Chris Young: Plate Discipline and Outcomes

Save me, BABIP gods - USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I looked at Josh Reddick and what might be causing some of his struggles. This week, I thought I’d do the same with another scuffling player, Chris Young.

Unlike Reddick, Young does have a pretty decent track record of performance before 2012. He's essentially been a league average bat since 2010. Like Reddick, he has a reputation as an excellent defender and that contributes a lot to his value.

I'm going to lift the groundwork for looking into plate discipline statistics right from my article last week:

While most stats take some time to normalize, research has shown that plate discipline statistics reach some level of significance after only 50 or plate appearances. These data are derived from two sources: Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) classifications or PITCHf/x. BIS is basically guys sitting down watching baseball games and classifying pitches. PITCHf/x is MLB's in-house pitch classification that relies on a neural network to decide what pitches are what. Essentially, a really fancy and expensive computer program designed for decision-making. After all this, there are 9 pretty useful statistics:

O-Swing%: The percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone.
Z-Swing%: The percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone.
Swing%: The overall percentage of pitches a batter swings at.
O-Contact%: The percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with outside the strike zone when swinging the bat.
Z-Contact%: The percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with inside the strike zone when swinging the bat.
Contact%: The overall percentage of a batter makes contact with when swinging the bat.
Zone%: The overall percentage of pitches a batter sees inside the strike zone.
F-Strike% - The percentage of first pitch strikes (BIS only)
SwStr%: The percentage of total pitches a batter swings and misses on (BIS only)

These are all pretty self-explanatory and describe the player's selectivity at the plate. With that, you also get league-average data that I have used here.

Since I much prefer PITCHf/x classifications, but BIS has two data points that PITCHf/x doesn't use, I've merged the data into one table that describes it all. The first seven columns use data from PITCHf/x, but F-Strike% and SwStr% come from BIS data. All data itself (and the above glossary terms) are from Fangraphs.

Chris Young plate discipline 2012-3, in percentages

O-Swing

Z-Swing

Swing

O-Con

Z-Con

Con

Zone

F-Strike

SwStr

2012

22.0

58.7

40.3

54.3

91.9

81.7

50.1

58.4

7.3

lgAvg

29.0

62.2

45.3

63.6

87.3

79.6

49.2

59.8

9.1

2013

27.6

62.1

44.6

57.5

83.9

75.6

49.1

60.3

11.2

lgAvg

28.3

62.0

44.7

62.4

87.0

79.0

48.7

59.7

9.3

Note that league average rates for 2013 have been altered slightly to reflect one additional week of data.

First, let's look at Young compared to league average this year. What's most obvious: he's not making contact. His whiff rate of 11.2% is pretty high, and he's making less contact overall, both in the zone and outside the zone. It's not that he's swinging at a rate that's above-average, it's that he's not making contact when he does swing. Is there a hitch in his swing right now? Has he seen some better pitching in the American League than he did last year in the NL? Is he having trouble adjusting to the pitch repertoire in a new league? Who knows, but that's what stands out most.

When you compare him to last year, in 2012 he was not a guy who was incredibly hacky, and he was a hitter who generally did make a good amount of contact. This year, however, he's been less selective compared to last year; he just swings at more pitches overall. So, swinging more and making less contact makes for not a good season so far.

This is also in contrast to his career numbers, shown below:

Chris Young plate discipline, career, in percentages

O-Swing

Z-Swing

Swing

O-Con

Z-Con

Con

Zone

F-Strike

SwStr

Career

22.5

57.1

39.7

55.7

86.0

77.4

49.6

57.3

9.1

When you compare them to the league averages - which have remained relatively constant over time (with the exception of O-Contact%, which has steadily decreased since 2007) - they also fit his swing profile overall. He is a hitter who is more selective, posting O-Swing%, Z-Swing%, and Swing% less than the averages over that time of around 28%, 62%, and 44.5%, respectively. The question is whether Young reverts to that overall selective approach, or a more aggressive approach with respect to his own swing profile.

As far as batted ball profile goes, he's a little like Reddick in that he's had some bad BABIP luck. A .174 BABIP is good for 7th in MLB as of right now, and Josh Reddick still pulls up the 5th position. There is some serious either bad contact and/or bad luck going on with both of these guys.

For Young, though, I wonder whether there is a coaching effect on him. Has Chili Davis asked Young to become more aggressive, but it's to his own detriment since it is not what he is used to? Or is he just adjusting his approach on his to the different pitchers that he is seeing? It is encouraging that he is still walking and striking out at normal rates for him over his career, which suggests his approach, whatever it is, isn't affecting his outcomes too much. Only time will tell, but I am confident that he will get better. After all, a 64 wRC+ has basically nowhere to go but up.


The A's attempt to shake their losing streak away this afternoon back in Boston. Baseballgirl will have you covered for the 3:35 start time. For the kids.

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