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Ryan McMahon’s patience at the plate

When McMahon is batting, he sees a lot of pitches.

Last week, I wrote about Ryan McMahon’s increased number of stolen bases this year. (TLDR: He says it’s a new part of his game he’s been working on — and some friendly competition with Connor Joe doesn’t hurt.) I appreciated the comments on that piece, which led me to to explore a different topic: the number of pitches he sees in a typical at-bat. That is, how patient is Ryan McMahon at the plate?

How patient are the Colorado Rockies as a team?

That’s an easy question to answer. The measure for this is Pit/PA, or “pitches per plate appearance” as tracked by Baseball Reference. Here’s how the Rockies compare with each other according to this metric.

This table ranks the Rockies according to Pit/PA. It shows that Ryan McMahon leads by a substantial margin; Connor Joe is second, and CJ Cron is third. All other Rockies are below average.
Colorado Rockies as ranked by Pit/PA
Baseball Reference

A few things stand out. First, with a Pit/PA of 4.34, Ryan McMahon sees significantly more pitches in an average plate appearance than most of his teammates. Not even Connor Joe sees more pitches. I was also surprised that CJ Cron has the third-highest Pit/PA on the team given his strikeout rate. Turns out, the strikeouts don’t matter: Cron sees a lot of pitches in a typical at-bat.

But he doesn’t see as many pitches as Ryan McMahon.

Second, the league average is 3.94, and while all other Rockies batters are below average, McMahon, Joe, and Cron are significantly above it. Perhaps most surprising is Charlie Blackmon. Frankly, I expected his Pit/PA to be much higher given his early spot in the batting lineup, but his is the lowest on the Rockies roster — and it’s not close. Even Brendan Rodgers and Randal Grichuk have more patience at the plate than Charlie Blackmon.

How do the Rockies compare with other teams?

Compared to other teams, the Rockies are not good. In fact, they are a rather unimpressive 21st in terms of Pit/PA. That is, two-thirds of MLB teams see more pitches per plate appearance than the Rockies. In case you’re interested, the Milwaukee Brewers are the best (4.07) followed by the Los Angeles Dodgers (4.04). Presumably, the Coors Effect is at play to some extent, but as a team, the Rockies simply are not patient hitters. This suggests — again — that the Rockies need to revamp their approach to hitting.

How does Ryan McMahon compare to other hitters?

Here’s what makes Ryan McMahon’s patience even more remarkable. Not only is he better than his teammates in terms of Pit/PA, but he tied for the second-highest Pit/PA in MLB, again as shown by Baseball Reference.

This table shows all MLB players as ranked by Pit/PA. Aaron Hicks leads the league, but tied for second are Ryan McMahon, Rhys Hoskins, and Kyle Schwarber.
MLB players ranked by Pit/PA
Baseball Reference

That is some elite Pit/PA company in which McMahon finds himself. (It’s also worth pointing out that the Dodgers have three players in the top 15, which suggests patience at the plate is a skill they have developed.)

It’s not like this is a new facet of McMahon’s game. He has been good at this throughout his professional career with an average of 4.16, though 2022 marks his career high.

At this point, you may be asking, “So what? Why does this matter?” The answer is something Jason Rollison gets at in a 2017 piece about the value of seeing more pitches. The answer is that the relationship is not clear cut, but one thing is:

That conclusion is this: Seeing more pitches can lead a pitcher to coming into the zone more often. Good hitters will take advantage.

That last part is important, so let’s state it again. Good hitters will take advantage. Hitters such as Michael Saunders will benefit greatly from forcing pitchers to come back into the zone. More established hitters — the Trouts, the Cabreras and the Altuve’s of the baseball world — will likely perform at or about the same despite how many pitches they see.

So far, however, that hasn’t happened for Ryan McMahon, who’s slashing .236/.329/.366 with a OPS+ of 87. Perhaps more informative is his current wOBA of .323 while his xwOBA is .331, and his SLG is .366 with an xSLG of .406. These metrics suggest McMahon is underperforming. That is, he is not yet one of those “good hitters” who take advantage of pitches in the zone.

Can he become one of those hitters? The Rockies hope so, and the data indicates that the peripheral pieces are there. He just needs to get better at taking advantage of quality pitches in the zone when he has the opportunity.