I recently wrote a piece for Driveline Mechanics, in which I looked at the illustrious career of Miguel Olivo. As most people know, he swings at an astonishing percentage of pitches that our outside of the strike zone, over 45% according to FanGraphs. Indeed, some of the pitches that he swung at were so far out of the strike zone, that they actually broke Gameday.
That got me thinking about how he compared to the rest in terms of swinging at pitches waaaaaay out of the strike zone. Besides the obvious candidates in Vlad and Bengie, there are bound to be plenty other undiscovered talents, who deserve to be exposed as the hackers that they are. So I thought I would create a stat, that looks at how often a batter swings at a truly pronounced bad ball. Let’s call it True Hack %.
To start off, we have to define what constitutes a True Hack. Since the goal of this excersize is to identify the most improbable pitches that a guy will swing at, using the standard deviation to define the ranges of the population seems fitting. This year, the standard deviation for swings on pitches in the horizontal axis was .64 feet with a mean of .095, and the standard deviation for swings on pitches on the vertical axis was .67 with a mean of 2.46.
In layman’s terms, that means that 68% of swings will be on pitches that are within .67 feet from the mean (2.46) on on the vertical axis (up and down), and 68% of swings will be on pitches that are within .64 feet of the mean (.095) on the horizontal axis (side to side). For the purposes of defining a True Hack, we’ll use 3 SD’s on each axis, meaning that 99.7% of pitches are with with 3 standard deviations from the mean. Or, in the form of a picture:
That Hacker Zone represents the normal limit for most people’s swings. Less than 1 percent of pitches swung at fall outside of the zone, so any swing that is on a pitch outside of the zone will be referred to as a True Hack. For reference on how far off the plate those pitches are, each corner is about 1 foot off of the real strike zone.
Anyway, here are the leaders in True Hack %, which measures the percentage of pitches swung at that are outside of the black box (which is customized for each batter based off of height), with at least 100 pitches seen in the True Hack Zone:
1) A.J. Pierzynski: 13.7%
2) Alex Rios: 12.2%
3) Vernon Wells: 12.2%
4) Erick Aybar: 11.7%
5) Jermaine Dye: 11.3%
6) Freddy Sanchez: 10.4%
7)Victor Martinez: 9.9%
8) Jeff Francoeur: 9.7%
9) Alexei Ramirez: 9.7%
10) Kendry Morales: 9.3%
That certainly is a pretty interesting list. Jeff Francouer, Alexi Ramirez and Freddy Sanchez aren’t too surprising, but guys like Victor Martinez and Jermaine Dye have put up solid walk rates over their careers. Also, the absence of such hacktastic luminaries in Vlad Guerrero and Miguel Olivo is shocking (although, Guerrero ranks 11th, and Olivo didn’t have enough pitches to qualify, or else he would rank 8th). Still, I guess that A.J. Pierzynski is the most hackiest man in the world. Congrats!
Now, here are the guys who are best at laying off those pitches:
This list makes a little more sense. All of those guys are known for having excellent plate discipline, and they each have only swung at 1 pitch outside of the Hacker Zone.
A couple of other oddities are that Carlos Villanueva his 5/5 on pitchers outside of the Hacker Zone, meaning every single pitch he’s seen this year that’s at least 1 foot out of the strike zone has been swung at by him. Also, Miguel Tejeda only has one True Hack, despite being considered one of the most aggressive hitters in the game. For the entire list, you can consult this Google Docs page.