This week we’re going to kickoff a new series that looks at how some of the expected 2019 Cincinnati Reds hitters perform against the strikezone. The series will look at the performance of players on pitches that are located in the strikezone versus pitches that are not in the strikezone. If you’ve ever been on the internet, or listened to sports talk radio you’ve almost certainly heard from someone that “Joey Votto needs to swing the bat more” or some version of that – implying that he needs to expand the strikezone to try and hit more pitches and “quit trying to walk”. We’re going to dive into the numbers to see just how that idea would seem to play out throughout the lineup. But we aren’t going to start off with Joseph Daniel Votto. Today the series will kick off with the Reds best hitter in 2018, Eugenio Suarez.

During the 2018 season Eugenio Suarez had his best season of his career. After signing an extension at the end of spring training, he went off at the plate during the year. The Reds third baseman hit .283/.366/.526 with 22 doubles, 2 triples, and 34 home runs. His .892 OPS was a big jump from the 2017 season that saw him post an .828 OPS. That was a 100 point jump up from the 2016 season.

Eugenio Suarez, throughout his career, has never chased pitches out of the zone much. For his career his outside-the-zone swing rate is just 26%. In 2018 he posted his best rate of his career – 24.7%. That was a slight improvement over 2017 when he expanded the zone 25.3% of the time. The league average rate in 2018 was 30.9%. But two things happened that helped take his numbers at the plate to the next level. He swung at more pitches in the strikezone than ever before. And he made less contact on pitches out of the strikezone than ever before.

In the 2017 season Eugenio Suarez swung at pitches in the strikezone 61.3% of the time. That jumped up to 66.6% of the time in 2018. That was close to the league average, which was 67.3% last year. Outside of zone he swung less than ever, and also saw his contact rate when he did swing drop to an all-time low of 50.6%, too (57.4% was his previous low rate of contact on non-strikes). The league made contact outside of the zone on 62.8% of pitches in 2018. More contact on good pitches, and less contact on bad pitches is a good way to do more damage overall. And that’s exactly how it played out for the infielder.

During the year Eugenio Suarez hit just .186 on non-strikes when he made contact. On those same pitches out of the strikezone he slugged just .325. Now, while this is the first in the series and you guys haven’t seen the numbers on anyone else yet, I’ll just share with you now – the isolated power (slugging minus average) of .139 is very high. Still, when it comes to hitting non-strikes, the numbers are ugly. This, of course, shouldn’t be surprising. It’s called the strikezone because those are the pitchers you are supposed to be able to strike. Probably.

Speaking of the strikezone, how did Eugenio Suarez do against pitches within it? Well, he did pretty good. On strikes he hit .340 when he made contact. He also showed off plenty of power when he made contact in the zone, too – slugging .645. His isolated power in the zone of .305 was best among the Cincinnati Reds players in 2018 by a decent margin. Like the numbers out of the zone, the ones in the zone aren’t terribly surprising, either. When good hitters get pitches to hit in the zone, they tend to do damage on them. Eugenio Suarez did what you would expect him to do.

In the shocker of the century, Eugenio Suarez was much better in the zone than out of the zone. His average and slugging was nearly double on pitches in the zone than it was out of the zone. For the Reds third baseman, more contact in the zone and less contact out of the zone led to the best season he’s ever had.

Data on average and slugging percentage in and out of the strikezone is from Brooks Baseball. The data was manually tabulated based on their raw numbers provided.

10 Responses

  1. Michael Smith

    Shocking data Doug. You mean to tell me hitting the ball in the strike zone is going to lead to better results??? Who knew… definately not swing at more bad pitches guy.

  2. CFD3000

    File the outcomes data under “least surprising news”, but the real question is “How do you improve strike zone recognition.” When hitters swing only at strikes and ignore balls, they get better outcomes. So how do you cultivate that skill? Joey Votto is excellent at it. Eugenio Suarez is getting better at it, and his results reflect that. Jesse Winker seems innately good at it, and I expect a strong year from him if he stays healthy. I’m also interested to see Peraza’s data and whether or not his improved results are a reflection of better command of the strike zone. But the team that figures out how to teach this skill will be dominant on offense. More, better hits. More walks and runners on base. More pitches thrown by opposing pitchers. More wins. So how do you teach that skill?

    • Doug Gray

      It’s something that I ask as many scouts and coaches as I can. The answer is usually something along the lines of “experience and seeing more pitches”. It’s no coincidence that catchers almost always have a strong strikeout-to-walk ratio. They see more pitches than anyone because of the catching aspect. I’m sure there are some things that have to do with eyesight that make some guys a tiny bit better than others in this area. And of course, there’s the mental side of things with your approach of simply understanding what you should and shouldn’t swing at – just because you can put the bat on it doesn’t mean you should. But by and large, it’s probably an eyesight thing, which is why no one has really figured out how to teach it to the masses.

  3. sanantonefan

    I am going to take a shot in the dark and say that Bill was being very sarcastic…

  4. Phil

    Bill, some people just don’t get it.

  5. Doug Gray

    It’s a lot tougher to hit “bad pitches” when pitchers don’t throw 85 MPH with their fastball.

  6. Bill J

    When you talk about strike zone recognition I remember an umpire saying, when Pete was playing, that if a pitch was close and Pete look back at him he would call it a ball. That’s how good Pete was.

  7. SteveLV

    Actually, I think OPS is the real driving stat – you really get paid when you can do both.

  8. Michael Smith

    Fun fact Joey Votto is 51st all time in slugging percentage

  9. Hanawi

    I wouldn’t give them either one, much less both, for Gray.