FanGraphs, Plate Discipline, and Jeff Francoeur

Yesterday, David Appelman of FanGraphs took yet another step toward making his site the best online baseball destination.  There are a lot of great news sites, a handful of great places for analysis, and more and more quality stat sites (as you might guess, my favorite kind of site) every day.

David has now added stats for plate discipline back to the 2005 season, including swing% and contact% for pitches inside and outside the strike zone.  If you follow the link, he also gives the league average for comparison (because an 85% contact rate probably doesn’t mean anything to you if you don’t know that the average is 81%).

My first inclination upon playing around with the site was to check on the Braves’ favorite swings-at-everything guy, Jeff Francoeur.  Since the stats go back to 2005, they cover his entire career, in which he has seen exactly 6,000 pitches heading into tonight’s game.

After swinging at 61% of the pitches he saw in his first two seasons compared to a league average of 46%, he settled down to 57% last year and just 54% so far this year.  He would have led all qualifying batters in 2005 if he had enough plate appearances, and he was second only to Vladimir Guerrero in 2006.  He fell all the way to sixth on the leaderboard last year.  At the opposite end of the spectrum from Jeff are Luis Castillo and Bobby Abreu, both of whom swing at approximately 35% of the pitches they see.

What’s remarkable to me about Francoeur’s stat line is that he doesn’t see far more pitches outside the zone than he actually sees.  Perhaps pitchers either think they can get away with challenging him, or maybe they are too busy worrying about not walking anyone, but I’m still surprised that such a free swinger doesn’t see fewer pitches to hit.  Until this year, he had worse than average contact rates both inside and outside the strike zone, so it’s not like he’s just crushing the ball at the letters.

To me, the next step to take with this information, would be to show batting average, isolated power, and slugging percentage (and foul balls, I suppose, if they’re included as “contact”) separated by inside/outside the zone.

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