Astros' hitters hacking their way to the bottom?

"By the time you know what to do, you're too old to do it."--Ted Williams

Perusing Fangraphs as I often do, a couple of team level plate discipline stats caught my eye.  They got my attention because of the Astros' ranking among major league teams.  It also seemed to be worth an article because we have had quite a few comments at TCB, wondering if the Astros' young hitters will learn more patience.

Since the team's lineup now isn't the same as it was before the trade deadline, I will show the batting stats below for all of 2011 and for the last 30 days.  A higher ranking indicates a higher rate for statistic. 

ASTROS: 2011 Ratio (Rank) / Last 30 days Ratio (Rank)

Swing Percentage 48.5% (No. 1) / 50% (No. 1)
Outside Swing Percentage 33.1% (No. 2) / 35.4% (No. 1)
First Strike Percentage 61.5% (No. 2) / 62.2% (No. 4)

Yes, that's right.  The Astros are the most swing-happy team in baseball--with a higher rate of swinging than any other team.  A high outside swing percentage is particularly bad because it tells you that hitters swing at a lot of crap.  The Astros have the second highest percentage for swinging outside the zone.  A high first strike percentage frequently accompanies a high swing rate, because the batter is swinging so often at the first pitch.  And the Astros are again No. 2.  And the Astros' ratios are actually worse over the last 30 days, indicating that the influx of young hitters aren't making the swing numbers better.  There is a word for this, "hacktastic."

What kinds of teams are at the opposite extreme from the Astros for these statistics?  The three lowest first strike percentage teams: Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox.  The three lowest outside strike percentage teams: A's, Yankees, Rays.  The five lowest swing percentage teams: A's, Yankees, Twins, Indians, Rays.

Last year the Astros were ranked among the 8 worst in each of these rankings, but the Astros have performed substantially worse in swing percentage, outside swing percentage, and first strike percent than in 2010.  And it's hard to see the Astros' offense improving much without a significant improvement in patience.

Let's look at what the Astros' hacking ways means for walk rates and BB/K ratios.


ASTROS: 2011 Ratio (Rank) / Last 30 days Ratio (Rank)

BB Rate 6.7% (30th) / 7.5% (18th)
BB/K Ratio 0.5 (29th) / 0.39 (17th)

On the season, the Astros walk rate is the worst and the BB/K rate is the second worst.  The walk rate over the last 30 days improved somewhat, though it is still very sub-par.  The BB/K ratio is worse over the last 30 days.

The top 3 ranked teams in BB rate are the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays.  The top six ranked teams in BB/K ratio are the Yankees, Cardinals, Mets, Phillies, Red Sox, and Rangers.  Generally, good BB rates and BB/K ratios result in good offensive teams.

Some local media people say that the Astros' offense hasn't been bad this year.  They point to the Astros' batting average ranking at No. 7 in the NL.  Don't be fooled by that.  The Astros' BABIP (.309) is the highest in the NL.  That is a pretty good indication that the team's batters have been a bit lucky this year.   Don 't be surprised if the Astros' BABIP regresses next year.   The silver lining is that the three young guns, Altuve, Paredes, and Martinez, are ages 21, 22, and 23, respectively.  They are so young that we can hope that they develop more patience.  If they do, they could be pleasant surprises.

I believe that plate discipline and patience reflect the types of hitters that a team drafts and signs.  In recent years, it seems like the Astros' have a blind spot when it comes to acquiring  patient hitters.

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