Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Walking JP Arencibia

I don't really know what I was expecting when I plugged "JP Arencibia walk" in to a google image search.  It probably should have been the above picture, or several iterations of it, using different teams and camera angles to mark the difference between each picture, I guess.

Anyway, JP Arencibia drew a walk on Sunday.  Pretty amazing stuff.  If you were wondering just how averse JP is to walking, refer to this tweet:
Or this one:

Yeah.  JP really likes to go up there and SWANG. I am not the first person to notice, or write about this topic.   He swings often, and typically comes out of his shoes while doing so.   The obvious strategy is to sacrifice on-base percentage for power, making the most of the times that he does get on base, hoping to hit all taters and liners.

Naturally, if JPA just swings at everything, pitchers are going to throw him fewer decent pitches to hit, especially to start off an at-bat.  If he's a power threat, and he's going to swing regardless, why let him swing at something he can drive?

It would seem as though opposing pitchers are already starting to do evolve against Arencibia-- in his 182 plate appearances so far this year, JP has taken the first pitch for a ball just 9 times. For someone who sees upwards of 55% of the pitches that he faces end up outside the strike zone, this is staggering, especially when you consider his .310/.344/.552 slash line in counts that start 1-0.  Compare that with a pretty hilarious .186/.194/.422 on counts that begin 0-1.  This adjustment, along with random variation, probably has a lot to do with JP's hot April and freezing cold May.

Given that there are only three of them, let's go get a look at all of his walks from 2013.  I'd just like to point out that if we were to do this same exercise with, say, Joey Votto, that it might take us like 3 years.

Walk 1: April 3
Pitcher-- Ubaldo Jimenez
Days since last walk: 186
Plate appearances since last walk: 14
Pitches within strikezone/total pitches: 0/4

Kyle Boddy, a dear friend of mine a guy I know a guy I speak to regularly on the internet, writes on occasion for the Hardball Times and spams constantly on his twitter and facebook about Ubaldo's mechanics, talking about just how weird it is that Jimenez used to throw 100 and just mowed guys down while in Colorado, but then completely changed his mechanics and lost a bunch of velocity off his fastball.  The big side-by-side gif within the above link shows that perfectly, and Kyle explains what's going on there much nicer than I'd ever be able to do.  Ubaldo sucks now:

Nothing ever close.  And everything breaks towards the plate, just to become not close.  Everything was worse than not close, and improved to not close.

Walk 2: April 22
Pitcher: Chris Tillman
Days between walks: 19
Plate appearances between walks: 69
Pitches within strike zone/total pitches: 1/6

The key pitch in this at-bat is the first pitch fastball that gets called a ball.  The pitch tracker makes it look really close, and I'm actually surprised that JP didn't swing at it, but pitchF/X paints something different.

Pretty clearly a ball, as opposed to a borderline one.  It's one of those spots, though, where JP gets to 1-0 and has a huge advantage, as opposed to getting in to a hole early and making an out 81% of the time.

As for the rest of the at-bat, Tillman goes ahead and puts one pitch inside the zone.  That cluster that's middle-in appears to comprise entirely of two-seamers that started on-or-near the inside corner, which sort of explains the check-swing at #4 and the wild swing at pitch #5.  Pitch 6 misses by a foot, but was probably the right idea with poor execution, given pitches 4 and 5.

The worst thing about this at-bat, though, is the verbal handjob that Tabler and Buck give to JP while he's at the plate.  Tabler in italics, Buck in normal font, bold is my own added emphasis:
His approach at the plate looks so simple.  He just stands there; he's so loose.  He's letting it come to him.  Striking out a little too much right now, and Chad Mottola knows that.  I'd trade some of those strikeouts for the power and production out of your catcher any day.
 Yeah.  I'm not concerned about a catcher's average or on-base percentage or whether he's getting soft singles-- I want production, and JP Arencibia is one of the leaders behind the plate in production.
 I'm actually surprised at the strikeout numbers for JP Arencibia, watching his approach at the plate.  It's a good approach.  He gets in trouble when he tries to do too much.  He'd be the first guy to admit that.  But his approach at the plate is very good right now. Very simple.
 Well I think there's a tendency, too, when you hit a couple of homeruns, you think 'Okay, I'm going to have a big year with the homeruns' and you start thinking about hitting the homeruns too much instead of focusing on...
[both, at the same time] the good approach... [Just Buck] that led to the homeruns.
Sometimes you get in trouble just trying to hit homeruns.
Which is why I listen to the game with the radio overlay when I can.

Walk 3: May 26
Pitcher: Miguel Gonzalez
Days between walks: 35
Plate appearances between walks: 102
Pitches within the zone/total pitches: 1/5

Not close with the first three, and in fact, doesn't even really come all that close to the glove.  JP gets a pretty obvious red light on 3-0, and on 3-1 I would assume he was sitting on a fastball, willing to let anything offspeed go.  Pretty simple. Notice that the last pitch is nearly  a borderline strike at the top of the zone, but Gonzalez misses the glove by a good foot, if not more, causing the catcher to move all the way across the strikezone to catch it, pretty well removing any potential of getting a call.

Wilner and Morris sort of freak out when this gets to 3-0, as opposed to Tabler, who doesn't notice anything, and Devlin, who is a basketball commentator and can't be blamed for anything, especially since he's lightyears ahead of Buck on his 4th day of the job.

Now I'm just going to pick one of JP's 59 strikeouts, kind of at random, and run the same analysis, without making a .gif since I'm getting bored of this.

Date: April 20
Pitcher: Hirok
Pitches within zone/total pitches: 2/8

This is not a walk.  In fact, none of his four strikeouts on this day were walks.  There's a pitch that didn't register with pitchF/X, since it was in the dirt about 5 feet in front of the plate.  Including that pitch, I count 5 gimmies.  You wonder why Hirok has crushed the Jays this year.

Walking is certainly a skill, and I think JP Arencibia is the proof of that.  Whether or not it's entirely a skill or not is up for debate.  JP definitely has power in droves, and most guys the top of the BB% leaderboards have similar power; the difference is that those guys also have the ability to avoid making outs as a function of their power.  Bautista, Votto, Willingham, Fielder, Goldschmidt, Davis, etc. all have big power, which forces pitchers to nibble.

I'd suggest that every walk JP has drawn this year has been the fault of the pitcher, and that walks are therefore in the 1-3% luck area.  I don't really have any statistical basis for that, and would certainly welcome being proven wrong if someone knows how to quantify such a thing, but the point remains: if JP wants to hit for power, he doesn't absolutely have to sacrifice his ability to avoid making outs.

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