Curtis Granderson and his strike outs

Don’t know if you’ve been following the news out of Lakeland, but it appears that Curtis Granderson struck out a lot last year. It also appears that a goal of the organization is that he strike out less this year. Essentially he just needs to make better contact. And changes in his

There has been a ton of interesting discourse about this over the last few days. Jason Beck notes Granderson comes in with a retooled swing that cuts down on extra movement. John Lowe points out that striking out a lot isn’t necessarily bad, just look at Grady Sizemore.

Leyland made a whole lot of sense when meeting with reporters on Thursday on the subject:

I think he (Granderson) will cut down some (on strikeouts) because he’s going to be a more mature player. But I don’t want to turn him into some get-a-walk, Punch-and-Judy type of guy.”

“I’ve never known how to figure it out. We tell our hitters to be aggressive all the time, and at the same time we tell them, ‘Work the pitcher.’ “

Lowe also quotes Granderson identifying that a more aggressive approach may actually lead to fewer strikeouts

“The simple approach is that if I stay aggressive, I’ll hit less often with two strikes in the count,” he said. “I’ve been aggressive, but I’ve missed pitches. If I can put them in play earlier in the count, I eliminate the two-strike approach.”

I really agree with this. We’ve seen that hitting with 2 strikes is no picnic, and once the at-bat reaches 2 strikes it was over pretty quick for Granderson.

So there is some good stuff on the theory front, but what do the stats say? Detroit Tiger Tales looked at K/BB ratios for the whole team, and Granderson’s K’s out weight his decent walk total and push him into the bottom half of the league. But let’s look a little deeper still…

Good Eye

It certainly seems that a possible reason for a high strikeout total is poor strike zone judgement. One way to perhaps look at this is the number of balls and strikes that hitter sees. In Granderson’s case he saw 4.08 pitches per plate appearance. Those were divided 1.56 balls and 2.51 strikes so that 38.2% of the pitches Granderson saw were balls. The norm for the league was 1.39 balls and 2.36 strikes making 37.1% of the pitches thrown were balls. Granderson is slightly better in this regard. It’s also worth noting that Granderson sees significantly more pitches per plate appearance than your typical big leaguer.

Now this stat isn’t all that telling in terms of judging someone’s eye. For one thing, big and scary hitters are going to see more balls because pitchers are being careful. Another factor is that it doesn’t really tell you how many of those strike should have been balls but guys were chasing them.

Enter David Appelman of Fangraphs and OSwing %. Appelman has done considerable analysis around the area of plate discipline and has generated some new statistics. One of which is OSwing % (outside swing percentage) which is:

The percentage of pitches a batter swings at that are outside the strike zone. Correlates with walk rate (BB%). This year, OSwing will be represented as OSwing above the MLB average.

As for Granderson, he was 2.79% above league average in 2006. So he was above average in this regard. Combined with his ball % this would seem to indicate that plate discipline isn’t really the problem with Granderson’s strike out rate.

Contact

With strike zone judgement out of the picture, it really does come down to contact rates. Appelman defined it as:

Contact (Contact Percentage) – The percentage of times a batter makes contact with the ball when he swings the bat. Correlates with strikeout rate (K%) and home runs per fly ball (HR/FB).

So this includes foul balls as making contact. I’m not sure if Appelman included foul tips or not. In my calculations I considered a miss since the result was the same as a swing and a miss.

Granderson’s contact rate in 2006 was 71%. To provide some context, it was the worst rate amongst the Detroit Tigers hitters. And the league average was 80%. Granderson was markedly below average in this regard. And if we look at how it fluctuated over the course of the season, it’s pretty easy to see that it was the source of his struggles.
Granderson’s Plate Discipline in 2006
The above graph shows the 10 game moving average for plate-discipliney type measures for Granderson last year. There were times late in the season where his contact rate plummeted, his walk rate plummeted, and his strike out rate surged.

My theory is that because he was struggling so much making contact, pitchers saw less reason to shy away from the strike zone. The result was a propensity of hittable pitches over the plate that he simply missed.

Does he have to improve?

I don’t think it is a dire concern. Many successful hitters, and teams (see Cleveland Indians offense circa 2006) can exist with high strike out totals. However, because Granderson’s strike outs are so extreme he probably does need to cut them down by at least one a week. Brian points out that if Granderson maintains his BABIP of 338 and reduces his strike outs by 20 that means another 7 hits over the course of the season.

There’s kind of a good news-bad news element to all this. First is that Granderson is still fairly young and he has a reputation as very coachable and as a quick study. He’s also got a decent eye which is something that shouldn’t go away. The bad news is that Appelman found that contact rate correlates very highly year to year. From 2005 to 2006 it had a R-squared of .81. Essentially, it is pretty constant.

For detailed data over the course of the 2006 season, check out Curtis Granderson’s page at Fan Graphs. That was a source of much of the data I compiled, as was retrosheet.

Much of…The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at “www.retrosheet.org”.