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I walked out of my last college class yesterday. Since I'm now basically finished with higher education, I don't plan on reading or writing ever again. So this week's articles were dictated to me by my computer's text-to-speech software, and I had my mother type up this post. Thanks mom, love ya!

Monday
Changing a hitters' eye level and working inside-outside are still pretty solid principles to follow, and while some sequences seem to suggest better results than others, there aren't any that totally outweigh the rest: Defining the Pitch Sequencing Question, Part Two, by Peter Bonney, The Hardball Times

In both the up-to-down and down-to-up cases, switching levels has been effective after either a ball or a strike, but not both, and not effective enough to offset the ineffectiveness of switching levels in the other case. Again, this is somewhat intuitive. If a batter has a weakness (or a pitcher has a strength) up or down in the zone, it would make sense that continuing to pitch to that level is more effective than switching away from it, assuming that pitchers are starting off by attacking the more desirable location on the first pitch.

A higher contact rate in Triple-A on pitches inside the zone (Z-contact %) often signals better performance in the majors: How Contact Ability Might Influence a Hitter's Transition to the Majors, by Chris Mitchell, FanGraphs

I’m hesitant to say anything definitively, but it sure seems as though there’s something going on here. This isn’t merely an an instance of Z-Contact% acting as a proxy for a hitter’s strikeout rate, either. There’s almost no correlation between a hitter’s Triple-A strikeout rate and his wOBA differential.

Another interesting wrinkle is that Z-Contact% is better correlated with a hitter’s transition than plain old Contact%. My guess is that this is because Z-Contact% acts as a better proxy for a hitter’s bat-to-ball ability. Contact%, on the other hand, is influenced by a hitter’s plate discipline. Pitches outside of the strike zone are harder to hit, so players who swing at more of those pitches will have lower contact rates. Only looking at pitches in the zone does a better job of getting at a hitter’s actual contact skills.

Heading into last season Carpenter was coming off back-to-back seasons in which he hit a combined .310/.383/.475 through more than 1,000 plate appearances. And yet, his production took a rather noticeable downturn in 2014 — he batted .272/.375/.375. CAL was able to sniff out his decline:

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO H 1B 2B 3B HR BB% K% SB CS WOBA
CAL 709 604 0.276 0.383 0.390 0.773 0.114 167 117 41 0 9 13.29% 16.95% 2 2 0.347
2014 709 595 0.272 0.375 0.375 0.750 0.103 162 119 33 2 8 13.40% 15.70% 5 3 0.343
Concussions (reportedly) hardly existed in baseball before 2000, and they've been on the rise recently, though not necessarily in line with the protocol regarding them: Baseball's Next Injury Frontier: Concussions, by Julien Assouline, Banished to the Pen

While there has been a rise of concussions after the protocol was implemented, it’s hard to decipher based on these graphs whether it actually had a huge impact. Concussions were on the rise before the protocol was implemented and while there is a drastic increase in the 7-day DL department that was presumably inevitable due to the new rule. When looking at the overall concussions the drastic increase happened in years 2013 and 2014. For the overall DL stints it happened in 2013. In both cases it didn’t happen directly after the protocol was implemented. Maybe the protocol didn’t necessarily have a huge impact. Perhaps it only started to get enforced in 2013?

I also don’t know how many concussions were either not diagnosed or not reported. Before 2005 players rarely went on the DL due to a concussion. The concussion data before 2000 is almost non-existent. It’s hard to believe that players are suddenly getting concussed. This information was either not made public or poorly handled by Major League Baseball. Also maybe it’s simply that doctors are getting better at detecting concussions? Or they might just be paying more attention to it? These are questions unfortunately I simply don’t have an answer to at this point.

The concept of lineup protection might not be manifested statistically, but according to people in the game, it's definitely part of the mental approach: Player's View: Does Lineup Protection Exist?, by David Laurila, FanGraphs

Tim Hudson, Giants pitcher: “You’re foolish if you don’t look at the next hitter. Especially for us older guys; we know who in the lineup has had success against us and who hasn’t. If you have a guy on deck that you know doesn’t see you well, and there’s a guy in scoring position, and you’re facing a guy that sees you well, you’ve got to be smart. Pitch him tough, and take your chances with the guy on deck.”

Kevin Jepsen, Rays pitcher: “As a reliever, if I’m coming into the game and facing three-four-five, on most teams they’re all studs. If I’m behind a batter 2-0 or 3-1, I’m not too upset if I walk him. If he chases, great. If not, I get a fresh count against the guy on deck. Every hitter is dangerous when he’s ahead. The only time I’m really looking to see who’s on deck is when there’s a base open.”

Wednesday
The run value of a strike correlates strongly with overall league wOBA, meaning that, for example, as taking strikes becomes less conducive to hitters' success, their wOBA decreases. Also, the depressed league wOBA environment is seen most strongly in 3-0 counts: Dynamic Run Value of Throwing a Strike (Instead of a Ball), by Dan Meyer, The Hardball Times

We see there appears to be a strong correlation between wOBA and the calculated average run value for a ball to strike. In fact the two have a correlation coefficient of 0.98!

Since 2010, wOBA has declined 14 points (the 0-0 row corresponds to league average wOBA). However, the decline is not proportional across counts. The depressed run environment disproportionately affects hitters in deeper counts. In 2014, league average wOBA was down 14 points, but in 0-2 counts it was only down five points. In 3-0 counts, however, wOBA was down a whopping 39 points. Hitters had a worse time in 3-0 counts than they used to. Furthermore, they are having a worse time in 3-0 counts relative to league average than they used to.

There's a lot of randomness and not a lot hitter-specific strategy that goes on in 3-0 counts, though there's a slight correlation of strikes thrown to swing percentage: Moves and countermoves: The game theory of 3-0 pitches, by Henry Druschel, Beyond the Box Score

There are lots of players with zone numbers seemingly totally uninformed by their swing rate. For example, Howard Kendrick, he of the second-lowest 3-0 strike rate, also has a 0% swing rate on 3-0 counts. There is a slight downward slope to the data, but as shown by the correlation coefficient in the chart above, 3-0 swing rate alone does a very poor job explaining the variation in 3-0 strike rate.

Obviously not all hitters are equal, though, and pitchers must consider the basic characteristics of the hitter as well. Pitchers are not that worried about what will happen if, say, Ben Revere makes contact, regardless of if it's on a grooved fastball, so they might pound the zone to him on 3-0 even if he swings at an above-average rate. Similarly, Giancarlo Stanton is a good candidate to do a lot of damage on a grooved pitch, so pitchers will probably not throw him a meatball, even if the scouting report says he basically never swings on 3-0.

Hitting against the shift might have benefits even when it doesn't technically beat the shift: How Mike Moustakas Has Befuddled Defenses, by Chris Mosch, Baseball Prospectus

The verdict is still out on how much of the gains Moustakas has made at the plate he will sustain. He might not maintain a .306 True Average the rest of the season, but he’s clearly shown a concerted effort to use all fields when he’s hitting. At the very least it has added another dimension to his game. Royals manager Ned Yost was impressed early on with Moustakas’ adjustments, telling MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan that becoming a more complete hitter “will make him a better hitter in this league.” Moustakas agreed and noted that upon his arrival to the majors he felt the need to pull everything, “but now I feel like I'm going back to the hitter I used to be, someone who can drive the ball the other way. The shift has definitely made me more of a complete hitter.”

Thursday
Making the DH an MLB-wide thing wouldn't really cut into the revenue gap between owners and players: Universal DH a Small Help to Player Salaries, by Craig Edwards, FanGraphs

Not counting the designated hitter, American League teams pay their four bench players an average of \$1.8 million. Without the designated hitter, National League teams pay their five bench players an average of \$2 million. Interleague play does constitute a small portion of the season, and NL teams still invest some money on a bat coming off the bench. This amounts to a \$45 million difference between the leagues spent on the bench. Combining the salaries of the MLB bench as well as the designated hitters, the American League currently pays around \$80 million more than the National League. That number is more likely representative of the amount the players stand to gain through the use of the designated hitter in both leagues. Increased competition for sluggers could drive costs up somewhat, although the stereotypical designated hitter is not all that prevalent in today’s game. The amount is not nothing, but when the players are dealing with a \$1 billion gap to get to 50% of revenues, getting 8% of that amount is a minor victory and should not be considered a major concession by the owners.

Adding an additional roster spot is another potential salary gain for the players. The 25-man roster has been in place for nearly a century, but it is hardly sacred. Following strikes, teams were allowed extra spots. Teams are currently allowed an extra player for doubleheaders, and the owners had no problems reducing the roster to 24 players in the 1980s as a way to reduce their own costs. With an average salary of \$4.3 million, an additional roster spot, in theory, gains the players around \$130 million, but this number is illusory. The extra roster spot does not go to a starter, but to a bench player or bullpen spot. The average bench player or non-closer in the bullpen makes just \$1.8 million. The added roster spot will go to one of these players and create just \$54 million in additional salaries.

Exit speed is far from the only important data point in constructing a fly ball's potential and effect on the game: Batted-Ball Data: Not All Fly Balls Are Created Equal, by Tony Blengino, FanGraphs

Let’s look [at] a couple of players with fairly similar fly ball exit speed portfolios. Austin Jackson had an average fly ball exit of speed of 83.5 MPH in 2014, just above the AL average of 83.2 MPH. 17.3% of his fly balls were hit at 92.5 MPH and higher. Jackson’s overall fly ball production was very low, however, at .195 AVG-.398 SLG.Brian Dozier‘s average fly ball velocity was slightly higher, but still squarely in the average range, at 84.9 MPH. 24.3% of his fly balls were hit at 92.5 MPH or higher, and his fly ball production was markedly higher at .243 AVG-.764 SLG.

Why was there such a huge difference in these two players’ fly ball production? Jackson only pulled three of those 92.5+ MPH fly balls to the LF field sector, while Dozier pulled a whopping 22. Now does this make Dozier a better hitter than Jackson? Not necessarily; Dozier does have an excessive ground ball pulling issue that creates problems of its own. He is certainly better at selectively pulling in the air than Jackson, however.

Over half of Jackson’s hard fly balls were hit to CF, RCF and RF, and weren’t hit hard enough to do much damage. Fully three quarters of Dozier’s were hit to LF and LCF, and did plenty of harm to opposing pitchers. Jackson actually hit significantly more 97.5+ MPH flies compared to Dozier, a 9 to 3 margin, but hit 7 of them to the middle three field sectors, while Dozier focused on the extreme pull side. Exit speed is indeed only a piece of the puzzle.

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