Last week, Jon Roegele wrote an article for The Hardball Times on the ever-expanding major league strike zone. The piece was a follow up to a similar analysis Roegele put together in the fall of last year.
A trend in called strikes has been gradually pulling the strike zone south over the past several years, with experimentation in pro-offense efforts of the Commissioner's Office likely responsible for the most recent wave. This reshaping has yet to post any remarkable difference in offensive production, and for many players has caused quite the opposite effect.
The evolution of the strike zone includes not only a downward momentum, but greater variations between left handed and right handed batters’ zones.
Curious as to how Roegele’s numbers correlated with Rockies hitters, I took a look at the tendencies of a few prominent offensive figures. I was left with a rather interesting -- not entirely surprising -- takeaway. In general, Rockies strike zones appear to be stretching in quite the opposite direction of the umpires’.
The primary differences boil down to high pitches and inside pitches, of which Rockies batters are swinging at far too frequently, and in many cases void of any real success.
An issue most publicly connected to Troy Tulowitzki’s offensive woes, the tendency to chase pitches up out of the zone has been a big issue for more than just Tulo. Nick Hundley, Corey Dickerson, Drew Stubbs, even Nolan Arenado -- who has been the most successful at the plate -- have fallen victim to high ball temptation in far too many key at bats.
What makes Tulowitzki the worst of the laundry list of offenders is his lack of success -- or in many cases, attempts -- at pitches down in the zone. This is where Tulowitzki has been pitched to most frequently, while still inducing some of his lowest swing rates.
Tulowitzki's Pitch% vs Swing%:
Roegele’s table-heavy offering shows a drastic 51 square inches of strike zone beneath the 21 inch mark off the dirt in 2015. This number has taken significant jumps every year since 2009, where the data begins.
Dickerson and Arenado have kept themselves from the basement Tulo had worked himself to by swinging at more than just high pitches.
For Tulowitzki, it’s a matter of inclusion. An impact player of his proven ability needs to be less exclusive (read predictable) at the plate. A basic breaking ball down, breaking ball down, high heat pitch sequence should not be enough to take care of one of the best hitters in baseball, but to this point it has been.
To a smaller, yet still significant degree, an increase in attempts at inside pitches have tied up their own string of Rox.
Wilin Rosario has made a career of hitting from the inside of the plate. And not only for average, but for considerable power. It’s a predominantly right-handed quality to possess, however, so the fact that Rockies lefties are taking hacks at pitches near their hands doesn’t produce such favorable results. Corey Dickerson once again meets the criteria, joined this time by Charlie Blackmon and Carlos Gonzalez.
Ben Paulsen, who -- to his credit -- has done a fine job as an early call up, will likely come to a head with his inside attraction with more major league playing time. Paulsen is being pitched heavily to the outside of the plate, standard to the shifting strike zone to left handed batters that Roegele discusses. Interestingly enough, Paulsen has not collected more than a few hits from outside pitches. He is swinging at nearly every inside pitch he’s given; contact is not a problem, neither is average. In 18 games this season, Paulsen is hitting .327/.383/.618. He’s fouling off most outside pitches, which has made for good at bats, but also means operating on deeper strike counts, and risking being rung up on the corners. This is a quick fix for major league pitchers: just throw outside until he misses.
Or adjusts. A Ben Paulsen that can hit across the zone is an intriguing possibility for the future of this Rockies team.
Paulsen's Pitch% vs AVG/P:
Plate discipline has been a hot topic for the Rockies’ offense, who have drawn fewer walks than 28 teams in baseball, and average less than four runs a game.
For a lineup with as much offensive potential as this one, it’s fallen short of expectations for much of the season. There’s only so many heated discussions of third strike calls and endorsements of robot umpires one team’s following can make before acceptance is the only option left.
The Rockies won’t win games on strikeouts, pop ups and jam shots, so it's time to get reacquainted with the strike zone.
All heat maps courtesy of FanGraphs.