Something I created that I like to check in on after every season is something called GAGR, or Good Approach, Good Result. At it’s heart we’re looking for batters that don’t swing at pitches that are out of the zone, but do swing at pitches in the zone with a high rate of contact. Check out the link above for further background, but it’s a pretty simple concept. I use the plate discipline data from Fangraphs and for this pull I looked explicitly at batters with 100+ PA over the years 2013 – 14. Here’s a look at the Rays in 2013:
The rank is for all 453 guys that met the criteria in 2013. We see Yunel as one of the highest graded players in the game and even our worst is close to the top 50% of players. You can’t help but feel that this is part of the team’s philosophy when you see something like that. In his rookie year Wil Myers was close to the 50th percentil, but was third worst on the team beating out only Molina and Fuld. Let’s take a look at 2014:
We see Yunel place even higher as he trailed only Jed Lowrie and David DeJesus is nipping at both of their heels. We see Myers move up a couple of slots as he’s now 199th in the league, but still not a whole lot to brag about. (note: there were 443 players that met the criteria for 2014). Let’s zoom in on just Myers to get an idea of where he’s improving:
He swung outside the zone a little less, but he also cut down on his swings in the zone. We do see a very nice improvement in his zone contact% so his being a little more selective may be leading to a little bit more contact and this is borne out a bit more in the swing strike rate. It’s really quite interesting to see that, overall, his zone% was lower, but his first strike jumped nearly 10% from 2013 to ’14. It’s highly likely that pitchers saw a guy that was taking first pitch more often allowing them to get ahead and then finish the batter off by going out of the zone more often.
First off let’s look at pitch usage over the two years by a couple of different counts:
The last table shows the percent change from 2013 to ’14. We mostly see more fastballs at the expense of the breaking ball, but that goes much higher with two strikes. Just a theory, but as he forced himself to lay off the two-strike slider from a righty he was leaving himself open to look at a fastball low-and-away. Let’s see if this shows up in some heat maps starting with first pitch:
This batch of charts will compare Wil’s swing rate in 2014 vs. the league average so starting on the right you can see that he was taking first pitch in the zone around 30-50% more than the league average across nearly the entirety of the strike zone. He’s taking he’s closer to league average at the top and above the zone, as well as inside, but we don’t really want him swinging at those pitches ever let alone first pitch. He protects the zone a bit better against lefties, but when they try to get up in his kitchen he wants to jump all over it. We see here that against righties he’s being incredibly passive within the zone. I like patience, I hate passivity. Let’s move on to all one-strike counts:
After being hyper aggressive on up and in from lefties he completely shuts down on those pitches, but stays aggressive on stuff up and out over the plate. There are some spikes down and in and off the plate away that are a bit worrisome, but for the most part he’s doing a good job staying within the zone. Against righties it’s a similar story with one strike. The up and in is a little hot and up and away is really hot, but he’s mostly within the norm with some areas ever so slightly above average and inner third being a bit below. He’s doing a really good job of laying off the pitch down below the zone and down-and-in especially. If you want him to be putting the ball in the air more this is a great recipe. Moving on to two-strike counts:
You can see that the samples are starting to get a little smaller so we’re not seeing things smooth out quite as well. Starting with lefties he has a couple of borderline spots where he’s swinging much less than the rest of the league (down-and-in, middle-away, and up-and-over), but he’s doing a good job of swinging more than the norm on pitches middle-middle. Unfortunately, he’s also being hyper aggressive on pitches above the zone and low-and-away from lefties. My guess is that those are fastballs up and change ups off the plate. Against righties he’s pretty aggressive across the board though he’s doing a better job of staying within the zone there is one spot waist high-and-in where he was swinging more than he most.
Overall we see him starting the at bat by being ultra passive, doing a mostly good job with one strike, and then finishing the at bat being pretty aggressive, though lefties seem to do a good job of freezing him on borderline stuff and getting him to expand on other stuff that is further off. It’s almost as if he’s operating with a traffic light guiding him. Red light on first pitch, yellow light on second pitch, green light on third pitch. It’s not a bad guideline, especially if you’re trying to help a batter inflate his walk rate, but by being such a stringent rule it leads to the batter becoming more predictable and that’s about the worst thing that can happen with you’re in the box. We’ve looked at some count stuff, but now I want to take a look at his swing rates compared to league average by pitch type starting with all types of fastballs (four/two seamers, cutters, sinkers, splitters):
From both lefties and righties we see that he’s showing some passivity on pitches down which is great on those that are below the zone, and not a killer on those within the zone because those pitches can very easily turn into ground balls. He’s more aggressive above the zone against both, but you can really see him gripping and ripping against lefties above the zone which shifts a bit more inside against righties. He’s definitely more swing happy against lefties when he doesn’t really have to worry about the slider quite as much. Let’s move on to those breaking balls (curves, knuckle curves, sliders):
Lefties are eating him alive inside and off the plate while freezing him all day on pitches up-and-away. The rest of the zone is pretty normal with a hot spot low and away and a bit more on the inner third, but this one kind of explains itself. Against the righty breaking ball you see that down-and-away see him only swinging a bit more than the average, but it’s close. When pitchers can get the ball further off the plate (read: sweeping sliders) he does show a high propensity to swing and I bet if the graph showed pitchers further off you would see that he swings more than most on stuff well off the plate. Meanwhile anything located up and in within the zone has a very good chance of being taken and the rest of his zone plays pretty normally. Let’s move on to change ups:
The lefty change up-and-in is a pitch that should just be absolutely murdered, but he’s swinging at that pitch almost 75% or so less often than the league on that pitch. Meanwhile, he’s playing right into their hands by chasing it down-and-away and off the plate both off the plate and down-and-in. The best way to neutralize a righty hitter is with a good lefty change and Wil looks pretty baffled on this pitch, at least from a swing/take perspective. You’re not going to see many right-on-right change ups, but when he gets one down the dickhole or in he isn’t afraid to swing. Now that we have an idea of how often he’s swinging at these pitches compared to the league average let’s see how much value he’s actually producing by location against all pitches:
There’s a pretty solid band criss-crossing the zone where he’s a little below average or right at it and it’s a bit strange that so much of that is coming right down the middle. Up-and-in and down-and-away see him having somewhat good results, but once you get to the edge of the zone he’s back to being below average. Above the zone is a real problem for him compared to the rest of the league, as well. Let’s drill down to fastballs to start:
He has two big areas of concern in the upper third of the zone and then that deadzone pretty close to center. He’s surprisingly effective on fastballs low and away, but as we’ve seen above it has a lot more to do with taking these borderline pitches for balls than anything he’s doing with the bat. Fastballs down and off the plate away are strengths as he’s able to identify that they’re balls and leave them alone, but the area where he should be able to generate the majority of his power production up is looking like a weakness. He could make major strides if he’s able to turn that singular area on fastballs into even the league average range. How about breaking balls:
Again we see his issue low-and-away, but he also has a weakness pretty close to middle-middle. Who knows if that’s a recognition issue or what, but those are pitches that he should have been able to mash and he didn’t do a whole lot with him in 2014. His lone strengths look like they have more to do with correctly identifying and then laying off balls, borderline or otherwise. Moving on to the change:
We see weaknesses off the plate away and dead center again which seems like areas that should be strengths. You know a lefty is going to be throwing the change outside and if he somehow misses out over the middle of the freaking plate you need to be able to put a charge into that pitch. These charts show a guy that had a bad 2014, but are they indicative of who he is going forward? I asked my oracle and she said that the answer was fuzzy and to try back later. The best we can do is look at what happened this past season and see if we can isolate some areas of improvement. We know that his 2013 was pretty good so let’s see what happens when we compare 2014 Wil to the 2013 Rookie of the Year version instead of to league average starting with all pitches:
We can see that he was quite a bit better on pitches along the fringes of the strike zone, particularly, inside and down, less so on those outside. The problem is that as he became a more selective hitter he was robbing himself of the chance to murder some meatballs and we can also see that stuff above the zone became a problem for him. Let’s move on to fastballs:
He was much better against fastballs in, both up and down, but otherwise his 2014 was kind of a disaster against the pitches that he has shown he can punish. We see a lot of agreement with the previous chart which makes sense because fastballs are going to be up more than the other types of pitches. Also, the fastball is still the most commonly seen pitch for him which we saw became even more prevalent in 2014. This is absolutely an area where he can make major strides because his swing should be able to turn around a good fastball that stays up and take it out of the park. With that is going to have to come the selectivity to lay off those that are obviously out of the zone. Here’s breaking balls:
He’s expanding his zone a bit more on these, but also struggling on pitches within the zone. He did a better job in 2013 at doing damage within the zone and staying there, but you can see one hotspot and some otherwise good work on stuff out over the plate and up. Not a total sob story so let’s look at the change:
Not a whole lot of success to write home about here, but other than that spot up not much of a difference either. He seems to have a decent enough approach against the change and that has mostly carried over year to year.
So there you have it. For Wil to get back on track he’s going to need to be more aggressive on fastballs, especially those in the upper part of the zone and out over the plate. Further refining his recognition of breaking balls low-and-away would go a LONG way to keeping pitchers honest, but he also can’t let it come at the expense of taking borderline strike three calls on straight fastballs. The guy is the prototype, and as such, he gets held to a higher standard. You can take that as bitching or nitpicking, but the team identified him as a guy that they would like to build around. If he puts in the work mentally and physically and starts to mesh his two seasons where he was aggressive and successful in 2013 and more passive with less success in 2014 then you’re probably going to see a guy that is a really good hitter. I could probably live with him having a lower walk rate if it means that he’s tapping into the obvious power even it comes with a small bump in strikeouts. This team has plenty of bat-to-ball hitters that can get on, but he’s one of the few guys that can get them over in bunches. Good luck this year, Wil, we’re really counting on you.