Friday, May 23, 2008

Two (Many) K's In Markakis

Nick has been striking out a lot lately, and there was an article written about it by in the Baltimore Sun.
"Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis acknowledges that he goes through a couple of stretches a season in which he picks up strikeouts in bunches. Those stretches are just lasting a little longer than usual this season...

Fifteen of Markakis' strikeouts have come with runners in scoring position, and the outfielder entered last night's game hitting just .220 in those situations. Markakis struck out with the bases loaded and one out in the third inning last night...

"This is all new to me right now," said Markakis, who is hitting .257 with eight homers and 22 RBIs. "The way I'm getting pitched to is new to me. It's just something that I have to adapt to. I think in the long run, it will be something that I'm able to cut down on."

The third-year player rarely shows emotion on the field. But there have been times recently when he has worn a look of frustration on his trip back to the dugout after a strikeout. A considerable number of his strikeouts, including three of his four in the first two games here, have come with Markakis looking at a called third strike. Orioles manager Dave Trembley said he has spoken to hitting coach Terry Crowley about it but has not addressed Markakis.

"You really can't do anything about it," Markakis said. "Whether it was a ball or strike, I'm going to stay within my zone. I'm not going to go out of that zone just to put the ball in play. I have a pretty good understanding of what the strike zone is. If they ring me up on a bad pitch, I'll continue to take it. Once you start doing that and going out of the strike zone, you get into bad habits, and that's something that I don't want to start.""
I went through and looked at all of Nick's strike-outs for the year using MLB's Gameday feature. [I missed one strike-out somewhere. As usual, I'm not going through it again - I think we can get some idea of what's going on without that 47th K.]

Of the 46 strike-outs, 26 were swinging and 20 were looking. I tried my best to break things down to pitches in the zone versus out of the zone. For pitches that were borderline, I erred on the side of calling it a strike. The totals were:

It looks to me like Nick really is getting cheated on a number of called third strikes. If he takes it then there is a good chance that the ball really is out of the zone. The percentage of strike-outs looking has been pretty constant throughout the year, as has the proportion of correct calls in that category. That means he isn't getting fooled more often recently and taking pitches in the zone for a strike three.

The real issue is the swinging K's. In the first part of the year, he swung and missed at about an equal number of pitches in and out of the zone for the third strike. Lately though, the number of pitches he has chased before heading back to the bench has gone way up. That makes me think that he is pressing and really trying to not strike out, while also not seeing the ball terribly well. If he will stick to what he said above ("'I'm not going to go out of that zone just to put the ball in play") then I think he'll be OK. I hope Terry Crowley doesn't try to get him to swing with two strikes more - that would likely exacerbate the problem. It would be very handy to know what the breakdowns are for other hitters but, well, I've still got a good deal of Battlestar Galactica to watch.

[I'm glad I waited until the last (fourth) season to check it out. The show is so damn suspenseful that I couldn't stand to have to wait a week (or, three times, a few months) to see the next episode. It's really very good, though I actually get mad at some of the twists, as well as how addicting it is - watching it for 45 minutes quickly turns into 3 hours.]

In general, Nick is 7th in the majors in not swinging at balls (just 14%) - he's behind three A's (Cust, Thomas, and Barton), two Yanks (Giambi and Abreu), and a Ray (Upton). He's also pretty good at making contact with such pitches when he does swing (34th at 73%). His contact rate on pitches in the zone however, isn't that great (84% - down from 90% last year). I have no idea if his contact rate goes up over the course of a year, but since his batting average goes up I'm gonna guess "yeah", if only a little. It has already gone up from earlier in the year (70 to 73 OZ, 82 to 84 IZ). So in conclusion, I think that Nick should go back to taking pitches that he doesn't think are strikes, and just relax. He is a good hitter, and the results will come (eventually).

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