In the last post I looked at Colby’s propensity to pull outside pitches and what effect it may have.  Another common criticism/complaint about his approach is the high number of strikeouts.  Clearly in a vacuum striking out less would be a good thing; however there is likely to be a trade-off with power.  In an effort to frame the argument I wanted to look at the relationship between striking out more/less and adding/subtracting power.   To that end I took 3 yrs of matched pairs (2007-2008, 2008-2009, 2009-2010) and ran a regression on the delta in strikeout percentage and the delta in ISO.  The results were that the two were very weakly (adjusted r squared of ~0.01) positively correlated (coefficient of 2.2 that was significant to a p of 0.01).  That basically means that in general adding 1% to a players strikeout rate added 2 pts of ISO.  Clearly this wasn’t a deep mathematical study, but I found the results to be fairly intuitive and somewhat interesting.  Colby himself has followed the general trend too as his strikeout rate went up by ~10% and his ISO went up ~70 pts.

Now is power everything?  Of course not.  However, I just wanted to point out that there are likely trade-offs to be made if you want him to cut down on his strikeouts.

Brief Introduction: You probably noticed that I’m not Erik or Steve but they’ve offered me a chance to contribute at PAH9.  I’ve been following the blog pretty closely and excited to see what I can bring to the table.  Thanks for the opportunity, dudes.

Just one game away from the All-Star Break during a season in which the Cardinals were expected to run away with a weak NL Central division, they remain one game back of the Reds. Saint Louis will be represented by five players in Anaheim including a clearly under-performing Yadier Molina. How fans overlooked Miguel Olivo for the starting job is beyond me. Per Fangraphs, the Colorado catcher has already been worth 3.2 WAR (good for best figure among all MLB catchers). Not only has he been superior with the bat, but his defense has also been worth 8 runs; he’s caught 51.3% of would-be basestealers compared to Yadi’s even 50%.

Below is a graph that illustrates the runs above replacement (RAR) that Molina has been worth over his career. There are a couple of things to keep in mind with this graph: (1) Roughly, ten RAR equals one WAR. (2) 2010 numbers are estimates based on season’s performance to date. For simplicity’s sake, I just multiplied current statistics by two because I was interested in what his worth would be at the end of the season assuming that current production sticks. (3) 2004 was left out since Molina only accumulated 151 PA. (4) Replacement level adjustments are made based on 20 runs per 600 PA; this explains why this value changes from year to year. (5) Likewise, positional adjustment for catchers is worth 12.5 runs (according to Fangraphs) per 162 games played. Therefore, this number will fluctuate based on how many games played in a given season. (6) All numbers courtesy of Fangraphs.

Molina’s batting and overall value have not been this bad since 2006 when he seemingly turned things around in the postseason. You’ll notice that his positional and replacement level adjustments have steadily increased since 2007 due to increased playing time. Despite positive value represented in the graph, it’s easy to speculate that increased playing time could actually hurt Molina’s overall line given the demanding physical nature of the catcher position. In the past three years, Russell Martin is the only NL catcher that has logged more innings behind the plate than Molina; interesting that he’s also experienced substantial offensive decline.

The above graph matches up with common perception that Molina’s offense has steadily improved ever since October 2006. He posted batting RAR of -5.2, -0.3, and +5.5 in 2007, 2008, and 2009 respectively suggesting that his offensive improvements were not a fluke but a newly learned skill. Let’s take a look at Yadi’s plate discipline and batted ball data for 2010. Again, I left out 2004; his career averages are listed on the bottom line for easy comparison.

Year O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% LD% GB% FB% IFFB%
2005 21.7 73.8 51.8 57.9 94 18.5 51.1 30.3 10.2
2006 27.7 70.8 51.5 71.1 92 18.5 42.5 39.1 14.2
2007 24 73.1 49.8 70.3 91.2 18.8 46 35.1 7.3
2008 31.4 74.9 54.7 83.9 93 21 46 33.1 11.5
2009 22.8 75.6 50.4 73.7 90.7 19.9 50.8 29.3 4.6
2010 29.9 69.4 49.9 79.7 90.1 20.3 52.2 27.6 1.6
Career 25.8 73.2 51.3 73.4 91.5 19.5 47.8 32.7 8.8

Molina’s most glaring concern is that he is nearing a career high in swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone while swinging at a career low percentage of pitches within the strike zone. That’s a pretty clear indication that he just isn’t seeing the ball well this season. Not only that, but he’s making less contact on pitches within the strike zone and more contact on pitches outside of the strike zone (with the exception of 2008).

In his July 7th post, Steve demonstrated that Yadi is chasing pitches below his knees more often this season compared to 2009 (see the last graph).  Furthermore, Molina is besting his career mark of balls hit on the ground by 4.4%; that doesn’t bode well for a player as slow as Molina and helps to explain how he’s grounded into twelve double-plays which is good for second (Pujols has sixteen) on the team.

With that said, there is some room for optimism. Molina is still hitting line drives at a 20% clip, his infield pop-ups are at a ridiculously low 1.6%, and his BABIP sits at .240 (37 points below his career average), an indication that at least part of his putrid offense to date may be attributable to bad luck. Let’s hope this is the case as the organization is pretty bereft of other options. Jason LaRue has had his chance to be an everyday catcher and Bryan Anderson has seemed destined to be the 2nd/3rd tier prospect in a trade for quite some time now to the chagrin of #hpgf members everywhere.

There’s been some concerns raised about the Cardinals’ plate discipline, most notably about Pujols swinging at a lot more pitches out of the zone than usual. The problem isn’t just limited to Albert. Holliday, Schumaker and others have all been a little more hacky than usual. On the flip side, Colby Rasmus has really raised his game in the on-base percentage department. He’s taken a much more disciplined approach overall, but his strikeout rate has raised some concerns.

The problem with even bothering looking at batter’s walk and strikeout rates this early in the season is we’re talking about small samples. Studies have shown that it takes about 150 plate appearances for a player’s strikeout rate to become something we can draw conclusions from, and 200 plate appearances for his walk rate. But Swing% and Contact %’s become a safer guide as early as 50 PA’s and 100 PA’s respectively. These stats give us a better idea of a batter’s plate discipline than K% and BB% this early in the season.

Jeff Zimmerman has found a way to use plate discipline stats such as these to estimate a player’s future walk and strikeout rates. Armed with this knowledge, we can get a good idea of what to expect in the plate discipline department from the Cards going forward.  The stats are from FanGraphs, batters must have a minimum of 50 PA.

Name Est. K% Est. BB% Actual K% Actual BB%
Colby Rasmus 25.4% 13.3% 35.6% 17.7%
David Freese 23.8% 10.4% 23.2% 8.8%
Brendan Ryan 20.9% 9.3% 24.7% 10.7%
Ryan Ludwick 25.1% 10.3% 27.2% 10.7%
Yadier Molina 17.8% 9.1% 12.1% 8.9%
Matt Holliday 18.2% 8.8% 18.3% 4.8%
Albert Pujols 15.5% 13.3% 16.9% 13.2%
Skip Schumaker 10.8% 4.5% 14.8% 10.1%

Intentional walks are taken into account, and some of the Cardinal batters have some gaudy IBB totals. Colby Rasmus has five intentional passes! So instead of factoring in the batter’s current IBB%, I used their Marcel projected IBB%.

Some observations:

  • Colby Rasmus really has shown a better eye, and should be counted on for walks going forward. This isn’t a big surprise judging by his minor league history, but his pitiful walk rate last year was a little worrisome. Colby should cut down the K%.
  • If David Freese really walks 10.4% of his plate appearances, I will be thrilled. He’s made me a believer with his performance to date.
  • Matt Holliday should revert back to normal when the dust clears.
  • Now the bad news. Skip Schumaker’s walk rate looks good now, but he could be on his way to a terrible walk rate unless something changes.
  • Albert is on his way to his highest strikeout rate since he was a rookie, and his lowest walk rate since 2004. He’ll still be really, really good, but just not the Albert we’re used to. The thing about Pujols is when he has a flaw, he seems to be able to correct it in short order.
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