Shifting Away From Old Player Skills

While pondering the outrageousness that is Allan Dykstra earlier I got to thinking about three true outcome players. For the uninitiated these are players with high rates of strikeouts, walks, and/or homers. Think Adam Dunn or another way would be to think of these types of players as possessing “old player skills.” This is not an indictment on the method of production, but is an observation of the types of players that fit this mold. Typically, you’re talking about guys whose bats may have slowed so they have to become less focused on contact and more focused on picking out good pitches and then hitting the hell out of them. With the abundance of shifts in the game it stands to reason that players like this may be more adversely affected than players that rely more on putting the ball in play earlier in the count with perhaps less power production. So with that in mind I started down a Three True Outcomes (3TO) hole today. All data is courtesy of Fangraphs and all calculations my own. I’d recommend you download the workbook as the formatting works better, but whatevs:  3TO Workbook Let’s start with a look at the 3TO trends since the Rays inception: You’ll notice that we’re seeing an uptick in these rates ((HR+BB+K)/PA) over time with the floor gradually elevating year over year since roughly 2007 and you’ll notice a similar trend in the ceiling. It’s safe to say that players are putting fewer balls in play, league-wide, which is leading to higher 3TO rates. Let’s break this down into it’s components: Over the time frame we’re seeing ever lowering walk rates, gradually diminishing homer rates, and absolutely skyrocketing strike out rates that have really accelerated since roughly 2006. If we can agree that 3TO rates are climbing then it should be fairly obvious where the incline is coming from. This is looking less and less like a good thing. If teams are looking to reverse this trend then it stands to reason that players with “young guy skills”, players that put the ball in play early and often and hope to make up for power deficiencies by being aggressive on the bases and not giving away outs via the strike out. A sensible question to ask would be to ponder aloud what the Rays trends look like over their existence: (Click here to enlarge in a new window) A quick rundown, obviously we have the team and the year in the first column then the raw totals. I then turn these into percentages and Z-Scores. Note that the 3TO% under “Percentage” is a straight percentage of homers, walks and strikeouts per plate appearance while I tweak things slightly under the Z-Score column which I will touch on below. For now just roll with it. I then turn these Z-score into ranks (out of the 510 teams over this time frame) and the last section of the table converts those into a percentile, which I find more intuitive than the ranks. If you’re visual like me you may prefer a chart showing how the percentages have evolved for the Rays over the years: Rays Chart What should jump out to you is just how high of a 3TO% the Rays have been putting up of late. In 2014 the Rays fell off a cliff compared to these previous iterations as their 24th percentile was the lowest since prior to 2006. While the team was able to trim their strikeouts a nudge down to the 70th percentile after years of being around the 85th and even higher we see that it comes with a serious loss of power as the Rays were in the 5th percentile for homer rate of all 510 teams since 1998. Their walk rate was also below the 50th percentile for the first time since 2006, as well. While these depths haven’t been seen in a long time it does appear to be the continuation of a trend that began in the year prior. The 2013 season saw lower strike out rates coupled with fewer homers, but not such a big loss in the walk department. Perhaps this is a conscious decision. The team certainly looks geared to offer similar power this year, though many players profile to have nice walk and acceptable strike out rates. This is an interesting subject because the Rays are like a weather balloon. They often signal shifts that those on the ground don’t even realize exist so it’s important to delve into what may be a developing trend. Maybe there’s nothing here, but I would not be surprised to see the Rays continue to do their best to avoid players with old man skills. Let’s see how the rest of the league performs:

You can scroll through, but the frozen cells not translating is kind of a bummer so please download the workbook above if you want to play around with this or do sorts and filters to see how your team compares. I mentioned above that the 3TO% under Z-Score is slightly tweaked. If you refer to the component chart above you might get a good idea why I did this. Strikeouts are the most common occurrence of these three outcomes. Often you see higher 3TO rates due simply to strikeouts. For instance, a team with rates of 5% homers, 10% walks and 15% strikeouts would have a 3TO% of 30%. Let’s say another team puts up a 2% homer rate, 5% walk rate and 25% homer rate. Team 2 would have a larger 3TO%, but would be much closer to their peers due to the larger spread in strikeouts. To get around this I added up the Z-scores for each of the categories to get a better idea of who is truly separating themselves. Then the Ranks and percentile 3TO% columns are based on this tweaked number. You’ll notice a couple of Rays teams right off the bat there and please feel free to comb through this stuff. I think it’s rather interesting, especially if you scroll to the very bottom. The 2014 Royals just put up rates that were in the 0th percentile for homers, 1st percentile for walks, and the 34th percentile for strikeouts putting them dead last amongst all teams since 1998. This is a team that just went to the World Series by being comprised almost completely of bat-to-ball athletes that could really pick it in the field. While it didn’t lead to the ultimate glory for the Royals it did get them damn close. As teams across the league try to find a way to beat shifts or to lower strike out rates I think we’ll continue to see the game turn back the clock to how it looked during most of it’s history. I, for one, couldn’t be happier and hope the Rays can extend their window by being one of the first to the party. Like every other competitive advantage they dream up they’ll only have a short time before the rest of the league rides their coattails and then it will be on to the next one. Thanks for reading!


About Jason Hanselman

Rays fan.
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One Response to Shifting Away From Old Player Skills

  1. Pingback: Run Scoring Convergence and Parity |

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