“Have an approach!!”
– Every Coach Ever
While this is sound advise, players are often in the dark on what having an approach actually means, and if it’s not clear what approach a player should have, how can a player have one??
As we went into our fall season this year, it was my goal to provide our hitters with some objective feedback on their personal approaches, based on some of the key things we focus on as a group. In today’s baseball data environment, it was important to me to be able to provide them with hard evidence of how their approaches relate to their production. By no means are these the only important things on the approach side of hitting, and there are many different approaches that hitters can employ, but the following focuses are where we decided to start.
- Attacking fastballs in hitters counts
- Hunting not fishing in hitters counts
- Winning the fastball with 2 strikes
These approach focuses while general and basic, give our guys a good baseline to work from and us as coaches good parameters to measure them. For most high school hitters, attacking fastballs in hitter’s counts is the most viable option unless the pitcher proves that he can command secondary pitches effectively. In my opinion, a hitter’s count is any count with less than 2 strikes. 0-1 to me is still a hitter’s count and feeling like you have to swing at a pitcher’s pitch in that count tends to get guys into trouble. 0-0, 1-0, 1-1, and 2-1 are counts that hitters are generally fairly comfortable in. Hunting in hitter’s counts focuses hitters on leaving pitches alone you’re not on time for, or that are out of the zone. If you’re sitting fastball, don’t chase a good breaking ball that fooled you or that bounces in the dirt. If you’re sitting breaking ball, don’t wave at a fastball. Hunt your pitch and attack it! Winning the fastball with two strikes is important because we have to adjust from hard to soft in a two strike count. The opposite will not work!! Being prepared for a fastball and battling breaking ball with two is key. We give our guys a win for battling off a fastball, as well as making good contact.
As we looked to quantify these approaches during our games this fall, I kept a notecard each game that tracked not only our players results as shown on the front of the card, but their performance in our approach stats on the back. This killed two birds with one stone, as the ability to reference the card allowed me to have a better focus on our guys approaches in game as well as see how our team approach contributed to that our performance as a whole that day. A fancier, more official chart may soon follow, but this worked well this fall!
As we collected that data throughout the fall, both the result and approach data was input into a spreadsheet tracked throughout. The goal was to see how production was influenced by how well guys executed our approach focuses, and to see how our top performers compared to our lower end guys. With that goal in mind we needed a production number, and lucky for me my pal Chris Dunn has come up with a killer stat called QwOBA that combines Weighted On Base Average with our own focus on Quality Plate Appearances. In short, the number gives weight to traditional production stats including singles, doubles, triples, home runs, walks and HBP, as well as rewarding QPA’s that don’t show up or are marked as negatives on the stat sheet. These to us are; hard hit outs, sacrifice flies and bunts, moving and scoring runners and 8+ pitch at bats. This stat sums up how we value our hitters very nicely.
With this number at hand, we compared what we saw in production with what we saw with approach. Here are the approach stats that we put together based on the items we tracked.
- Hitter’s count fastball swing %
- Total hitter’s count chases
- Hitter’s count positive results % (on swings)
- Hitter’s count zone contact % (balls in play vs. missed or fouled)
- Two strike fastball win %
Here’s the full number breakdown, as well as how each player performed statistically both result and approach wise in the stats above. Below it is a look at how our top four, middle four and bottom four producers fared as a group, which is where we will spend most of our time.
Take a look at the second chart and you can see that aside from the obvious differences in QwOBA and QPA production, there are some noticeable differences in the approaches of those three groups. It’s important to note that this fall we kept a rolling lineup throughout or 22 games and that with a couple exceptions, our guys plate appearances were very close in number.
You can see that the top producers were much more aggressive on fastballs than the bottom two groups, supporting our focus on the value of attacking fastballs in hitter’s counts. Going down to chases/player, you see that the top producing group actually chases more balls per player than the bottom group does, highlighting the fact that aggressiveness sometimes makes mistakes and being too passive is safer but less productive. Another interesting thing is that the guys that chase too much in that middle group have less fastball swings, but more chases, indicating the possibility of a little bit more of a guesswork aspect to their approaches as a whole.
Working down to HC Positive %, it’s no surprise that the top four produce more in hitters counts, although not by a wide margin. They make 12 percent more contact than the middle group with virtually the same production there, which tells us that when the middle group made contact, they made it count while putting the ball in play often is what propelled the top group. The bottom group put the ball in play more than the middle group, but yielded far 12% less positive results. This is where other factors including swing quality and pitch selection come into play.
Going down to fastball wins on two strikes, we can see that the top group dominated in this category and was a likely contributor to their success while the bottom group’s ability to battle there gave added some production for them.
It’s important to understand that these numbers just show trends and that hitting is a multidimensional process. Swing quality, pitch recognition, game situations and a handful of other factors all play a part here, and these numbers show generalities. In the same breath, you can see that different players went about it in different ways. For example, Player 2 didn’t make great contact in hitter’s counts, but was very good with 2 strikes at 87%, while Player 1 had just slightly better production by being more consistent throughout with his contact, positive result and two strike percentages. Thinking about these two guys as specifically, swing differences and mentalities come into play as who they are as people and how they can be productive. Player one is a bit better techanically, while player two makes up for it with a big time grinder mentaility. Looking at the general trends and noticing areas where they can improve is important, but seeing how each guy is productive allows players to stick to their personal approaches and coaches to understand. If a guy can produce while being less aggressive early and battling with 2 strikes, so be it!!
While these numbers and their logic are not rocket science, it does shed light on general trends that we can observe and work towards and as well as providing each player with an idea of who he is as a hitter and how his personal approach relates to his own production. 651 plate appearances is a realtively small sample size, so the continued tracking of these stats as well as exploring additional pieces will aid in our understanding of how high school hitters can be productive.
!!!BONUS!!! – A more specific look at our hitters’ fall result stats. The numbers are reflected as percentages of total plate appearances. More on this in the future!