielder must make a play on the ball and he combines this with a very good approach on non-balls-in-play due to his ability to drive the ball out of the park and walk enough to offset his strikeouts. Where Luke really shines is his ability to hit the ball well to all parts of the field. Among batters hitting left-handed he trails only Joyce in pull wOBA, but he leads all contenders when going up the middle, but also when he’s going to left field. Luke enjoys the best success on the team when barreling a liner, but also when he hits a fly ball which combine to help offset poor results when hitting the ball on the ground. Luke Scott may have one of the more under-appreciated and better approaches in all of baseball, and would prove a very good get for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013.
The one affectionately referred to as “Rodent” is at his best when slapping grounders whether they’re contained within the dirt or getting past the first line of defense. Unfortunately, a high rate of strikeouts, and subpar rates of walks and homers conspire to make him only useful when he’s putting the ball in play. As a switch-hitter he stands in both boxes, but only one side shows an ability to contribute to team run-scoring. As a right-handed batter he enjoys a fair amount of success when going up the middle, that is is offset by a lack of ability to pull the ball well. He does bring a bit of oppo ability to the table, but the overall package leaves much to be desired. When hitting from the wide-side of the platoon he is actually a worse hitter nearly across the board despite a slight uptick when going up the middle. The overall package shows a batter that might contribute against the lesser-numbered pitchers in the league, but he will likely never profile as an everyday player despite the ability to switch hit.
Lobaton is a guy that absolutely needs to get the ball out of the infield, but the problem is that he doesn’t really have the power to do so consistently and he does himself no favors when not putting the ball in play. Jose might present some mediocre-to-better results if used correctly in a platoon as he is utterly useless from the left side of the plate, but does show some ability when batting from the right-side. His pulled results are decent enough and he’s very good when going the other way, but taking the ball up the middle has not worked out well for him. It should be noted that Lobaton represents the smallest sample size of all batters so here, and in all cases, pay attention to just how many plate appearances we’re actually looking at.
Zobrist profiles as probably the Rays second or third best, overall, hitter. He combines an incredible ability to bring value when the ball isn’t in play with decent enough numbers when the ball is between the chalk and in front of the wall. He’s probably a better hitter when batting right handed as he shows a real ability to hit to all fields with success. When batting left-handed he has seen very good results when pulling the ball, but very little when going up the middle or opposite field. When facing a right-hander it probably makes a fair amount of sense to shift Zobrist which could further decrease those very good pull results.
That’s a lot to take in and for those that are visually-oriented and have a decent amount of statistical acumen the table probably suffices, but it never hurts to throw the authors commentary in, as well.
The last section is going to focus on the percentage of each result:
This section is for the reader’s benefit and will not be touched upon with nearly the level of depth as the wOBA section.
Fuld and Escobar have had the highest percentage of balls stay in the infield while Longoria, Roberts and Joyce are on the other end of the spectrum. Conversely, Longoria, Roberts, and Brignac have had the highest percentage of plays made by outfielders, while Fuld and Johnson the fewest. Escobar, Loney and Fuld have had the highest percentage of plate appearances end up with a ball in play, while Longoria, Joyce and Scott have the fewest. This is a two-pronged product of a plate approach that encourages walks and strikeouts and balls leaving the yard. The highest rates for ending an at bat without a ball in play belongs to Gimenez, Joyce and Scott for similar reasons while Loney and Fuld stand out as guys that don’t often end a plate appearance by not putting a ball in play.
Neglecting switch-hitters for a moment, Longoria, Joyce, Scott, and Gimenz pull the ball more than most while Loney and Brignac are two guys that stand out for not pulling as much. Escobar and Loney have the highest rates of going back up the middle while Joyce is in a class of his own for not doing this. Escobar, Loney, and Brignac are going oppo more than most while Longoria and Fuld do so at the relatively lowest levels.
The highest groundball rate belongs to Escobar with Fuld and Lobaton a distant second. Brignac, Roberts, Joyce, and Longoria hit ground balls at the lowest rates. It should then be no surprise that Roberts, Joyce, and Longoria lead the team in flyballs per ball in play while Escobar and Fuld rarely elevate. Lastly, a big surprise is Brignac leading the team in line drive percentage, though it can be inferred that an aggressive approach leaves more of an all-or-nothing result. Longoria, Molina, Loney, and Zobrist also grade well here. Rodriguez, Lobaton, and Johnson are the three worst at ending up with a line drive per ball in play.
These are the tendencies to keep an eye out throughout the season and can be a nice reference point for why guys are having better or worse than normal starts to the season. The hope is that you, the reader, find this useful when noticing that a certain approach might not be having the desired effect and why a batter tends to have certain outcomes over their plate appearances.