Patience is a virtue and a technique

Early in the season during the time of the great losing, there were numerous complaints about the Tigers approach at the plate. They were going up their swinging early and swinging often. I didn’t totally buy into the theory because the pitches per plate appearance were in line with league norms. But we didn’t know whether or not they were really chasing more pitches. But thanks to the folks at Fangraphs we now have a handle on this information.

Just this week they started to report out stats related to plate discipline. We now know how often players swing at pitches out side of the strike zone (O-Swing%) versus how often they swing at pitches in the zone (Z-Swing%). And how often they make contact with said pitches.

I brought in the Tigers data through April 29th and added the pitches per plate appearance and the percentage of time players swung at the first pitch. These data are found on the individual player pages at Baseball Reference. The results as well as some league norms for a point of reference are below:
Tigers Pitch Watching Abilities

Some things to note:

  • Granderson, Inge, Guilen, Rodriguez and Jones are all seeing more pitches per plate appearance than at any point in their career.
  • Pudge, Polanco, and Sheffield, are all swinging at the first pitch less than they have at any point in their careers – and there are some serious track records to work with. For good measure you can add Thames to the list as well.
  • Inge, Santiago, and Jones rates of swinging at the first pitch are less than half of their career rates at this point.
  • And yes, Pudge is still chasing more than the league norm. But understand that in the last 3 years his O-Swing% were 37%, 38%, and 41% so this is considerable improvement.

The take away is that everybody in the lineup (and even on the bench) is either meeting or exceeding their career levels of patience. And in terms of first pitch swinging there are some significant, significant changes underway. It’s still early in the season and these numbers could certainly, and I’d expect in many cases, to normalize. But if the team has a quick inning here or there or seem to swing at a few too many first pitches or pitches out of the strike zone, know that they’ve still been better than most in this regard.


  1. rich

    May 1, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    great graph,billfer you do some fantastic work here

  2. Steve in OH

    May 1, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    What can I say? Numbers are always right!

    Ok, I’ll stop being facetious because really they are some great stats as always Bilfer.

  3. Lee Panas

    May 1, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    Excellent data Bill. Thanks for gathering it and presenting it for us.

  4. Lee Panas

    May 1, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    This might help explain why a team that drew only 474 walks in 2007 is on a pace for 709 this year. They were third to the bottom last year. So far, they lead the league this year.

  5. tiff

    May 2, 2008 at 7:43 am

    Very interesting. Glad to see improvement (especially in Grandy, Pudge, Inge).

  6. tom

    May 2, 2008 at 8:08 am

    Outstanding work! This is the kind of content that makes you the best, Bill. Thanks for bringing it to us. Stat that jumped out to me, for some reason, was Thames’ Z swing and contact stat. If it’s in the strike zone, Marcus is hacking, and most of the time making contact. Interesting.

  7. SJC in Detroit

    May 2, 2008 at 8:57 am

    What rich said above — thanks for more great work

  8. Sean C. in Illinois

    May 2, 2008 at 9:50 am

    Very cool stats. Thank you, Billfer and Fangraphs. Every time I look, something else catches my eye. 100% zone contact for Santiago? 0% first swings for Granderson?

    It’s funny, but when I saw the headline I figured the post was going to be about fan patience and how people had been too quick to write off certain players or the whole team after a start to the season no one imagined. I was kind of looking forward to an inspirational mini-sermon. But the stats turned out to be quite inspirational themselves.

    The question is, with plate discipline like this, how did the team start off hitting so very inconsistently and often poorly (4 shutouts!). Have they gotten so much better at it just lately?

    The lurking question is: Can a hitter do everything right and still get poor results for an extended period of time? Are their hitters who have “tough luck” for a whole month or longer? Polanco’s plate discipline numbers look better than Ordonez’s. But the results were the opposite. So what’s the missing link between nice try and good results?

  9. Sean C. in Illinois

    May 2, 2008 at 9:52 am

    I can’t believe I misspelled “there.” I suck. I must leave now in shame and disgrace.

  10. greg

    May 2, 2008 at 10:23 am

    Sean – in reference to you first question, it would be interesting to see the splits of these stats BEFORE Leyland’s initial motivational speech(thru april 13th) and AFTER.

  11. Sean C. in Illinois

    May 2, 2008 at 11:11 am

    greg – Yes, it would be. I seem to recall some comments in the press from Leyland on team hitting the first couple weeks. You can imagine how much more extreme it might have been in private.

    I wonder why these speeches work in sports (as they sometimes seem to.) Personally, I’ve never responded very well to getting chewed out by the boss, whether as part of a group or on an individual basis. Maybe it works for the Tigers when it creates a sense of camaraderie (I can’t possibly be sperlling this right). As in, after the speech, players getting together in conversation, maybe guys who normally don’t talk that much with each other. “Did you hear what he said? Dude’s out of his freakin’ mind, he he. He needs to learn to relax. Maybe he’s not gettin’ any lately, eh? He he. Did you see how he lit another cigarette when he already had one burning in the ashtray? What a nut.”

    Or, given the fact that Leyland really does seem to command a great deal of respect from his players, maybe his displeasure really does make everyone bear down and work together just the slightest bit more, just enough to make a big difference in results.

  12. Joel in Seattle

    May 2, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    Wow. Very interesting numbers. I knew Polly was a great contact hitter, but to make contact on 92% of what you swing at? That’s pretty awesome.

    Look at Santiago’s numbers, though. He has yet to swing and miss at a ball in the strike zone!

  13. Ken

    May 2, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    Great stuff, as always. Under which link is the data on the players page on baseball-reference?