November 21, 2012
The Thing That Makes Vance Worley Interesting
You’d think that, if you managed a player who was almost totally unable to get a base hit, you might consider telling him not to swing. Pitchers, most pitchers, are almost totally unable to get base hits. You might tell your terrible-hitting pitchers not to swing unless they're behind 0-2 or 1-2. "If you can't stop yourself from swinging," you might suggest to these pitchers, "think about something totally unrelated to baseball as a distraction. Think about sex, to distract yourself from the baseball you're having."
Earlier this season, Ian Kennedy starred in a factoid on this site when he was outwalking Albert Pujols. Ian Kennedy seems to have figured out on his own that he should not swing. He walked 11 times this year, in 73 plate appearances, which would be the second-highest walk rate in baseball if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. He’s a terrible hitter, but he’s an excellent statue. Only three players (Lou Marson, Daric Barton, and the pitcher Christian Friedrich) swung at fewer pitches outside the strike zone, and no player swung at fewer pitches inside the strike zone, and of course no player swung at fewer pitches in aggregate. Ian Kennedy drew three four-pitch walks. Never forget this: pitchers don't actually have much control, and Kennedy's experience suggests a man without a bat can walk at least 10 percent of the time.
But this piece isn’t about what makes Ian Kennedy interesting. Vance Worley is also a pitcher who must bat, and Vance Worley has a different approach. Vance Worley swung at 68 percent of pitches outside the strike zone this year. Somebody has to be on top of any list, but Worley is interesting because he's way, way on top; the next-highest swing rate on such pitches was 58 percent, by R.A. Dickey. (Thirteen of the top 14 O-Swing rates were by pitchers. Which means you're almost certainly going to see me write about Alberto Gonzalez at some point.) Vance Worley swung at 68 percent of pitches outside the strike zone while the average major leaguer swung at 30 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, and just 62 percent of pitches inside the strike zone. In fact, if nobody ever threw a single pitch in the strike zone to Vance Worley, he would still lead all of baseball in overall swing percentage. In 44 plate appearances, he had six 1-0 counts. Just two of those 44 plate appearances ended with Worley ahead in the count. Like Ian Kennedy and unlike Ian Kennedy, Vance Worley goes to the plate with a plan.