May 27, 2010

J.D. Drew Is A First Pitch Hacker

Back on May 1, I posted about Dave O'Brien's obsession with J.D. Drew not swinging at pitches. During the Red Sox's April 30 game, O'Brien announced, at various points:
I don't know if it's good or bad, but how many big leaguers see five pitches and never take the bat off their shoulder? And he might see six and not take it off. ...

Took six pitches ... his last time up, and now the first two pitches here in for strikes, he has not offered at them. ...

[H]e has taken 10 consecutive pitches. ... What will make J.D. swing the bat? ... That's 12 straight pitches he's looked at. ... That's 14 straight pitches he's looked at. I don't know, I may be alone, but I find that remarkable.
O'Brien found it so remarkable that he was completely oblivious to Darnell McDonald not swinging at 17 consecutive pitches -- in the same game!

I have been amazed that O'Brien thought it was remarkable for a batter to not swing at five straight pitches. (And I have been beating the hell out of this dead horse in game threads. Not sure when I'll stop.) How many times has O'Brien seen a batter get ahead 3-0, take a strike, and then walk? Probably hundreds. That's 5 pitches. It's not rare.

And that night, in addition to McDonald's 17 and Drew's 14, Victor Martinez took 10 straight and David Ortiz looked at 6 in a row.

It happens all the time. In Tuesday's 2-0 win over Tampa Bay, Jason Bartlett had streaks of 11 and 6 (he swung at only 1 of the first 18 pitches he saw), and three other players took five straight pitches. Last night, Dustin Pedroia had two separate streaks of 7, Kevin Youkilis looked at 8, Ortiz looked at 7, and Marco Scutaro took 6.

Thinking about the perception of Drew "never taking the bat off his shoulder", I poked around at Baseball Reference earlier this week. I use B-Ref a lot, but I'm still finding neat pages that I never knew existed. A lot of stuff "doesn't appear in the box score", but if it happens on the field, it will show up at B-Ref.

Here is some of what I found:

Drew has swung at only 37% of the pitches he has seen this year, 8th lowest in the American League. Only seven AL players swing less often than Drew -- but two of them are his teammates! Yep, Youkilis and Scutaro -- both at 34% -- are in the top 5. And Martinez is close behind Drew at #15 (38%). So Drew's low swing % is roughly middle of the pack in the context of Boston's lineup.

People get annoyed at Drew taking so many strikes. What percentage of his strikes are called and where does he rank? He has the 10th highest percentage in the AL, 37%. But, again, among those nine players above him are Scutaro (3rd, 43%) and Youkilis (9th, 39%), with Martinez at #11, 36%.

Don Orsillo has said several times this year that Drew is striking out looking more often. Is this true? We know that in 2010, Drew is swinging at the lowest percentage of strikes in his career (though that may change once the season is complete). He is putting only 26% of the strikes he sees into play, also the lowest rate of his career.

36% of Drew's strikeouts are looking, which is 15th highest in the AL. Scuatro leads the league at 74% -- way out in front of Bobby Abreu (55%) and Mark Teixeira (54%). Drew's 36% is the third-highest rate of his career. The other two seasons were with the Dodgers, 43% in 2005 and 39% in 2006.

In fact, while he has been in Boston, Drew's percentage of called strikeouts is steadily increasing (28%, 31%, 33%, 36%). Orsillo's observations are correct, though I'm assuming that is a coincidence, since he has, to my knowledge, never given any actual percentages during a broadcast. For Drew's career, 31% of his strikeouts are looking. The MLB average is 27%.

While it's no surprise that Vladimir Guerrero swings at the most first pitches (50%), and the most pitches overall (61%), I was shocked to see that Drew swings at the first pitch more than anyone else on the Red Sox (26%; Adrian Beltre is #2 at 24%). He's a hacker!

If Dave O'Brien is truly fascinated by players who simply stand in the batters box (and is not harbouring some sort of irrational dislike for Drew), he should be far more intrigued by Scutaro and Youkilis.

I mentioned 3-0 counts at the beginning of the post. Over his career, Drew has been in 409 3-0 counts. He has swung at the next pitch only four times. Since the start of the 2002 season, he has swung only once in 310 opportunities.

Also: As a team, the Red Sox swing at only 19% of first pitches, 29th among the 30 MLB teams, with the Angels at 18%. The Red Sox also swing at the fewest pitches (41%) of any team in baseball, although they also see the most pitches per plate appearance of any team.

(When I first drafted this post, I had this trivia question: Which AL player has the highest percentage of his PAs end with an extra base hit? The answer at that time is now #2. Hint: He is not a Boston player, but he plays in our division.)


allan said...

The Angels swing at the fewest first pitches, but they go nuts on 3-0 counts. They have swung at 12 of 85 3-0 counts

They have 3 players in the AL Top 5. Mike Napoli has swung at 4 of 7, Kendry Morales 4 of 12, and Torii Hunter 3 of 13.

Victor Martinez and David Ortiz are the only hitters on the Sox who have swung on 3-0: Yook 0 of 17, Drew 0 of 16, Pedroia 0 of 13, Scutaro 0 of 9, Hermida 0 of 9, Beltre 0 of 7, Martinez 2 of 12, Ortiz 2 of 8.

Only AL teams with no 3-0 swings: A's 0 for 85, MFY 0 for 83.

In the NL, Mets and Marlins are both 0 for 101.

FenFan said...

I would think that most players would take a 3-0 pitch. I remember once or twice hearing the old adage: "A walk is just as good as a hit."

On a related note, I am one of the few people on my slow-pitch softball team who takes walks. I almost never swing at the first pitch, even if it looks juicy enough to crush into the next town. Was it Wade Boggs that was known for taking so many first pitches? Maybe I model myself after him since he was the best "pure" hitter in baseball when I was a Little Leaguer.

(I get shit for walking so much but no one seems to complain when I come around to score as a result.)

Patrick said...

oooh, oooh, I think I know, just looking up XBH leaders. He was on the team last year, I believe?