Sunday, June 16, 2013

Working the Count Works

Some sportswriters, Tom Verducci among them, have called out the passive approach of major league hitters who take pitches in the hopes of grinding out at-bats and drawing walks. Because hitters are striking out more than ever before, the critics say the "Moneyball approach" not working.

Never mind the fact that hitters are seeing the same amount of pitches per plate appearance as they did 20 years ago, or that contact rates have more or less held steady. I came across some interesting numbers in today's Boston Globe, numbers that made me think. Here are the four players who have taken the most called strikes this year:

1. Matt Carpenter (.324/.408/473)
The leadoff man for Mike Matheny's St. Louis Cardinals is a patient hitter, and even though he leads the league in called strikes he doesn't whiff very often with a 12.6 K%.rate. He can afford to take pitches because he's so great at making contact; Carpenter gets the bat on the ball on over 97 percent of pitches in the strike zone that he swings at.

2. Joe Mauer (.327/.415/.482)
Plunging contact rates on pitches outside the strike zone have cause Mauer's strikeout rate to rise every year since 2010, but that hasn't stopped him from producing excellent results at the plate. More K's haven't translated into more power from Mauer, who hasn't come remotely close to matching the 28 bombs from his '09 MVP campaign.

3. (tied) Mike Trout (.301/.375/.547) and Mike Napoli (.262/.347/.467)
Trout's numbers are down slightly from his superlative rookie season even though he's trimmed his strikeout rate from 21.8% to 18.1%. Napoli's fanned in over one-third of his plate appearances so far, but he's always been a feast-or-famine hitter. Chris Carter is the only player who's struck out more this year, but Napoli's made up for it with lots of doubles and RBI.

Those are four tremendous ballplayers. Mauer's an MVP, Trout should have been MVP, and Napoli's a former All-Star. Carpenter deserves to make the All-Star team this summer, as do Mauer and Trout. Doesn't sound like taking strikes is adversely affecting their performance at the plate. Maybe more, not fewer, hitters should do the same.

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