Crossposted from my blog because I thought it was interesting enough to merit a Fanpost discussion and also because Athletics Nation comments were one of the inspirations for it.
One phrase I've seen way too often on the A's blogosphere is "How could he take that strike three right down the middle?!" I figured this was just angry fans venting their frustration about a particular pitch, but then it kept appearing again and again until it became almost cliché. If it's one thing in particular that gets under my skin it's clichés, especially ones that have little basis in reality. Why espouse the same thing over and over with almost no factual information to back it up? I mean do these people even have any proof for their ridiculous claims?
Ok, well that's just Matt Cain owning Daric Barton's soul. But one instance of an A's player striking out looking does not make the statement a fact. And in this information age, why should we settle for speculation and heresy when there's oodles of data to use instead?
The information has always been out there, but I haven't seen anyone put it together until now. Here is the MLB Team Strikeout Looking totals, sorted by percentage of strikeouts looking (Kc) out of total strikeouts (K):
|| Kc of K%
Now I wasn't sure (and still am not) if I should have sorted the chart by Kc% or Kc of K%. Basically what it boils down to is are people complaining about players taking too many strikeouts looking when they should instead be swinging, or are they just upset at the number of strikeouts looking overall? Feel free to let me know what upsets you more in the comments section.
But looking at the data, maybe people are on to something with regards to the A's. They rank 4th in Kc of K%, though their offense was certainly a tad worse than the 3 teams above them. They also rank 4th in Kc%, behind the Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Marlins respectively, with the Rays only percentage points behind Oakland. One thing those teams share in common is that they all feature a core of young position players. This may have an affect on those numbers, such as umpires not as generous on a close call. But for now that's just idle speculation, I'll probably come back to it in a later post.
Back to the A's now. Turn out they struck out looking a lot more than I originally thought, more than a quarter of their total strikeouts were looking. So that led me to figure out who was doing all this staring at strike 3 down the pipe. I had some hunches, as I'm sure most A's fans do, but the name at the top (of the regulars) did surprise me. Here are all the A's who had at least 1 strikeout this season, sorted by Kc of K%:
|Player||K||Kc||Kc of K%|
Obviously some of these are not important, like the pitchers or guys like Brooks Conrad and Mike Sweeney. I just put them all on the chart for sake of completeness. But the first regular to appear on the list was surprisingly not Jack Cust nor Daric Barton, though they're 2 and 3 of course. No, the Athletic who struck out the most looking was Mark Ellis. Let's look at his strikeout looking chart.
If you didn't know beforehand, you could deduce from the chart that Ellis is a RHB from all the strike 3s called just outside the strikezone. Now I don't believe the pitch f/x system is 100% accurate, probably far from it. But with the data we have to work with, it seems that Ellis got a lot of borderline calls against him.
There certainly weren't many "right down the middle strike 3s" that the fans complain about in this picture. Now if you want to see one with a few more dots towards the center, let's look at Jack Cust's chart.
Well now that's a much more populated chart. Of course, Cust did lead the league with 197 strikeouts, about 50% more than the second closest Athletic. And a lot of these were looking, 64 of them to be exact. And sure there are a lot of diamonds right towards the center of the square, so Cust should rightfully harbor some of the strike 3 looking complaints. Though only with regards to that, because if fan's are complaining about his offensive value in general they need to get a clue because Jack Cust owns, he hits cuadrangulars.
But Cust has also taken a lot of unfair strike 3s. I'm not even talking about the borderline stuff that maybe grazes the black box or is right next to it. According to the pitch fx data, Cust had 15 strike three lookings called again him that was more than an inch off the plate, the majority on the outside of the plate as the picture shows (its from the ump's perspective), since Cust is a LHB. This funny looking strikezone to LHB continues with the third regular on our list, Daric Barton.
Barton's 2008 struggles have been well documented, he had enough trouble as it was just making solid contact with the ball when he swung. Apparently the umps felt he should've been swinging more at balls away and outside of the strikezone, because they rang him up 13 times on pitches more than an inch off the plate, some hugely so as the graph depicts. Considering he only had 35 Kc total, 13 is a whopping 37%.
I would hope one instance of incorrect data is that one egregious diamond in the bottom left corner. This particular pitch was a 2-2 74mph curveball from Seattle LHP Ryan Rowland Smith. Hard to believe an ump could miss a lefty curveball that bad, if MLB's video wasn't so poorly organized maybe I could see.
EDIT: I have skills. Turns out it was an error on the gameday operator, it's a poor check-swing.
You'll get'em next time kid.
Those were the most significant batters in terms of Kc. The other batters simply didn't have that many strikeouts looking so it's hard to infer as much from their charts. I still thought it would be worthwhile to make them though for regulars that would likely still be around next year, so without further adieu here are the last four:
Kurt Suzuki looks like he's getting fooled by some offspeed stuff in the middle, with a few high and outside borderline calls. Ryan Sweeney looks like he's getting the same poor left handed treatment as Barton and Cust. Jack Hannahan is too a bit, though it also looks like he's taking way too many two strike pitches up in the zone. Bobby Crosby's Kc are mostly left side of the plate pitches which I can't really call outside since he stands so damn far off the plate. But like I said before, these are all very small sample so it's hard to draw too much, though Sweeney's does look quite significant.
So there you go fans. Yes, the A's may be taking a few too many called strike threes they should be swinging at. And yes, a lot of them are pitches right over the plate, but probably not the amount you might think. It also doesn't help that they aren't getting the proper strikezone called, especially the left handed batters. This is likely a trend throughout MLB though, as this older THT article from John Walsh highlights. That article is outstanding by the way, and I suggest if you have the time to give it a full read.
And if any of you are looking to get more into the statistics/pitch fx area but don't have any data yet, I've included all the data I've used in this article in an Editgrid spreadsheet, so go nuts with it. If you have questions about it feel free to ask below.
Oh and one more bit of self-promotion, Oaktown Awesomer's is now on Facebook, so join our network if you like. And feel free to add me as a friend as well, it gets mighty lonely down here in the basement and internet friends are all I've got.