Saturday, December 21, 2013

Taking a hack at it (or not)

If Joe Mauer's swinging, it's probably not at the first pitch.
According to the leaderboards in the 2014 Bill James Handbook:

No qualifying hitter in either league (minimum of 502 plate appearances) swung at the first pitch less often than Joe Mauer, 6.8 percent. The only surprise in that to most Twins fans, I suppose, is that Mauer took a hack at that many first pitches.

But the second lowest percentage in MLB was Brian Dozier, who went for the first pitch just 8.6 percent of the time.

Justin Morneau, on the other hand, took a cut at the first offering 34.9 percent of the time, the seventh highest rate in the American League. (The AL leader was Miguel Cabrera, 39.7 percent, and the MLB leader was another former Twins player, Carlos Gomez of Milwaukee, at 49.5 percent).

Is there some sort of meaning to this? The leaderboards contain outstanding hitters, or at least hitters having outstanding seasons, in both directions. Among the 10 AL regulars least likely to swing at the first pitch, besides Mauer, are Mike Trout (12 percent) and Dustin Pedroia (9.8 percent), and Shane Victorino (10.5 percent. Among the 10 AL regulars most likely to swing, besides Cabrera, are Chris Davis (34.7 percent) and Adam Jones (37.6 percent). There's nothing here to point to as evidence that one should, or shouldn't, avoid the first offering.

Here's another one that may not surprise Twins fans: Oswaldo Arcia swung and missed at 32.4 percent of the pitches he saw. That's the fourth highest rate among AL players who saw at least 1,500 pitches.

Arcia is sandwiched on that list between Mike Napoli, who hit .259/.360/.482 for the Red Sox, and Chris Davis, who bopped 53 homers for Baltimore, so this is hardly a fatal flaw. But it was certainly a factor in Arcia's yo-yoing back and forth between the Twins and Rochester.

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