On Wednesday the beloved Tangotiger hosted a nice discussion based off of the following line uttered by Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Carlos Pena:
Finally, Pena would like to refute one more widely held belief. This one is, when a hitter falls behind in a two-strike count, he needs to expand his zone. “At times, depending on the game and the situation, you need to become more selective because you understand the pitcher may not come at you,” he says. “Sometimes you think that maybe you should swing to put the ball in play. Even if you put it in play weakly, you put it in play. It goes against human nature to say if I don’t get my pitch, I am not swinging. You sometimes have to walk back (to the dugout) but you can’t doubt that you had the right approach. That’s not always easy.”
I wanted to take a look at this using Run Values by zone and don't have a ton of time so know that these are based on all pitches from 2009 - present on pitches that Joe Lefkowitz has in his database. The strikezones are based on John Walsh's boundaries of -1.21 on outside pitches to lefties and .825 inside. The top and bottom are the average of all pitches Pena has seen. Here's a look at his results with 0 strikes:
For those unfamiliar with my recent presentation style with this stuff the top shows raw number of pitches by each zone on the left and then I turn that into a percentage on the right. The bottom left shows run values by zone in the raw on the left and then these are adjusted to be on a per 100 pitches basis on the right.
With no strikes Pena does a good job of not expanding his zone as we can see by the plus values out of zone, but within the zone he's not seeing great results except on meatballs. Let's compare this to his 1 strike approach:
He's being pitched similarly and continues to show a good approach out of zone, but again, within the zone he's only feasting on one area. He's taking strikes for strikes and his power is not making up for the whiffs and ball in play outs across the majority of the zone, but looking really poor on pitches middle 2/3rds and up. Finally let's look at his two-strike approach:
Here we see that pitchers are not offering anything off the plate inside and throwing a ton of pitches below the zone. This is one section where he might be talking about getting baited into swinging at these balls where it could be paying off by being patient. Unfortunately, it's not bearing out as much in the numbers as he's barely above average on that zone. He's still looking strong on other pitches out of the strike zone, which speaks to his good eye evidenced in other counts as much to his stated approach, but within the zone we see that he's, again, only crushing meatballs, and performing very poorly on everything else. This could speak to his approach or it could just be a snapshot of a guy that swings and misses a ton at pitches in the zone.
I'm going out of town for the weekend and would liked to have been able to look into this more, but I think this adds to the discussion and look forward to any and all feedback as far as what to look at next.