As Pablo Sandoval continues to struggle this season — currently hitting a wOBA of .326 — it seems that everyone is in search for an answer. Two major things stick out to me: (1) His power, as determined by ISO — which remember, league average is around .150 — has plummeted. Pablo’s 2010 ISO of .145 is about 80 points lower than his 2009 ISO of .226. Pablo showed a similar pattern last year, though this one is extended, when it came to hitting for power. He really didn’t start driving the ball until game #30. The Giants have already played 54 games this year. (2) he’s hitting the ball on the ground more this season, his GB% of 47.6% is about 3 percentage points higher than his 2009 GB%. And then there’s the league leading GIDPs which isn’t helping matters.
While reading McCovey Chronicles, user oldjacket posted the following which got me thinking:
High fastball. Can’t hit it. Can’t not swing at it.
How has Sandoval been handling the high fastball this year? We know that strikeout pitchers tend to pitch up in the zone with their fastball. This has a couple of related outcomes, they tend to give up more flyballs — and generally home runs — but they also balance that out with the strikeout. Pablo, a free-swinger, seems like the type of guy that’s going to swing at a lot of pitches, regardless of where they are in the zone. How is he handling the high heat? Is he swinging at them? Is he making contact? Is he missing them entirely?
I decided to look at Pablo’s 2009 and 2010 season along with the league average whiff, contact, and swing rate for what I’m calling “high fastballs”. It’s incredibly basic, but I’m defining any fastball with a height of 2.5 feet, or greater, a high fastball. That’s halfway up the normalized strike zone as defined by most PFX analysis.
A graph, and then some data:
This is a graph depicting Sandoval vs. pitchers by handedness and fastballs. For the visual side of things, I’m including just whiffs and not contact or swings. The graph became really busy when I added those things in. The dashed-line across the standard strike zone indicates the cutoff for what I’m terming a “high fastball”. Here’s the data for Pablo Sandoval on high fastballs compared to the league average.
Pablo Sandoval 2010 Total Whiff Contact Swing 214 30 81 111 14.0% 37.9% 51.9% 2009 Total Whiff Contact Swing 758 94 328 422 12.4% 43.3% 55.7% ------------------------------ 2010 League Average Total Whiff Contact Swing 4666 323 1889 2218 6.9% 40.5% 47.5% 2009 League Average Total Whiff Contact Swing 5005 355 2107 2462 7.1% 42.1% 49.2%
Remember, that this data is just for fastballs that are 2.5 feet or higher. I didn’t consider any other aspect such as horizontal location. Over the past 2 years, the league average hitter has whiffed about 7% of the time on fastballs that are 2.5 feet or higher. Sandoval has posted a 14% whiff rate this year on high fastballs — up from 12.4% in ’09. The league average hitter has made contact 40-42% of the time against high fastballs. Sandoval’s contact rate is down this year at 37.9% after posting a league average rate of 43.3% in ’09. One thing I found interesting, is that batters swung nearly half the time against high fastballs — Sandoval is above that rate in each year, especially in ’09 when he swung at the pitch 55.7% of the time. Sandoval was one of the swingingest (is that a word?) hitters in the majors last year. So, we shouldn’t be too shocked that he’s swinging at a lot of pitches. However, his swing rate is lower this year on fastballs at 2.5 feet or greater.
Sandoval’s K% is very similar this year as compared to last. He’s making contact at the same rate. But, it does appear that he’s missing the high fastball a little more this year. As compared to the league average hitter, he’s swinging and missing almost twice as much. What does it all mean? I’m not sure I can take anything away from this data just yet — that’s why I like to call it labwork. Hopefully, it’ll lead to bigger and better things. I think the numbers could be improved by better defining what is a high fastball.
So, I turn to you dear reader, when you’re trying to operationalize a term like “high fastball” what does it mean to you? I get the feeling that my current cutoff is a little too crude. Maybe use bins? Increase the height by something like 6″ or so, vertically, for each bin? And should I take into account the horizontal location of the pitch? I’m still trying to figure that out.
Hopefully Pablo can get himself figured out, too.