The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet

Did they just say that?

Watching Cubs-Sox from a few days ago (hey, I’ve been busy, sue me) from the CSN feed, because the Cubs announcers are much, much, muchmuchmuch better than the Hose announcers. Len and Bob, as I alluded to there, are normally very good. And yet, I swear to god this comment just occurred, referring to Frank Thomas:

"You look back at how patient he was as a hitter, and still able to put up tremendous power numbers. If he was a free swinger like an Adam Dunn type of a power hitter, or a Reggie Jackson type of a power hitter, who knows how many home runs he might have hit?"

Now, first, I have to give my guys credit for recognising that Adam Dunn is an excellent hitter. A lot of commentators seem to have issues with their brains in that regard. That said, Adam Dunn is a free swinger? You sure about that? Seems to me that he led the league in walks last season, and has been damn close pretty much every season.

June 29th, 2009 Posted by | Baseball | 8 comments


  1. Looks like he also led the league in strikeouts three years in a row before that, though, which is the quintessential sign of a free-swinging slugger.

    What you really need to find out is how many of those walks were intentional. Barry Bonds led the league in bases on balls a few times, but it wasn’t necessarily because he had great pitch selection–it was because nobody would pitch to him.

    Comment by Dave | 29 June 2009

  2. 13. So, yeah, not many.

    That said, strikeouts are a very very poor measure of a free-swinging hitter. Patient hitters strike out a ton, because they fly out and ground out less often. Keep in mind that you can’t strike out on fewer than three pitches — your first-pitch hackers are more prone to flying out or grounding out, since they don’t take enough pitches to get to three strikes as often as patient hitters do. Notice how Soriano struck out about half as many times as Dunn, but had about a third as many walks, with near as dammit to the exact same number of IBB?

    Adam Dunn’s P/PA in 2008 was 4.32. Is that good? Well, sure — good for thired-best in all of baseball. You like BB/PA better as a measure of patience? Well, Adam Dunn posted a miserable .187, only just barely good enough to be the absolute best mark in all of baseball. Fact is, Adam Dunn sees more pitches per plate appearance than almost anybody in baseball, and he has a greater chance of walking than anybody else, bar none. That’s a pretty good indicator of plate discipline.

    Comment by Darien | 30 June 2009

  3. I gotta disagree with your assertion that patient hitters strike out more. That’s just plain wrong, at least for *good* patient hitters–which would be the majority of patient hitters in the major leagues.

    Probably the best example from my lifetime, a dude I watched play for years, is a fella by the name of Wade Boggs. Boggs took the first pitch something like 70% of the time, whether it was a strike or a ball, and still never struck out more than 70 times in a year. He also never hit more than 24 homers in a year, and that one year was a statistical aberration for him (his next highest yearly total was 11). He also amassed 200 hits for a then-record 7 seasons in a row.

    Also, take a look at the dude who broke Boggs’ record (and is still going). Ichiro Suzuki, the very definition of “light hitting contact hitter”. Dude has never struck out more than 77 times in a year.

    Good, patient contact hitters strike out less than big swinging sluggers. Generally speaking, if a dude has more than 100-120 Ks in a year, he better have also hit about 30 dongs. If he didn’t, he’s not going to be playing in the majors very long, unless he has some other skills or intangibles that keep him in the lineup.

    Being a patient hitter means not swinging at bad pitches. Being a *good* patient hitter means not swinging at bad pitches, *and* being able to get the bat on good pitches, and rip the shit out of mistake pitches. You’re also thinking situationally more than your average slugger. A slugger is usually thinking about going up there and taking two dirty great whacks at the ball, then *maybe* thinking about cutting the swing down and just putting it in play for the third swing (and guys like Manny are good enough that they don’t even bother with that–Manny is one of the best two-strike long-ball hitters in the game). A patient contact hitter is taking what the pitcher is giving. If the pitcher is living on the outside corner, the patient hitter is looking to take the ball the other way, while the slugger might still be trying to pull that outside pitch. Patient hitters absolutely do *not* strike out more because they ground and fly out less. It’s exactly the opposite, good patient hitters ground and fly out *more*, because they’re putting the bat on the ball more just trying to put the ball in play.

    The truly great contact hitters sometimes even get favorable calls from umpires. It’s often said that Rod Carew “never watched a called third strike” (obviously hyperbole, but you see the point) because he was so great at knowing the zone umpires would sometimes call a pitch a ball because it couldn’t have been a strike because Rod didn’t swing.

    Yeah, there are and have been great sluggers who don’t strike out much. But those guys tend to be legends of the game. A good modern example would be a guy like Albert Pujols who may be the best pure hitter in baseball at the moment. Those guys are legends and legends in the making.

    In the specific case of Adam Dunn, he appears to be a guy who *was* more of a free-swinging slugger who has learned some patience–or, he was a patient but not great hitter with a lot of power who has learned to make contact more. He led the league in strikeouts from 04 to 06–and we’re not talking 100+ Ks here, we’re talking almost 200, which is huge. In 06 he struck out a ridiculous 194 times and hit an abysmal .234, but he hit 40 jacks and drove in 92 runs, which explains why he kept his job. If he hits .234 with 194 Ks, but only drives in 60 with 20 homers, he’s either back in the minors or people are talking about him being “washed up” at age 26.

    Since then, he’s cut his strikeouts down every year, raised his walk totals, and managed to hit just about as many homers and get as many or more RBIs. That tells me his pitch selection is improving–he’s swinging at less bad pitches. Also, he’s making contact more with the pitches he *is* swinging at. His average and OBP aren’t going up much, though, which tells me that although he’s putting the ball in play more, he’s not making outs less. In general though, putting the ball in play is better than striking out, except in the rare cases where you actually save an out by striking out rather than grounding into a double play. But even so, putting the ball in play and giving the other team the opportunity to boot a grounder or throw the ball away is usually better than striking out.

    Comment by Dave | 30 June 2009

  4. Boggs, Ichiro, and Pujols are abberations. There is overwhelming statistical evidence that strikeout rate does not correlate negatively with plate discipline — see here, where a whole lot of analysis demonstrates that Adam Dunn had the tenth-best plate discipline in baseball (in 2006, which was before he supposedly stopped being a relentless hacker — note that my counterexample, Alfonso Soriano, is third-to-last), or here, where it shows that he’s not as good this season but still perfectly fine. A few interesting things to mention on those charts would be some of the names above Adam Dunn. For instance, Mike Cameron, who strikes out all the goddamn time.

    The fact is, this is a situation where conventional wisdom is completely wrong. Striking out is just another way of making an out, and is pretty much exactly the same as making an out any other way (it has the advantage, as you say, of never making more than one out, and the disadvantage of having a lower rate of errors, though guys can and do reach base on passed third strikes, and those very nearly cancel out). Disciplined players can be much better defined in terms of P/PA and OBP, categories in which Adam Dunn does very well indeed.

    I mean, if you want to talk about plate discipline strictly in terms of strikeouts, I imagine Juan Pierre is probably pretty much your definition of "plate discipline." Dude hardly ever strikes out! Of course, he’s routinely at the bottom of the charts in actual discipline-related skills, such as here, which says he swung at pitches out of the zone 29.8% of the time in 2007, and an astounding 31.8% of the time in 2008. I’ll grant that it also says that he made contact with them a lot, which I imagine is part of the reason why he made so many outs — his OBPs those two seasons were .331 and .327, which are bad. Adam Dunn, meanwhile, swings at pitches outside the zone much, much less often than Pierre. Didn’t you just say that being a patient hitter means not swinging at bad pitches? Because it looks like Adam Dunn is one of the best players in baseball at that particular skill. And meanwhile, Juan Pierre, who almost never strikes out, is completely rotten at it. See why strikeouts don’t correlate well with plate discipline?

    Comment by Darien | 30 June 2009

  5. Actually, what I should have said is that Pujols is an abberation. Boggs and Ichiro aren’t that unusual; they’re the Juan Pierre-type of hitter who plays for maximum contact and minimum power. Boggs’ IsoP, for example, was near as dammit to zero his whole career, as is Ichiro’s. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyhow) that Adam Dunn’s is rather a bit more substantial.

    Contact hitters like Ichiro and Boggs will strike out less by definition. This is not because they’re more disciplined; it’s because their hitting style focuses on contact rather than power. For all their fewer strikeouts, you’ll notice they don’t OBP considerably higher than Adam Dunn (well, except for those five years when Boggs was hilariously good, during which span he was arguably the best hitter in baseball even with a less-than-1 IsoP), which tells us that they aren’t really better at not making outs (since OBP tells you, in a nutshell, the rate at which a hitter makes outs).

    Boggs, unfortunately, played long enough ago that detailed pitch location data isn’t available for him, so I can’t provide any. Ichiro, however, swings at pitches outside the zone about 150% as often as Adam Dunn does. And, for my money, swinging at pitches outside the zone is pretty much the exact opposite of plate discipline, yeah?

    Comment by Darien | 30 June 2009

  6. So riddle me this then. How exactly does one strike out 194 times while hardly every swinging at balls out of the zone? Must have done a whole lot of *not* swinging at balls *in* the zone, right? Which strikes me as a truly awful way to be a hitter. I’ll take Boggs and Ichiro (and hell, Juan Pierre if he can still steal bases) over that–unless of course the guy hits 40 jacks and drives in 90+. Which he did.

    I mean, if your definition of plate discipline is “never swings at balls out of the zone” a statue has perfect plate discipline. Where’s the chart that shows me the guy who swung the least at pitches out of the zone and the most at pitches in the zone? That’s the guy I want. That can’t be Adam Dunn if he’s striking out nearly 200 times a year.

    I bet it’s Felix Pie.

    Comment by Dave | 30 June 2009

  7. There are three other ways. He could have swung at a lot of balls in the zone and not hit them, he could have foul-tipped a lot of balls right into the catcher’s mitt, and he could have had a lot of bad calls on the corners.

    My definition of plate discipline is emphatically not "never swings at balls out of the zone." It is, however, a pretty significant part of plate discipline; I mean, what we started by talking about was guys who are "free swingers," yeah? What that means to me is guys who swing at lots of pitches they shouldn’t swing at. Guys like (as I said) Alfonso Soriano (who would be like the best hitter in all of baseball if he could just get some goddamn patience). Plate discilpline is about not swinging at balls out of the zone, and it’s also about not swinging at balls that are just maybe barely in the zone that no way could you do anything with anyhow. The ball just clips the bottom outside corner of the plate, what are you going to do with that? Ground out weakly to first? Or maybe say "that might miss" and lay off it and try to get a walk?

    If you’re looking for rate of swinging on pitches in the zone, that’s the column directly next to the rate of swings at pitches out of the zone. Adam Dunn in 2008 posted a 65% mark, which is almost exactly league average (65.4%). I will grant that he could improve a bit in that regard, but he’s not exactly underperforming — a guy who swings an average number of times at pitches in the zone, swings a low number of times at pitches out of the zone (his mark was below the league average by 8%), and hits for power? That’s a pretty damn fine hitter. He’s going to walk a lot and mash, which is exactly what Adam Dunn has done. I would agree that bringing up his rate of swings on pitches in the zone would be an improvement, but, wait a minute…

    Aren’t we now saying that Adam Dunn isn’t a free enough swinger?

    Comment by Darien | 1 July 2009

  8. Oh, interesting side note: Baseball Reference has a stat called "Offensive Winning Percentage." What it does in a nutshell is determine how many games a team of nine of the same dude would win (it’s an offense-only metric, so it assumes average pitching and defense). A team of nine 2008 Adam Dunns would win at a .675 clip, which would be enough for a cool 109 wins. That, I would say, is a pretty fine team.

    For comparison, nine 2008 Ichiros would win .559, or 90 games, whereas the 2008 Juan Pierres would win only 67 games (.416) — they’d beat the Mariners, Nationals, and Padres, and be tied with the Pirates. Wade Boggs, of course, did not play in 2008, but his career average is .677, which gets him into a tie with the Adam Dunns (using Boggs’ best season — 1987 — we find the Boggses would win a ridiculous 130 games. Holy shit that was a great season).

    And, just for comedy value, the 2002 Barry Bondses would have won 151 games.

    Comment by Darien | 1 July 2009

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