On Strike Zones and Swings Outside of It

Strikeouts are at an all-time
high
.  Jeff Fletcher offers a few different explanations: batters not adjusting
their approaches with two strikes; batters working deeper into counts and thus
getting behind (sure, blame plate discipline); umpires calling too many third
strikes on hitters (sure…ask pitchers about that).

Specific
refutation of the last point is the evidence–courtesy of John Walsh at The Hardball Times–that the strike
zone is such smaller on 0 and 2 counts than it is on 3 and 0 counts
).
 This actually proves kind of troublesome, as you’ll see below.

Another explanation for the increase in strikeouts is that batters may be swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone.   Joe Pawlikowski argues at FanGraphs that, in fact, hitters are swinging
outside the strike zone more often.  The possible explanations Pawlikowski
cites are:

1, This is just an early season thing. They say hitters get better
as the weather warms. Maybe that has as much to do with them getting into a
groove — hitters are getting closer to the 250 PA mark — as it does the
weather.

2. It’s just part of the natural cycles of the game. Hitters
were more patient earlier in the decade. Maybe now they’re starting to be more
aggressive.

3. Related to No. 2, and perhaps a bit to No. 4, pitchers are
exploiting a weakness and are making hitters chase more.

4. Pitchers are just hurling nastier stuff. Hitters are having a
hard time adjusting to tougher breaking and off-speed pitches. I’m not sure how
you could go about proving this one, so it’s probably an afterthought, if that.

5. The criteria for pitches inside and outside the zone has
changed.

6. Just blame the umps.

As noted, the John Walsh piece in the Hardball Times proves problematic at just this juncture, for it–another link here–provides evidence for points 5 & 6 from Pawlikowki’s assessment: that (5) the criteria for pitches outside and inside the strike zone changes, and (6) we kind of can just blame the umps.  

So, you see, all this folds back on itself: we have more strikeouts than the historical norm, batters are swinging at more pitches outside the zone than previously, and umpires are altering the size of the strike zone.  The chicken-egg conundrum begins to rear its ugly little head here, for which came first in this cycle?  

This Rickie Zanker post at the Hardball Times suggests that Pawlikowski’s #5 is true from the standpoint of the Pitch F/x measurement of balls and strikes. 

I’m still wondering about the impact of the “Compassionate Umpire,” however, and just how much that “compassion” biases the strike zone.

1 Comment

Watching mostly American League games this year, I have seen the plate discipline of hitters take a barometer approach. Most seem to be trying to work the counts, but there is also a nice variable of more first pitch strikes this year, which makes the hitter rethink sometimes during the at bat.
But overall, in the Rays line-up, except for maybe Carlos Pena and Hank Blalock, there has been a noticeable approach to making the pitch throw strikes this year.
John Jaso, B J Upton and even Evan Longoria showing signs they are reading the ball well on the way to the plate.
Who knows the true reasoning for it, but I think we will see a MLB seasonal mark set in both walks and strikeouts this season by MLB hitters and pitchers.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

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