Friday, March 05, 2010

Chase reduction, not weight reduction

In bartending terminology, a chaser usually follows a questionable offering. In the baseball world, the same basic principle applies.

Chasers are hitters that pursue pitches that are out of the strike zone. This often proves to be a fruitless endeavor as the average hitter batted .142 (.629 OPS) on those wayward pitches in ’09. From time to time, even the most disciplined hitters are fooled by a slider darting away or a changeup whose bottom is dropping out. This is why roughly a quarter of all pitches thrown out of the strike zone were swung at. Then there are those that swing regardless of a pitch’s eventual destination.

Some chasers are megalomaniacs who believe that they can hit anything tossed in their zip code. The Rangers’ Vladimir Guerrero fits into this mold. His pitch selection goes through the same rigorous quality-control process as many late-model Toyotas. Although the free-swinging Guerrero has hacked at 44.1 percent of all out-of-zone pitches, he made contact at a very high rate and managed to hit .208 (.655 OPS) on those pitches, in effect beating the house.

Just further down the chaser spectrum is Delmon Young. Like Guerrero, Young is also a member of Hacktastic’s Warehouse Club – swinging in bulk for large pitch count savings! In ‘09, Young took a cut at 37 percent of all out-of-zone pitches. What differentiates Young from Guerrero is that instead of being able to hit everything, Young misses the lion’s share of those out-of-zone pitches he swings at, making contact with a little over half.

Last year, the Twins left fielder strayed after non-fastball offerings at a very high frequency – chasing 46.5 percent of those types of pitches. The league standard in ’09 on non-fastballs was 29.8 percent. Comparatively, he was relatively selective when it comes to fastballs that are thrown out-of-zone (swung at just 35.3 percent) but still well above the league norms (19.3 percent).

Rather than having delusions of grandeur in his abilities like Guerrero, the more likely explanation for Young’s proclivity for chasing is pitch recognition (or lack thereof). As someone rushed through the minor leagues at a breakneck pace, Young never had time to establish his comprehension as the competition improved at each level. In the past three seasons, Young has shown little progress in this department at the major league level: 

Young’s Chase Percent:



OPS on out-of-zone pitches













*All data provided by Inside Edge

In December, I reviewed video to explain a little more about Young’s late-season surge. Refining his mechanics at the plate from last season and throughout the year, Young was able to elevate the ball more during his hot streak. In terms of his overall offensive development, this is a significant milestone and bodes very well for his power potential in 2010. As his renovated mechanics led to better contact and a drastic improvement in his lift, Young was still falling into the habit of following pitches off of the plate even during this stretch of solid baseball.

Without question, a more vigilant pitch bias would do Delmon Young good. The reason for this is fairly straightforward: Implementing a more discriminatory approach will lead to more pitches in the zone – the type in which he has shown at the latter portion of the last year that he can drive. Furthermore, opting to forgo swinging on errant pitches will inevitably result in more walks and hopefully buoy his on-base percentage above the league-average level.

While much ballyhoo has been made about the 30-something pounds he lost this offseason (which should go a long ways towards improving his mobility in the field and on the bases), the real focus for Young in Florida should be chase reduction, not weight reduction.