Designated HitterFebruary 23, 2006
Swinging, Taking, Fouling, and Other Baseball Trivia
By Dan Fox

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops."

- A. Bartlett Giamatti, the former commissioner of Major League Baseball

Last weekend the four greatest words in the English language were uttered across our great land - "pitchers and catchers reported." And with those words those of us who know that the phrase "baseball trivia" is an oxymoron, have once again come to life.

For those who don't know me, I'm the author of the blog Dan Agonistes and I also contribute to The Hardball Times. I've long admired the writing of Rich and Bryan and so was thrilled when Rich was kind enough to invite me to pen this guest article. Hopefully, this will be the first of several this season.

But on to today's topic, and that topic is pitches, pitches, and more pitches.

Making My Pitch

While the information revolution may have far-reaching impacts on the economy and speed, as well as the process of democratization across the globe, all that pales next to what it's done for the accessibility and ability to quickly analyze baseball statistics.

And so it is that we can analyze the 191,824 plays from the 2005 baseball season and take an in-depth look at pitches. Today I'll simply lay out some of the leaders and trailers in a few of the categories related to pitch-by-pitch data and then make a few observations. You can think of this as an update to the article "Here's the Pitch..." published on The Hardball Times back in September.

For this article, I looked at the 341 players in 2005 with 200 or more plate appearances which totaled just shy of 600,000 pitches. In order to set a baseline, the average among these players for each of the categories we'll look at are as follows.

Pitches Per Plate Appearance (P/PA):    3.75
Swinging at the First Pitch (1stP/PA): 27.6%
Swinging and Missing (Miss/P):          8.0%
Fouling off the Pitch (Foul/P):        17.2%
Taking the Pitch for a Ball (B/P):     36.7%
Taking the Pitch for a Strike (C/P):   17.1%
Put the Ball in Play (X/P):            20.1%

It should also be noted that for the third through seventh categories intentional balls thrown to the batter have been excluded from the analysis on the basis that those pitches are not in any sense under the control of the hitter.

I should also note that these statistics correlate very well from year to year. In other words, in some sense, these rates reflect a strategy adopted by a hitter either consciously or unconsciously in response to his physical skills coupled with how pitchers work against those skills, but more on that later.

So buckle up because here we go...

Pitches Per Plate Appearance

We'll start off with a category that gets a lot of mainstream press and for which you can get data readily available on, and that is pitches per plate appearance. The top 10 in that category are:

                        PA    P/PA
Jayson Werth           395    4.62
Bobby Abreu            719    4.39
Casey Blake            583    4.28
Pat Burrell            669    4.27
Chris Shelton          431    4.26
Gregg Zaun             512    4.25
Adam Dunn              671    4.24
David Dellucci         518    4.22
Mark Bellhorn          355    4.21
Brad Wilkerson         661    4.21

You'll notice that Jayson Werth has a healthy lead over Bobby Abreu mostly due to his 114 strikeouts in 337 at bats. He did also have a decent walk rate and did so 48 times. Werth recorded 4.35 P/PA in 2004. This, and the inclusion of Mark Bellhorn point out that a player needn't have a great season in order to make this list and that the leaders are usually guys who also strikeout a lot which allows them to see more pitches. In looking at the data, however, I found the correlation much stronger with taking called balls (a correlation coefficient of .63 which can range from -1 to 1 and indicates the strength of the linear relationship between two variables) than for taking called strikes (.39) or swinging and missing (.03). In other words, inclusion on this list is more related to good pitch recognition than to simply being a free swinger.

Data from 2000-2004 confirmed that a higher P/PA correlates strongly with OPS as you would imagine, and since OPS is a good proxy for run production, players who see more pitches are on average better contributors.

Interestingly, I also found that there was a weak correlation between P/PA and hitting fly balls and line drives, and a negative one for hitting ground balls and popups. Players who see more pitches are often more feared by pitchers because of their power and so this certainly plays a role.

And that brings us to those who saw the fewest pitches...

                        PA    P/PA
Robinson Cano          551    3.05
Pablo Ozuna            217    3.16
Juan Castro            292    3.16
Alex Cintron           348    3.18
Yuniesky Betancour     228    3.18
Cristian Guzman        492    3.19
Nomar Garciaparra      247    3.19
Carl Crawford          687    3.23
Neifi Perez            609    3.23
Yadier Molina          421    3.24

Yankee rookie Robinson Cano walked just 16 times in his 551 plate appearances to take the top spot. It's no surprise that Nomar Garciapara and Neifi Perez made the list. Cristian Guzman, for whom nothing went right in 2005, also made the list although historically he's a guy who sees few pitches and recorded a 3.35 P/PA in 2004.

Just missing the list are three players who had fairly good production in 2005; Vladimir Guerrero (3.25), Garret Anderson (3.28), and Jorge Cantu (3.29). Guerrero saw even fewer pitches in 2004 (3.17) and yet performed slightly better and so it isn't necessarily the case that having a low P/PA means you can't have a good season. However, since these players aren't drawing very many walks they must compensate by putting up high batting averages like Guerrero or high slugging percentages like Cantu in order to be productive. That is a difficult thing to do.

Although it at first surprised me, players who see fewer pitches tend also to foul off a greater percentage of the pitches they do see. After a moment's thought though, this is clearly because they take so many fewer pitches.

Swinging at the First Pitch

The second category is one that you see from time to time and certainly reflects a strong preference amongst hitters - offering at the first pitch. The leaders are...

                        PA    P/PA  1st/PA
John Mabry             274    3.48   50.0%
Corey Patterson        483    3.37   49.1%
Pablo Ozuna            217    3.16   47.9%
Jeff Francoeur         274    3.41   47.4%
Nomar Garciaparra      247    3.19   46.2%
Jason Dubois           202    3.82   45.0%
Victor Diaz            313    3.67   45.0%
Brad Eldred            208    3.60   44.7%
Alex Cintron           348    3.18   44.5%
Wily Mo Pena           335    3.77   44.5%

Corey Patterson had a horrible final season in Chicago and is a case where the numbers weren't that consistent and therefore are revealing. When he performed better in 2004 he swung at the first pitch 36.4% of the time (making him, of course, one of the last guys you want to leadoff), indicating that as his numbers dropped in 2005 he began pressing and becoming even more aggressive. As a result, he saw fewer pitches, missed more of those he swung at, and ended up hitting fewer line drives. All of which adds up to a trade to Baltimore.

It'll also be interesting to see if Braves rookie Jeff Francoeur continues his aggressive strategy which failed to yield a walk in his first 130 plate appearances and just 8 non-intentional walks in 274 plate appearances.

And those who are reluctant to swing at the first pitch...

                        PA    P/PA  1st/PA
Jason Kendall          676    3.93    6.4%
Oscar Robles           399    4.02    7.0%
Chris Shelton          431    4.26    9.0%
David Eckstein         713    4.01    9.5%
Chad Tracy             553    3.83    9.8%
Bobby Abreu            719    4.39   10.3%
Mark Ellis             486    3.99   10.9%
Juan Pierre            719    3.71   11.4%
Darin Erstad           667    3.84   12.0%
JJ Hardy               427    3.57   12.2%

Interestingly, three 2005 rookies (Oscar Robles of the Dodgers, Chris Shelton of the Tigers, and J.J. Hardy of the Brewers) made the list, all of whom appear to have taken the opposite approach of Francoeur. However, as I found when looking at 2000-2004 data there is no correlation between OPS and swinging at the first pitch and it appears that players simply choose the strategy that works best for them. This also revealed in that players who swing at the first pitch are neither more nor less likely to be fly ball hitters.

However, swinging at the first pitch was strongly correlated with swinging and missing (.63) and very strongly negatively correlated with taking pitches for balls (-.84). Both of these associations make sense since players who swing more often at the first pitch are, therefore, less likely to get good pitches to hit and if you're swinging at the first pitch almost half the time you're obviously not being the most patient.

Swinging and Missing

Chicks dig the long ball and you have to take big swings to hit the big fly. Of course, you're also at greater risk to miss entirely and here are the players that did so frequently in 2005.

                        PA    P/PA  Miss/P
Brad Eldred            208    3.60   24.4%
Russell Branyan        242    4.15   19.1%
Wily Mo Pena           335    3.77   19.0%
Jason Dubois           202    3.82   18.7%
Carlos Pena            295    3.93   17.9%
Dallas McPherson       220    3.83   17.7%
Miguel Olivo           281    3.67   17.1%
Humberto Cota          320    3.60   16.3%
Dustan Mohr            293    3.80   16.2%
Jeff Francoeur         274    3.41   15.9%

Brad Eldred takes the top spot by a whopping margin on the strength of striking out 77 times in 190 at bats, a rate that even Rob Deer would appreciate. He also saw fewer pitches per plate appearance than league average, which is not good when you swing and miss as much as he did resulting in just 13 walks and a .221/.279/.458 line.

As you might guess, players who swing and miss a lot tend to be fly ball hitters and also swing at the first pitch. All is not lost however, as these players can also put up decent numbers as Russell Branyan (.257/.378/.490) and Francoeur did last season. Overall, I found a weak positive correlation between avoiding swinging and missing and OPS.

And who are the contact hitters you might ask?

                        PA    P/PA  Miss/P
David Eckstein         713    4.01    1.9%
Luis Castillo          524    3.94    2.1%
Oscar Robles           399    4.02    2.1%
Juan Pierre            719    3.71    2.5%
Kenny Lofton           406    3.58    2.6%
Chris Gomez            254    3.71    2.7%
Jason Kendall          676    3.93    2.7%
Brian Giles            674    3.92    2.8%
Orlando Palmeiro       231    3.76    2.8%
Marco Scutaro          423    3.77    2.9%

Juan Pierre, Luis Castillo, and David Eckstein all were in the top five for the 2000-2004 period as well and the list is populated with contact hitters. When these guys swing, they usually hit the ball.

What I would not have guessed is that there is a weak but clear negative correlation between making contact and hitting foul balls (-.29). Players who swing and miss more often also hit more foul balls.

Which brings us to...

Fouling off Pitches

Players who foul off lots of pitches are said to be scrappy battlers who wear down the pitcher who finally succumbs to their persistence and throws a meaty fastball that the battler lashes into the corner.

Actually, no.

In looking at who does and doesn't foul off a lot of pitches, the common wisdom doesn't seem that strong.

                        PA    P/PA     F/P
AJ Pierzynski          497    3.56   24.5%
Johnny Estrada         383    3.29   24.2%
Toby Hall              463    3.30   24.1%
Joe Crede              471    3.61   23.6%
So Taguchi             424    3.55   22.6%
Rod Barajas            450    3.80   22.6%
Jose Lopez             203    3.76   22.4%
Ivan Rodriguez         525    3.33   22.2%
Humberto Cota          320    3.60   22.2%
Alex Cintron           348    3.18   22.2%

As mentioned previously players who foul off a lot of pitches tend to also be players who swing and miss but more strongly players who offer at the first pitch. That's probably not a good combination as a quick look at almost any of these players batting lines will tell you. As a group, they stunk in 2005.

The exception to this rule is Francoeur who just missed the list at 21.9%. Somehow he still managed to hit .300/.336/.549. The fact that his name keeps coming up indicates to me anyway, that there was something a bit odd about his short season that may not bode well for the future.

On the other hand, those players who swung and missed the least include:

                        PA    P/PA     F/P
Dave Roberts           480    3.85   11.3%
JJ Hardy               427    3.57   11.3%
Oscar Robles           399    4.02   12.0%
Luis Castillo          524    3.94   12.4%
Bernie Williams        546    3.57   12.5%
Bobby Abreu            719    4.39   12.6%
Scott Hatteberg        523    3.86   12.7%
Brian Giles            674    3.92   12.9%
Chris Snyder           373    4.01   12.9%
Robert Fick            260    3.71   13.0%

Here we see players who perform better (with the exceptions of Bernie Williams, Chris Snyder, and J.J. Hardy) and generally see more pitches per plate appearance.

Speaking of fouling off pitches, there were five plate appearances in 2005 that featured 10 foul balls. They were:

  • J.T. Snow vs. Jeff Weaver on April 7th where Snow's 14 pitch at bat went like this: BFBFFFFFFBFFFX resulting in a fly out to centerfield.
  • Adrian Gonzales vs. John Lackey the same day with the 15 pitch at bat FSBFBFFBFFFFFFB ending in a walk.
  • Jacque Jones vs. Derrick Turnbow on May 22nd, 13 pitches (FBFFFFFFBFFFX) ending in a ground ball single up the middle.
  • Jayson Werth vs. Ervin Santana on June 25th, 13 pitches (CFBFFFFFFFFFX) ending in a ground out to short.
  • Ichiro Suzuki vs. Chris Young on August 23rd, 15 pitches (BCFFFFBFFFFBFFB) ending with a walk.
  • I told you that the words baseball and trivia don't belong together.

    Taking Pitches

    Next, let's take a quick look at those players who tend to take pitches.

                            PA    P/PA     B/P
    Chipper Jones          432    4.02   46.9%
    Brian Giles            674    3.92   45.9%
    Jason Giambi           545    4.21   43.7%
    Lance Berkman          565    3.86   43.5%
    JD Drew                311    3.88   43.4%
    Ryan Klesko            520    3.77   42.7%
    Jeff DaVanon           271    4.06   42.6%
    Mark Sweeney           267    4.09   42.6%
    David Ortiz            713    4.00   42.5%
    Adam Dunn              671    4.24   42.5%

    Obviously, these are also players who see more than your average number of pitches per plate appearance and are certainly better than average hitters. Ryan Klesko makes the list but has only a slightly higher-than-average P/PA since he also offers at 34.2% of first pitches.

    As mentioned previously, players who take a lot of pitches also happen to be fly ball hitters and hit slightly more line drives than average.

    And here are those who hack away...

                            PA    P/PA     B/P
    Angel Berroa           652    3.35   26.3%
    Aaron Miles            347    3.31   27.4%
    Juan Castro            292    3.16   27.8%
    Pablo Ozuna            217    3.16   28.1%
    Carl Crawford          687    3.23   29.0%
    Deivi Cruz             275    3.30   29.0%
    Ivan Rodriguez         525    3.33   29.0%
    Jeff Francoeur         274    3.41   29.2%
    Jorge Cantu            631    3.29   29.3%
    Johnny Estrada         383    3.29   29.3%

    We've seen some of these players before since taking pitches has a strong negative correlation with pitches per plate appearance and less so with swinging at the first pitch.

    As I showed in the article on THT, this is the category where those in the first list and those in the second exhibit the biggest differences in OPS - a difference of over 130 points between the top and bottom 20%. Much of that difference is, of course, accounted for by the fact that on base percentage is a component of OPS and players who are always swinging simply aren't walking.

    Certainly over-aggressiveness at the plate is a major contributor to these low percentages of taking pitches as those of us who saw Aaron Miles play (and bat second during much of the time I might add) last year can attest. However, it's important to keep in mind that pitchers also challenge hitters who are perceived to be weak and so in some at-bats the hitter has little opportunity to take a ball.

    Plate Discipline

    Finally, we'll look at a derived statistic I call Plate Discipline or PD. Simply put, this statistic is a measure of the ratio of pitches taken for balls to pitches swung and missed at or fouled off where 100 is league average.

    The rationale for calculating it like this is that those players who display plate discipline avoid swinging at bad pitches. To an extent then this skill can be measured by the percentage of balls they take as opposed to the percentage they swing at with an unsuccessful outcome (miss or foul ball). The underlying assumption, of course, is that many of the pitches they miss entirely or foul off are ones that in actuality are out of the strike zone. Now obviously nowhere near all pitches swung and missed at or fouled off are out of the strike zone. Many of them are "pitcher's pitches" and others are right down broadway that the batter misses. Like I said, this measures plate discipline to an extent. Now if I had pitch location data from Baseball Info Solutions like David Appleman at FanGraphs does, then we'd really be in business.

    But be that as it may, here are the leaders in PD.

                            PA    P/PA      PD
    Brian Giles            674    3.92     202
    Luis Castillo          524    3.94     187
    Oscar Robles           399    4.02     186
    Dave Roberts           480    3.85     183
    Scott Hatteberg        523    3.86     169
    Chipper Jones          432    4.02     168
    Chris Gomez            254    3.71     166
    Craig Counsell         670    4.08     163
    Kenny Lofton           406    3.58     160
    Scott Podsednik        568    3.89     160

    This is an interesting list and is populated with players who have high walk-to-strikeout ratios as in Brian Giles (119/64), Luis Castillo (65/32), and Chipper Jones (72/56). However, it contains other players whose BB/K ratio is right around 1.0 such as Oscar Robles (31/33). The difference is that players like Robles also took a greater percentage of pitches for strikes.

    And those who don't exhibit that discipline include:

                            PA    P/PA      PD
    Brad Eldred            208    3.60      51
    Jeff Francoeur         274    3.41      53
    Angel Berroa           652    3.35      54
    Humberto Cota          320    3.60      55
    Ivan Rodriguez         525    3.33      58
    Miguel Olivo           281    3.67      59
    Jason Dubois           202    3.82      60
    Corey Patterson        483    3.37      61
    AJ Pierzynski          497    3.56      62
    Johnny Estrada         383    3.29      62

    No strangers on this list as it contains lots of impatient and free swingers. Although Jorge Cantu didn't quite make the list (PD of 65), David Appleman has a nice piece on him at THT that reveals that by the end of the season he was swinging at 37% of the pitches out of the strike zone.

    Boiling it Down

    So what does it all mean?

    I find these lists interesting because they illuminate a part of the game that isn't readily accessible to our limited senses. Even fans who watch their team religiously have a hard time spotting these trends because of the sheer number of observations involved and our bias for remembering dramatic events along with those that occurred most recently.

    They also reveal that in some sense hitters can succeed at the plate with a variety of different strategies akin to the notion that pitchers can be successful in variety of ways that include:

    1. Strikeout a lot of batters in order to minimize the number of balls put into play and, therefore, balls that will be hits (Nolan Ryan).

    2. Walk very few batters and give up very few homeruns to minimize the effect of the hits you do give up (Greg Maddux).

    3. Walk fewer batters than average but strikeout more than average to minimize base runners and balls hit into play (Fergie Jenkins).

    4. Rely on deception to decrease the number of hard hit balls, thereby decreasing the percentage of balls put into play that turn into hits (Charlie Hough).

    5. Walk very few batters but rely on keeping hitters off balance to minimize base runners and the number of line drives (Jamie Moyer).

    But probably what I like most about these statistics is that you can use them to help understand how a hitter might have changed his approach in a given year. For example, below are three players whose performance changed from 2004 to 2005. You'll notice that I also included ground ball, fly ball, pop out, and line drive percentage along with the percentage of fly balls that are homeruns.

                        PA P/PA 1st/PA  GB%   FB%    P%   LD% HR/FB% Miss/P  F/P   B/P   PD
    Derrek Lee   2004  688 3.94 32.7% 41.0% 36.4%  5.4% 17.4%  16.5% 10.1% 14.9% 40.0%  111
                 2005  691 4.03 29.2% 39.6% 33.9%  6.3% 20.1%  23.4%  8.4% 16.4% 40.3%  112

    Andruw Jones 2004 646 3.88 32.4% 47.1% 28.2% 7.5% 17.2% 23.3% 13.8% 15.1% 38.5% 105 2005 672 3.82 34.1% 41.8% 33.7% 9.6% 15.0% 29.6% 12.9% 16.7% 36.8% 86

    Sammy Sosa 2004 539 4.00 29.7% 43.8% 30.3% 8.4% 17.9% 30.0% 15.0% 16.1% 40.0% 118 2005 424 3.64 37.5% 44.5% 28.4% 10.4% 16.7% 13.0% 14.5% 16.7% 37.2% 82

    Derrek Lee had a monster year in 2005, leading the league in hitting at .335 while smacking 46 home runs. As you can see in 2005, he was a bit more patient seeing more pitches per plate appearance and reducing the number of first pitches he offered at. As a result, his line drive percentage increased as did his fly ball percentage. Since roughly three quarters of line drives end up as hits and three quarters of fly balls end up as outs, you would think his batting average wouldn't change. But notice that his percentage of fly balls that went out of the park increased from in 2005 (23.4%) over 2004 (16.5%). When you put this together with the increased line drives his average goes up over 40 points as it did in 2005.

    Andruw Jones hit 51 home runs in 2005 and was more aggressive at the plate as can be seen in the table. This resulted in 42 more fly balls which means more home runs as his percentage of home runs on fly balls also increased from 23.3% to 29.6%. However, hitting fewer line drives and more popups served to keep his average basically the same from year to year.

    And with the retirement of Sammy Sosa, I thought it appropriate to look at the difference between his 2004 campaign--when he was already well below his peak performance of 2001--and his last season with the Orioles. As you can see, he dropped a third of a pitch per plate appearance to below league average while offering at the first pitch 8% more often. He hit fewer fly balls and line drives and more popups which, along with a plummeting rate at which his fly balls left the park (30% to 13%), caused his batting average to crash and his power to diminish. His overall plate discipline decreased dramatically as well. As a Cubs fan, that's not the way I wanted Slammin' Sammy to go out, but that's a topic for another day.


    Thanks, Dan. Interesting stuff. Somewhat related to your analysis of Swinging K's, I've often wondered about anything that can be gleaned from players who have a tendency to strike out looking vs. strike out swinging. Is one "worse" than another? Does looking suggest poor pitch recognition and does swinging suggest less of an ability to make contact?

    When you subtract (admittedly a small number) of IBB's, does your data know whether the IBB started with the first pitch (e.g., runner on 1st, count goes to 2-1 and runner steals 2nd, then catcher calls for 2 balls)? So what the batter did with the 1st pitch is relevant to the study, but to give him credit for a 5 pitch AB would also be generous.

    Six of the top ten Fouling off Pitches were catchers. Do think they just suck at hitting, or do catchers have some sort of special ability to foul off pitches? Or was it just coincidence?

    In answer to Hairps I posted the lists of top and bottom caught versus looking ratios at The short answer I think is that getting caught looking is more related to taking pitches in general while accumulating swinging strikeouts is related to general aggressivness at the plate.

    Someone on BTF noticed the same thing about the catchers. Fouling off pitches is indicative of poor hitting and catchers are generally poor hitters so it may be a little unexpected but probably not much.

    I wonder how strongly spot in the batting order correlates to the lists of players in swinging or not swinging at the first pitch. For instance, most of the first-pitch takers bat in one of the first three spots, and several -- Kendall, Eckstein, Robles, Pierre -- were leadoff men. For the swingers, it may also be a factor: National leaguers batting 8th or pinch hitters...

    This is a great analysis, although I think it's a long way off before discovering any really significant correlations (keep at it!).
    My one comment is on your assessment of Derrek Lee. I don't think his success last year was attributable to any change in approach at the plate; rather, I think he just improved his hitting, and all his stats improved to reflect this.

    redsoxU571, I would certainly agree with you. The differences in things like P/PA and 1st pitch swinging aren't that different for Lee from 2004 to 2005 and I wouldn't derive too much meaning from them.

    I think it's interesting that the percentage of fly balls he hit that went out of the park increased so dramatically. That, coupled with his increased line drive percentage, indicates he simply hit the ball harder and more squarely in 2005. Thanks

    Great article. At the top you mention the improvements in accessibility of baseball statistics. Where did you get the raw data for this analysis?

    I downloaded the PBP data from

    The data in the same format from 2000-2004 can be found at

    Dan, thanks for the URL.