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Thread: Development question - Plate Discipline

  1. #1
    The Boss dougdirt's Avatar
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    Development question - Plate Discipline

    I was just thinking about this earlier today and I thought I would toss it out here to start some discussion.

    Plate discipline is something that is integral to a baseball player. There are many reasons for it. First, the closer the pitch is to the center of the plate, the more likely a player is to punish that pitch. I am sure 90% of us are familiar with the Ted Williams batting average chart of the strikezone posted below:


    Now that chart is just an idea, but I think that for most hitters, it holds true at least in theory, that the same hot zones are in the same areas. So choosing to swing at pitches in the strikezone is going to make you a better hitter than if you choose to swing at pitches outside of the strikezone or on the fringes.

    That idea goes hand in hand with walks. The fewer pitches outside of the zone you swing at, the more walks a normal player will have (some guys simply make a ton of contact, so their walks are going to be low because they are hitting strikes more than most guys are) or at the very least, the fewer strikeouts a player is going to have. Both things are likely to improve a players batting average, which in turn improves a guys OBP and SLG.

    Now, there have been studies out there that have shown that players who don't have good plate discipline (in terms of strikeout to walk ratio, since we don't have pitch location data for the minors at all and only for a handful of seasons for the Majors to work with) typically do not develop it as they get older.

    I had a few thoughts running through my mind while thinking about this though.

    1. OBP hasn't really been a focus for most teams for that long of a period of time. Neither have advanced numbers or understanding of how a player got his numbers (the use of BABIP along with HR's, walks, strikeouts and sac's to determine a players predictable average). Does that have something to do with the data suggesting that players can't develop it? If guys were able to use their raw talents in the minors to hit for a strong average despite swinging at questionable pitches too often lead to teams not emphasizing them to be more selective because they had put up a good average?

    2. There are multiple types of poor plate discipline. Some guys are just very aggressive in the strikezone. Some guys expand the zone because they think they can be Vlad Guerrero. Some guys simply can't identify pitches well enough and think they are swinging at strikes but then the ball breaks out of the zone.

    3. Looking back at thought 2, which of those can be taught? I think that the guys who are aggressive within the zone but don't chase but still have poor K/BB rates simply don't have the bat ability to be every day players. If you can't hit pitches within the zone well enough, it isn't likely fixable. Guys who expand the zone because they think they can hit anything.... can that be fixed? How would you go about it? I personally do think that it is fixable, as long as the reason they aren't expanding is because they lack the ability to identify the pitch often. If the problem is pitch recognition, is that fixable? How would you go about it? I think that in most cases, it is something that can be taught. Somewhere along the line, the guys who have that ability learned it. Yes, some guys do have better eyesight than others, but I think that all of these pro players should have the eyesight to accomplish this. The key here is figuring out how to improve a players pitch identification.

    So, those are some initial thoughts from me. What about you guys? I think this is a really interesting topic of thought. I would love to hear everyones opinion on it.

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  3. #2
    The Big Dog mth123's Avatar
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    Re: Development question - Plate Discipline

    I think the single most overlooked aspect of plate discipline is the part where a batter swings at the good pitch to hit. Everyone focuses on walks, getting deep in the count and all, but if the hitter simply lets the good one that he's been putting so much effort into waiting for go by without a swing, he's toast. I don't know how you can track this statistically, but IMO. this is the kiss of death for a guy ever becoming a good hitter. I've seen guys improve their walk rates and become more selective, but guys who are so easily fooled that they let the fat ones go by are the ones who never seem to improve much.
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    Member Superdude's Avatar
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    Re: Development question - Plate Discipline

    I'd say reaction time is the biggest factor. If a hitter is constantly swinging at marginal pitches because he's trying to be aggressive, that's probably fixable. If the guy can't react fast enough to make decisions at the plate, improvement's gonna be marginal at best.

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    Re: Development question - Plate Discipline

    I think all three can be taught. However, none of them are easy to master and someone who's been successful his entire life swinging one way tends not to want to change.

    I also think mth is right on. Too often, I've seen players happily guess at pitches rather than having a plan of attack. This may result into running into one or two (or 20 for Stubbs in 2010), but, for the most part, it cripples the player (and the offense) if a pitcher can trip them up.

    I don't want to get the discussion sidetracked, but I think it may be a by-product of players refusing to shorten up their swing with two outs or changing their approach with different pitchers on the mound.

    Joey Votto and Scott Rolen both, for example, really focus on giving long at-bats. Votto in particular is outstanding at spoiling a pitcher's good pitches while looking for something he can still square up on. He shortens his swing noticeably with two strikes or against guys that he finds hard to hit. (Side-winding southpaws, for example, and big flamethrowers that hide the ball well.)

    I wish all Red players were willing to shorten up with two strikes. Brandon Phillips is a prime example of a guy who refuses to shorten his swing-- or at least he is low in the order. As a lead off hitter in 2011, he shortened his swing to put the ball in play more often. This resulted in a quicker bat and a much more enjoyable hitter.

    Drew Stubbs and, to a lesser extent, Jay Bruce are also examples of "guess" hitters, IMO, who don't often shorten up.
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    Member mdccclxix's Avatar
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    Re: Development question - Plate Discipline

    As far as pitch recognition goes, one thing that Votto has said about his approach is that he really tries to focus on his breathing pattern. I can't remember what it is. Then he also said he will find a spot in the outfield to look at to refocus his eyes before the pitch. I guess that helps him. So, those are techniques that are perhaps teachable and helpful.

    Also on pitch recognition, I tend to find that catchers have a better idea of what pitch is coming because they are focused on that part of the game. That is my belief with why Ramon and Ryan are often tough outs and can also hit breaking balls pretty well. They can anticipate, or sort of reverse scout themselves maybe. I see it in other catchers as well, such as Lucroy for the Brewers. They may not end up with great stats, but their at bats have a different feel.
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    Re: Development question - Plate Discipline

    I almost hesitate to interject this thought, but don't you think the differences in strike zones from one umpire to another will affect plate discipline?

    I understand the concept, and in a perfect world where every umpire has the same exact strike zone, the theory is sound. But every ump has a different strike zone. What one umpire calls a ball, the next day, a different umpire calls a strike.

    For that matter, how many umpires have two or more strike zones: one for left-handed hitters and a different one for right-handed hitters? Even right handed pitchers seem to get different calls than left handed pitchers on pitches to the same location.
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    The Boss dougdirt's Avatar
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    Re: Development question - Plate Discipline

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeS21 View Post
    I almost hesitate to interject this thought, but don't you think the differences in strike zones from one umpire to another will affect plate discipline?

    I understand the concept, and in a perfect world where every umpire has the same exact strike zone, the theory is sound. But every ump has a different strike zone. What one umpire calls a ball, the next day, a different umpire calls a strike.

    For that matter, how many umpires have two or more strike zones: one for left-handed hitters and a different one for right-handed hitters? Even right handed pitchers seem to get different calls than left handed pitchers on pitches to the same location.
    Over the course of 500 at bats, the strikezone isn't going to make much of a difference. Over 90% of the calls made by umpires in the strikezone are correct, so its not really going to have much effect.

    As for the last part, yes, left handers and right handers do have different strikezones. The strikezone on the outside corner for left handers, in MLB at least, is called a strike about 3 inches wider than the outside corner for right handers.

    Those are things that should be thought about, but I think that they are very minimal in the whole plate discipline issue. Guys with poor plate discipline don't have it because of the changing zones that are really only moving by 2 inches per umpire, they have it because they are either expanding the zone by much more than that themselves or have the other problems addressed in the first post.

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    Re: Development question - Plate Discipline

    Quote Originally Posted by dougdirt View Post
    Over the course of 500 at bats, the strikezone isn't going to make much of a difference. Over 90% of the calls made by umpires in the strikezone are correct, so its not really going to have much effect.

    As for the last part, yes, left handers and right handers do have different strikezones. The strikezone on the outside corner for left handers, in MLB at least, is called a strike about 3 inches wider than the outside corner for right handers.

    Those are things that should be thought about, but I think that they are very minimal in the whole plate discipline issue. Guys with poor plate discipline don't have it because of the changing zones that are really only moving by 2 inches per umpire, they have it because they are either expanding the zone by much more than that themselves or have the other problems addressed in the first post.
    You are right.

    I guess I was thinking about the head games with an 18 or 19 year old kid learning plate discipline, who are facing 18-19 year old pitchers who are trying to learn control. Add to that some of these minor league umpires who are just learning how to call balls and strikes, in some of these older parks with poor lighting.

    It's a wonder any kid can develop!
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