Touching BasesSeptember 16, 2010
Year to Year Spray Charts
By Jeremy Greenhouse

Rich Lederer covered Jose Bautista's home run scatter plot on Tuesday, noting that he has yet to hit one out the other way. Bautista's spray chart this year differs sharply from last year's as well.

Perhaps Bautista's new patterns can be explained through mechanical changes. According to Frankie Pilliere, Bautista is moving his hands through the zone quicker, is starting his leg kick slightly sooner, and opening up on inside pitches.

Still, former teammate Alex Gonzalez, who Rich profiled way back when, also adapted the Blue Jays swing-for-the-fences approach. Can his change in batted ball locations be explained by a new-found approach?

On the other hand, Elvis Andrus is no longer pulling the ball, and has seen his ISO drop to 40 points, the lowest mark in the leagues, and he plays half his games in Arlington.

Similarly, Matt Kemp, possibly the most disappointing player in the league this year, evidently hasn't gotten around on pitches. He might have lost speed over the offseason, considering he went from a plus center fielder/baserunner to a guy with right around the worst UZR and stolen base numbers I've ever seen, and maybe he lost bat speed too.

I tend to think of BABIP luck for a batter as a dying quail that drops in for a hit once in a while. He controls where he hits it, but not how often it falls in. I'm beginning to think that I've underestimated the amount of randomness that can effect a batter's spray charts. A split second difference in timing is the difference between hitting the ball well and popping it up or rolling it over or something. Even though Bautista is undoubtedly hitting the ball with more authority, he's probably lucky to have done so. While I think that looking at spray chart differences can signal a change in approach, I would still expect all of these guys to regress heavily to their mean next year, both in terms of performance and batted ball locations.


Nice work Jeremy.

Regarding your final thoughts at Bautista at the end, I think you may end up being right, but for the wrong reason. If he "regresses" next year, it will likely be because he loses some timing, eye, etc that's lead to his crazy year in the first place. As we saw with David Ortiz this year (he had to make adjustments last year, he did, and then lost those adjustments during the offseason, forcing him to find the adjustments again), months off from baseball can cause you to lose things.

However, I think the Bautista we see right now is very real. Although simple snapshots don't often say a lot, I was watching his face the Yankees a few weeks ago, and I saw all I needed to see about his year. On one tough low and inside fastball, he got a great read on the ball, put a perfect stroke on it, and hammered it. Even though the ball ended up going foul (otherwise it would have been an easy homer), his swing looked great, and he clearly had a fantastic read on the ball. He might not have that by next year, but his breakout season this year looks to be far more than "luck".

Thanks, Jeff.

Peter, making and losing and finding adjustments is all so very vague that there's no way to prove or disprove it, but yes, it sounds good. Any sort of regression to the mean can be explained by some sort of baseball cliche, but the point I'm trying to make is that humans understate the effects of randomness.

Any thoughts on creating scatter charts of broken bats?

What, too soon?