This past season saw good process, ok result signing Luke Scott spend two separate trips on the DL. First, a 19 day stint starting 6/9 for back spasms and later on a 31 day vacation starting 7/21 for an oblique strain. These aren’t necessarily old man injuries, but they certainly seem more common when performing violent acts in your 30’s than in your 20’s. Additionally, Scott was given four days of rest for some hamstring tightness just a week into the season.
The body is one long string with maladies at one end pulling through the system to cause tweaks and tears on the other end. These things might all be related to Scott’s SLAP Tear surgery rehab and recovery or they could be unrelated and merely the product of swinging really hard at an advanced age. The former is less disconcerting than the latter due to predictability. If the second case is the cause then you’re talking about having no idea when the next issue sits Luke on the sideline. Other than the fact that there’s a good chance that there will be a next time.
Though the details have not been released, Mark Topkin has it on good authority that Luke Scott will be coming back to the Rays in 2013. The Rays have a better idea of Luke Scott’s medical records than arguably any other team in MLB, non-Orioles division, so when you see a solid, battle-worn front office come into accord with the free agent there should be some hope that they give a good probability that the player will stay healthy. Or hit well enough when he is playing everyday to make up for missed days. Either way, they seem to think that Luke Scott will be a good investment and, really, outside of being able to predict the future all they can do is play in probabilities applying appropriate risk. As fans, we take it for granted that this front office knows how to play the game and that a signing is intelligent, prima facie. Time will tell, but after Luke Scott’s 2012 I’m willing to ride the merry-go-round one more time.
Tommy Rancel at The Process Report took a nice look at Luke’s 2012 early struggles on inner-half pitches. He ultimately surmised that with Luke’s early season inability to cover the inner half well and late season improvement that there was likely a correlation between the SLAP Tear surgery and an extended recovery period that left Luke feeling most of the way back over the second half of the season. This would leave us with a mix of options, as outlined above, with the predictability of the surgery recovery, but also with the wild card aspect of the nagging musculature injuries in his core. Again, they could be related or they might not be.
For your viewing pleasure, I have broken Luke Scott’s 2012 into three separate period. The initial period runs from Opening Day (4/6) to June 8th covering 196 plate appearances before hitting the DL with back spasms . The second segment covers June 28th to July 20th for another 66 plate appearances between the back spasms and the oblique injury. Luke came off the DL on August 21 and garnered another 82 plate appearances over the rest of the season. Using the gamelogs at Fangraphs and the valuable function “Sumproduct” in Excel we can create some weighted averages to compare these various periods.
First off, let’s take a look at the raw stats that Luke was able to compile:
Not much need for analysis here, but it’s a good idea to look at the sample sizes we’re talking about and get you should be able to get a decent context of the numbers. Let’s move on to the advanced stats where we can put things on more of an even keel:
Starting at the top we can see that Luke’s walk rates may have fluctuated over the different segments, but he never bested his career rate of 10.5%. Meanwhile, only the first segment of the season saw him strike out at better than career rates with the between-injury and end-of-season periods sitting over seven and a half percentage points higher than his career average. The BB/K row really shows how bad it got between the injuries and makes the author question if Luke was truly back from the first before finally succumbing to his maladies with the second.
Luke’s average climbed throughout the season, but we all know that average doesn’t tell us a whole lot, and his OBP during the last segment was a not useless .305, but the preceding periods were abysmal and none of the sectors come close to approaching Lukes career rate. His SLG figures are where we can see a glimpse of the once proud lion, particularly when we use ISO to see that the middle period actually bested his career rate with the first and last equalling one another. You start to get the idea that the middle period saw Luke being less selective at the plate trying to drive everything that he could. This tanked his walk rate, increased his strikeout rate, but came with the positive of more power.
It should not be a surprise, then, that Luke’s BABIP was higher during the middle period since the balls that he did make contact on were likely hit hard and everything he whiffed at wouldn’t be figured into the calculation. The middle period was also his best by wOBA and wRC+. This would seem to contradict the earlier hypothesis that Luke was hiding an injury following the first stint on the DL. New questions come in the form of whether this new hacktastic approach was the cause of injury and if not would it be wise to see Scott become less selective if that’s what gives him the best opportunity to contribute.
The answer is unlikely to come from this source, but the hope is that some of the muck can be pushed aside to get an idea of what’s real. We can get an idea of how his plate discipline changed over the course of the season:
The pink shaded areas are when Luke was on the DL and everything else is a 10-game moving average for that statistic. While there tends to be more volatility when it comes to actually contacting balls, whether in or out of the zone, the actual approach seems more stable. Leading up to the first DL stint it looked like Luke was swinging less and less within the zone and more and more outside of the zone. The end of the year saw him swinging much more at pitches in the zone and much less as pitches outside the strike zone. It’s difficult to glean anything useful from the swinging strike rate, but there it is.
We can see this broken down for each of our segments:
Despite seeing the increased strikeout and power and diminished walk rates that we stumbled across earlier we actually see that Luke was swinging (a lot) less during the second period. His contact rates were mostly fine across the board, but the high rate of O-Contact in the first period seems to explain why Scott’s BABIP didn’t even break .230. Those that loathe the strikeout and praise the ball in play would be well-served to notice that sometimes a swing and miss is better than soft contact, particularly early in the count.
Maybe the issue is that pitchers were mixing pitches differently. We can see above that early on pitchers were feeding Scott a ton of pitches in the zone and especially on first pitch. It can be inferred that pitchers wanted Luke to prove that he was at least far enough back from his surgery to hit tons and tons of pitches over the plate. A good pitcher isn’t going to mess around with what they perceive as a bad hitter. Just fill up the zone until that batter shows they can hurt you:
It looks like pitchers traded cutters for more fastballs over the course of the first period relying more on speed than movement. This can be a signal that pitchers (and the scouts and nerds feeding them information) might see some declining bat speed in a player. The second period has been marked by less pitches in the zone, more strikeouts, less walks, and more power. We can now add that pitchers went away from the fastball/cutter and threw more sliders and curveballs. This seems to jibe as breaking balls are harder to throw in the zone, are generally used as chase pitches, and can be punished when they’re left hanging in the zone. The last zone is all over the place as a newly aggressive Scott came out and had mixed success causing pitchers to have to alter their game plan accordingly. Again, we can see this broken down over each time period:
For the most part, pitchers moved away from the fastball, slider, and change while increasing the use of the cutter and curve as the year went on. Other than the decreased use of the fastball and massive uptick in cutters over the last period most of this stuff seems to line up with career rates. It will be interesting to see if pitchers continue to lean more on the cutter than the heater in 2013.
So what about balls in play? Did Luke hit less liners or more grounders? Did less of his flyballs leave the yard? We can see that in the below chart:
Let’s treat this like Memento and start with the end. Luke’s HR/FB rates were extremely, unsustainably high early in the year before coming back to the norm. The rest of the season saw them mostly sitting between five and ten percent. This is in the league average zone, though down from Luke’s career figure as you’ll see below. In a recent Dock of the Rays post it was learned that Luke is at his best when hitting balls in the air and staying away from worm-burners. That large gap between grounders and fly balls, in addition to the declining line drive rate, leads the author to believe that Luke was hurting roughly three to four weeks before going on the DL, but tried to play through the pain. Luke has traditionally been a fly ball hitter, but to see him hit that high of a rate of grounders for that long of a period really seems to tip off that something wasn’t right.
Here’s a look at each time period’s rates for each:
Luke had moderate success during that middle period when he wasn’t exactly popping dingers all that often, but also wasn’t hitting a ground ball nearly half of his balls in play. Most fans will find Luke acceptable when he’s hitting a high rate of fly balls and liners and enough of those fly balls are leaving the yard for him remain productive.
Lastly, in an effort to analyze discipline using the in and out of zone swing and contact rates I’ve developed a tool that takes a look at both the approach and the results of a batters swing choices. The long and short of it is that a good approach is defined as taking balls and swinging at strikes and vice-versa for a bad approach. Good results happen when a batter makes contact instead of swinging and missing. Putting this together we get Good Approach Good Result (GAGR) in which we see how well a batter is both taking balls and putting pitches in the zone into play. This can be a great way to differentiate between batters that are merely passive versus those that are virtuously patient. The other side of the coin shows Bad Approach Bad Result (BABR). Here we’re looking for batters that take pitches in the strike zone and those that not only swing at a high rate of pitches out of the zone, but we’re also punishing for those that swing and miss out of the zone at a high rate.
Here’s a look at Luke Scott’s GAGR and BABR over the course of the season:
Luke came out of the gate with a solid approach for both metrics before losing control of the zone as he approached his DL date. This, again, seems to confirm that Luke wasn’t his normal self weeks before his actual DL date and maybe gives the impression that he started the season with decent enough health. Alternatively, pitchers realized that Luke Scott couldn’t quite punish them as well as he had in the past and were able to get away with more and more. I don’t choose the narrative preferring to throw everything out there and let the reader choose their own
adventure story. Breaking each time period down is probably more illustrative here:
Luke’s GAGR mostly improved over the course of the season, though didn’t equal his very good career rate of 68%. Meanwhile his BABR fluctuated a bit with each segment being worse than Scott’s career rate.
We start to get the idea that maybe Luke wasn’t healthy at all last year. If that’s the case then his numbers start to take a new light. It begs the question that if a less than stellar Luke Scott can have a season mostly above a league average hitter, while not being quite right then what could a healthy Luke Scott do? In 2013 Luke Scott may provide an answer to that question let’s just cross our fingers that the answer to this question is the one that we’re all looking for.