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November 11, 2008
  
Evaluating the Mets’ Plate Discipline

Plate discipline is a valuable trait for a hitter at any level of competitive baseball. The ability to work counts and avoid swinging at pitches out of the strike zone allows a player to draw walks, tire pitchers, and take advantage of mistake pitches. Which Mets hitters displayed strong plate discipline in 2008? A definitive answer to this question is not possible by looking at just one statistic. While on-base percentage (OBP) is an integral stat for player evaluation, it is not a definitive judge of plate discipline because of its highly variable batting average (BA) component. For instance, Ichiro’s 2007 OBP was .396. This is excellent, especially for a CF. However, .351 of the OBP was comprised of batting average. Did Ichiro display solid plate discipline in 2007? Probably not, but we cannot tell by looking at OBP alone.

The stats utilized for this analysis are O-Swing %, Contact %, pitchers per plate appearance, and isolated patience. All are explained below, and each Met position player’s performance is provided as well. Only players with 100+ plate appearances are evaluated (sorry Robinson Cancel fans). Admittedly, I set this minimum standard to include the small sample size duo of Daniel Murphy and Nick Evans, while inadvertently including Angel “Mr. April” Pagan as well.

O-Swing %

This is how often a player swings at pitches out of the strike zone. I feel that this is the best stat for the analysis. Laying off pitches out of the strike zone is as close to the definition of plate discipline as it gets. O-Swing % correlates strongly with walk rate (BB%).

O-Swing% (league average = 25.65%, team average = 24.5%)

Rnk   Player           O-Swing%   Rnk    Player            O-Swing%
-------------------------------------------------------------------
1     Luis Castillo    12.64%     9      Endy Chavez       25.29%
2     Angel Pagan      17.59%     10     Nick Evans        26.87%
3     Carlos Beltran   20.30%     11     Brian Schneider   27.19%
4     David Wright     21.90%     12     Daniel Murphy     27.75%
5     Fernando Tatis   22.36%     13     Argenis Reyes     28.43%
6     Damion Easley    23.05%     14     Ryan Church       28.61%
7     Ramon Castro     23.30%     15     Carlos Delgado    30.55%
8     Jose Reyes       24.65%     16     Marlon Anderson   31.42%

Castillo would have easily led all of baseball in O-Swing % if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. Note that he swung at only 30.69% of all pitches, while the Mets as a team swung 44.14% of the time. It’s no surprise that Castillo, Beltran, and Wright are top three on the Mets in BB%. Additionally, I am not surprised to see Church, Delgado, and Anderson with such poor %’s, as my perception is that they spent much of the season waving at pitches in the dirt or at eye level. The only mystery is Murphy, who was 4th on the team in BB% despite his poor showing here.

Contact %

This is how often a player makes contact with the ball when he swings. It includes foul balls. Players with low contact %’s generally strike out more often, but hit for more power.

Contact% (league average = 80.11%, team average = 82.02%)

Rnk   Player           Contact%   Rnk    Player             Contact%
--------------------------------------------------------------------
1     Luis Castillo    93.53%     9      Daniel Murphy      83.08%
2     Endy Chavez      88.94%     10     Brian Schneider    81.03%
3     Damion Easley    87.93%     11     Marlon Anderson    79.73%
4     Angel Pagan      87.07%     12     Nick Evans         78.70%
5     Jose Reyes       86.34%     13     Fernando Tatis     77.98%
6     Carlos Beltran   86.25%     14     Ramon Castro       77.30%
7     Argenis Reyes    85.31%     15     Ryan Church        75.52%
8     David Wright     83.35%     16     Carlos Delgado     75.12%

The “swing for the fences” approach of Delgado, Castro and Tatis is displayed here. However, all three had slugging %’s good enough to negate this deficiency. Both Beltran and Wright’s contact %’s were in line with their career performance. It’s reassuring for future years to see two of the three biggest power threats on the team continuing to put the bat on the ball at a strong rate.

Pitches per plate appearance (P/PA)

This statistic is pretty self explanatory. It measures, on average, how many pitches a batter sees during each plate appearance. The higher a player’s P/PA, the better. As an opposing pitcher throws more pitches, he will generally become less effective. It works in a lineup’s advantage to get to the opposing team’s bullpen as early as possible. Any batter who faced the 2008 Mets can tell you that.

P/PA (league average = 3.81, team average = 3.85)

Rnk   Players           P/PA     Rnk    Player            P/PA
--------------------------------------------------------------
1     Luis Castillo     4.28     9      Angel Pagan       3.82
2     Nick Evans        4.25     10     Ryan Church       3.82
3     Daniel Murphy     4.25     11     Endy Chavez       3.79
4     Marlon Anderson   4.01     12     Carlos Delgado    3.77
5     David Wright      3.97     13     Argenis Reyes     3.74
6     Fernando Tatis    3.97     14     Jose Reyes        3.68
7     Ramon Castro      3.96     15     Brian Schneider   3.56
8     Carlos Beltran    3.86     16     Damion Easley     3.50

I promise that this analysis is not funded by Luis Castillo. Remember that I am trying to analyze plate discipline – not power, clutch hitting, or the merits of giving a 4-year, $25 million contract to a 32 year old with bad knees. At the same time, Castillo’s strong plate discipline cannot be denied. It’s disappointing to see Jose Reyes perform so poorly here, as he has led the Mets in plate appearances the last 4 seasons. He has not significantly improved in his ability to work counts since being promoted to the big leagues. Despite his strong O-Swing %, Easley was one of the worst in the league at P/PA.

Isolated patience (IsoPa)

IsoPa is OBP minus BA. It measures the walks and hit-by-pitch component of OBP. IsoPa is useful because a player’s BA is much more variable from year to year than his BB%.

IsoPa (league average = .072, team average = .074)

Rnk   Player            IsoPa     Rnk    Player            IsoPa
----------------------------------------------------------------
1     Luis Castillo     0.110     9      Ryan Church       0.070
2     Carlos Beltran    0.092     10     Ramon Castro      0.067
3     David Wright      0.088     11     Jose Reyes        0.061
4     Daniel Murphy     0.084     12     Damion Easley     0.053
5     Carlos Delgado    0.082     13     Nick Evans        0.046
6     Brian Schneider   0.082     14     Marlon Anderson   0.045
7     Fernando Tatis    0.072     15     Endy Chavez       0.041
8     Angel Pagan       0.071     16     Argenis Reyes     0.041

Murphy’s IsoPa is much higher than his career minor league average, so I’m skeptical that his 2008 performance is sustainable. On the other hand, Evans’s 2008 IsoPa is much lower than his career minor league average, so I expect him to improve. This demonstrates the problems with using a limited sample size to evaluate talent. Jose Reyes regressed in 2008, after a sharp improvement in 2007. Beltran posted the best BB/K rate of anyone not named Luis, and I expect him to maintain his already strong ability to draw walks as he gets older.

Plate Discipline Grades

Mets, overall: B+

Luis Castillo: A
Carlos Beltran: A-
Angel Pagan: A-
David Wright: A-
Fernando Tatis: B+
Ramon Castro: B
Damion Easley: B
Endy Chavez: B-
Daniel Murphy: B-
Jose Reyes: B-
Nick Evans: C+
Brian Schneider: C
Carlos Delgado: C-
Argenis Reyes: C-
Ryan Church: C-
Marlon Anderson: D

Thank you to FanGraphs, ESPN.com, The Hardball Times, and Baseball-Reference.com for providing the statistics.


16 Responses to “Evaluating the Mets’ Plate Discipline”

  1. Comment posted by sheadenizen on November 11, 2008 at 9:49 am (#892413)

    James, welcome to metsgeek. I too miss John Olerud. He was an all time fave of mine.
    Well done analysis. Ryan Church and Carlos Delgado make me very nervous.

  2. Comment posted by Danny on November 11, 2008 at 9:50 am (#892414)

    P/PA is such an overrated stat. You criticize Reyes for not “working the count more”, yet here is what Reyes does when he swings at the first pitch:

    2008: .356/.348/.655/1.003
    Career: .351/.348/.565/.913

    Reyes is not like the other hitters on this list. With a guy like Reyes, pitchers ABSOLUTELY DO NOT want to fall behind him. Guys like Beltran and Wright will get pitched around all the time in certain spots. Reyes rarely does (unless Castillo is hitting second). If they are serving him up cookies early in the count, and Reyes is sitting on pitch and location, he should attack. And while you note that Reyes “regressed sharply” in 2008 in IsoPa from 2007, you don’t include the fact that he completely lost all of his power in 2007, too. Reyes is the kind of hitter that needs to be aggressive to be most effective. 2006 and 2008 were the best mix of aggression and discipline for him. He’s a unique case.

    Castillo looks like an exceptionally disciplined hitter by all of these metrics because he is praying to draw a walk. I think it’s funny to give him an “A”. His approach is an affront to what baseball is supposed to be about.

    All in all, this was a really interesting exercise, though. Thanks.

  3. Gravatar
  4. Comment posted by Mike Newman on November 11, 2008 at 10:15 am (#892417)

    Bringing it from day 1 James!

    I do wonder if this has changed your view of Castillo’s worth. I know we are both railing for the Mets to get rid of Castillo and go in a different direction.

  5. Gravatar
  6. Comment posted by Dep on November 11, 2008 at 10:48 am (#892426)

    lol @ giving castillo an A.

    Yea, get that P/PA up with taking 2-0 and 3-1 counts with runners on

    that’s what i want from my guise

  7. Comment posted by MetsTailgate on November 11, 2008 at 11:02 am (#892456)

    Danny,

    Your comment suggests that Reyes’s success when swinging at the first pitch is out of the ordinary. Most players have success when swinging at the first pitch because the pitch is likely a meatball. Here are the numbers for various other Mets when they swing at the first pitch:

    David Wright
    2008: .425/.427/.588
    Career: .374/.370/.591

    Carlos Beltran
    2008: .354/.349/.634
    Career: .367/.363/.624

    Carlos Delgado
    2008: .282/.289/.641
    Career: .372/.388/.702

    I’m going to have to disagree with your ascertain that “Reyes is not like the other guys on this list”, as far as this stat is concerned. Also, this analysis was not supposed to be an all-encompassing look at the Mets - yes, I realize Reyes’s power increased from 2007 to 2008, but players generally maintain there ability to draw walks moreso than their ability to hit for power as they get older. I will be releasing my 300,000 word treatise on the 2008 Mets soon, I’ll let you know when it comes out.

    As for Castillo, yes he had a poor season, but it’s hard not to give him an “A” for plate discipline, even if it’s just a product of the fact that he hardly ever swings. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.

  8. Comment posted by Athena on November 11, 2008 at 11:10 am (#892459)

    Very interesting article, James.

    And while I agree with Danny and Dep’s comments, I do think the Castillo A is intriguing. Not because it indicates any unrecognized value, but because it sheds light on the strength and weakness of this set of statistics.

    Obviously, I wouldn’t trade Castillo’s “discipline” for Reyes “over-aggression.” Not even if Luis was free! But it’s a lot of fun (and very instructive) to see where the analysis breaks down when taken out of context. And the majority of the players fit what my intuition would have suggested.

    Thanks for doing all of this work. And welcome to Metsgeek! I look forward to the next analysis.

  9. Gravatar
  10. Comment posted by Dep on November 11, 2008 at 11:23 am (#892468)

    yes yes, i was rude b4 and didnt say hi. Welcome to MetsGeek James.

    Even though i despise Castillo and barf at the thought of the grade you gave him, the article was nicely done. good stuff.

  11. Comment posted by uranusjr on November 11, 2008 at 11:34 am (#892484)

    I’m not so impressed about “IsoPa” (I’ve seen it referred as “IsoD” though, and I’ll use this instead). The IsoD is defined as OBP - AVG, and (as we all know), OBP means (On base times) / (PA), and AVG is (Hits) / (AB).

    One thing about statistics is that, when you try to label a value for evaluation, you must give a reasonable meaning to the value. Here, IsoD is intended to mean “how a hitter gets on base otherwise than hits”, so it subtracts AVG (hits) from OBP (all get-on-bases). However, if one wants to get what is really wanted, “how a hitter gets on base otherwise than hits”, one should actually do

    ( (On base times) - (hits) ) / PA

    instead.

    The difference between the equation and IsoD is the denominator. AVG and OBP use different denominators (AB and PA), so if you divide one from the other, you would NEVER get a mathematically meaningful result. This makes IsoD useless.

    An example is easy. Take two guys:

    Joe: 100 hits, 50 BB, 400 AB, 450 PA - .250 AVG, .333 OBP
    Billy: 50 hits, 42 BB, 400 AB, 442 PA - .125 AVG, .208 OBP

    The above two have the same IsoD (.042), but clearly Joe (1 BB every 9 PAs) is better in BB than Billy (1 every 11+). This may not seem to be a big difference, and may not effect the ranking you gave for IsoD (at least I believe Castillo would still be No. 1…Didn’t do the whole math though), but the error will go up and up when Joe has better and better average.

    IsoD is useful ONLY when TWO BATTERS HAVE SIMILAR OBP, AND WE WANT TO COMPARE THEIR SIMILARITY. This is not of no use, for the one who has batter IsoD HERE would be more likely to maintain his OBP is the following years. But if you want to use it otherwise, it would be dangerous. I’d recommand NOT using it at all, and in its strictest definition, I personally doesn’t think IsoD should be considered a “stat” (because a stat should have a logical meaning).

  12. Comment posted by mookie03 on November 11, 2008 at 11:41 am (#892493)

    This was interesting James - thanks.

    While it is hard to imagine Luis warranting an A in any area after his season, he certainly has plate discipline. And I think that’s the point, whether or not that is a good thing for the game or whether it says something definitive about the player, it’s a huge part of his game.

    Luis has good plate discipline - it’s the rest of his game that is the problem.

  13. Comment posted by DerekCarty on November 11, 2008 at 7:50 pm (#892841)

    Hey guys,
    I write for the Hardball Times but am a huge Mets fan and though I’d chime in here, brag about my team a little bit. About a month ago I developed some plate discipline stats, and the Mets look very favorable using them. Here are the results for Judgment, which is in Index form (meaning 100 is league average):

    +-----------+------------+-----+------------+
    | LAST      | FIRST      | AB  | JUDGMENT_X |
    +-----------+------------+-----+------------+
    | Castillo  | Luis       | 298 |        123 |
    | Wright    | David A    | 626 |        115 |
    | Beltran   | Carlos     | 606 |        113 |
    | Tatis     | Fernando   | 273 |        108 |
    | Delgado   | Carlos     | 598 |        108 |
    | Chavez    | Endy       | 270 |        104 |
    | Schneider | Brian      | 335 |        103 |
    | Easley    | Damion     | 316 |        102 |
    | Castro    | Ramon R    | 143 |        102 |
    | Reyes     | Jose       | 688 |         99 |
    | Anderson  | Marlon     | 138 |         96 |
    | Reyes     | Argenis    | 110 |         95 |
    | Evans     | Nicholas R | 109 |         91 |
    | Murphy    | Daniel     | 131 |         91 |
    | Church    | Ryan M     | 319 |         91 |
    +-----------+------------+-----+------------+

    Of the players with at least 200 at-bats, everyone but Ryan Church was league average or better (Reyes was 1 point off), and even Church was solid. Castillo was very good, the best on the team.

    Just thought I’d share. Keep up the great work!

  14. Comment posted by DerekCarty on November 11, 2008 at 7:50 pm (#892842)

    Sorry about that ugly table. The pre tag didn’t seem to work very well.

  15. Comment posted by MightyJoeOrsulak on November 11, 2008 at 9:49 pm (#892856)

    I would say that Castillo’s discipline stats are almost–but not quite–meaningless. O-Swing% is meaningless with Castillo because his Z-Swing% is as at the bottom of the league. He is simply being extremely selective and not swinging unless it is absolutely necessary. He also posted a .266 BAbip while putting up a GB rate of 66%. This is partly bad luck, but grounders inflate BAbip while killing power. It’s hard to put up such a miserable BAbip with that kind of a GB%, unless you’re LD% is 15.6–as Castillo’s is–and your grounders are very weakly hit, both of which should happen when you don’t swing until you’ve got 2 strikes on you.

    Castillo is, admittedly, good at laying off bad pitches, since he does draw walks. But his walk totals are inflated by his passivity. Every time he let a fat 3-1 pitch go, he traded a strong batted ball for a 3-2 count, which eventually results in him “working” a walk, striking out looking, or weakly hitting a pitch in a two strike count, artificially inflating his walks and deflating his average, artificially inflating his IsoD.

  16. Comment posted by DerekCarty on November 11, 2008 at 11:05 pm (#892876)

    MightyJoeOrsulak,
    Very insightful. Castillo’s Aggressiveness/Passivity was a ridiculous 0.01. This means that when he made a mistake in judgment it was almost always because he was too passive, taking a called ball. As something to compare it to, Vlad Guerrero’s was 1.86, meaning his mistakes were of the extreme aggressive variety.

  17. Comment posted by MightyJoeOrsulak on November 12, 2008 at 4:20 am (#892890)

    I’ve got several relatives who would be terrified of the prospect of Passive/Aggressive becoming a stat!

  18. Comment posted by thehotcorner on November 12, 2008 at 3:13 pm (#893224)

    All of our purely left-handed hitters were at the bottom in O-Swing %. Anderson, Church, Delgado, Murphy, Schneider, and Chavez made up the entire bottom half of the list outside of Reyes/Evans, two rookies.

    Is it a result of…

    Stronger left-handed pitching in our division or league?
    Lefties face more specialists than do rhers and in general do worse against same side pitchers?
    Purely coincidence?

  19. Comment posted by MightyJoeOrsulak on November 12, 2008 at 6:13 pm (#893386)

    It implies regression from Murphy, that much is certain. His optimal value is as a third baseman, and we’re not in the market for that; and he isn’t impressing the conservative Mets organization at 2nd base. (I would still experiment there, though.)

    He’s looking like a sell high candidate.

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