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Baseball Thu Jul 14 2011

Cubs & Sox: We'll Swing at Anything

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for cubs.gifThumbnail image for Thumbnail image for white sox.gifThe Cubs and White Sox are back at it Thursday after a quiet All-Star Game in which their primary contributions were Paul Konerko's 13-pitch walk and Starlin Castro's two steals as a pinch runner.

But unless things change in a quick hurry, most likely on the South Side, we're looking at another year without playoff baseball.

One huge reason is two inconsistent offenses loaded with hitters who will swing at just about anything. Watch Alfonso Soriano or Gordon Beckham for a weekend and you'll know what I mean, but the proof is in the numbers.

Cubs hitters walk in only 6.4 percent of plate appearances, worst in baseball. The Sox are fourth-worst at 7.5 percent.

Cubs hitters also swing at the most pitches outside the strike zone: 32.2 percent of them. The Sox are again fourth from the bottom at 31.8 percent.

Plate discipline is important, as evidenced by the patient, potent Red Sox, Yankees, Reds and Cardinals. All are in the top five in runs per game and the top eight in walk rate.

But here's a bubble graph of the Cubs this season, plotting walk rate vs. percentage of pitches outside the strike zone taken. Basically, the top right corner is where you want to be, and the larger the circle, the more plate appearances (i.e., more impact) a player has had. The red circle represents the 2010 major-league average.

cubs plate discipline.jpg

From this we see:

  • Carlos Pena walks the most on the team, though Kosuke Fukudome is least likely to swing at a ball outside the zone.
  • Catching tandem Geovany Soto and Koyie Hill are the only other Cubs who have been more patient than the average hitter this season.
  • Alfonso Soriano will draw an occasional walk, but he swings at more bad pitches than any non-pitcher on the team.
  • The young middle infield of Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney needs work.
  • This is an epidemic. You don't expect bench players Reed Johnson, D.J. LeMahieu, Lou Montanez, Blake DeWitt and Jeff Baker to have top-level strike zone command, but they could maybe draw a walk once in a while.

sox plate discipline.jpg

Takeaways:

  • The Sox have far more players with average walk rates than do the Cubs.
  • Adam Dunn, as predicted, has a slight lead on Paul Konerko atop the Most Patient list. It's just what happens when Dunn hits the ball that has been a problem this year.
  • Juan Pierre is a bizarre case, because he swings at fewer bad pitches than any White Sox hitter, but walks relatively rarely. There's that "putting the ball in play" Ozzie loves so much. It's not always as helpful as he'd have you believe.
  • Plate discipline might well be Gordon Beckham's biggest problem. He should know this by now.
  • Like Pierre, A.J. Pierzynski rarely walks (or strikes out). But he also swings at everything. He just makes a lot of contact.
  • Lovable backup Ramon Castro and reviled backup Mark Teahen are your best bets to draw a pinch-hit walk.
  • Somebody throw Brent Morel a rope. He's drowning.

Here's all the data (sorted by walk rate), for you extra-super nerds. OSw% and OTake% are the percentages of pitches outside the zone a hitter swings at and takes, respectively.

cubs chartsox chart

 
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