I had a choice here. I had a choice whether to bury the lede or whether to headline the most shocking stat that my quick research on the subject dug up. I am a coward. I’d rather build up to it than open with it. Forgive me.
If you casually watch an Angels game, you might not see anything noteworthy. They put up home runs, sure. They strike out some, yes, but far fewer than the rest of baseball does nowadays. They hit into their fair share of double plays. The pitching sucks.
You might not know that they are exhibiting historically great plate discipline.
It’s like that old Moneyball quote:
Think about it. One absolutely cannot tell, by watching, the difference between a .300 hitter and a .275 hitter. The difference is one hit every two weeks. - Michael Lewis
Way back when batting average actually mattered, the .300 hitter was clearly better than the .275 hitter (by ye olde standards), and yet fans could watch for ages and still not be able to differentiate the two. Stats on a stat page were the only way to go, to separate the good from the great, the serviceable from the riffraff.
It’s 2019, and today we look at different stats than batting average. They keep stats on all sorts of things, like how many home runs Mike Trout has hit on Mother’s Day or how Albert Pujols hits when his stockings are up. There’s a Twitter account called MLBRandomStats. And best of all, they keep track of plate discipline. How often hitters swing, how often they swing-and-miss...all the fun stuff.
**Editor’s Note: Justin Upton is definitely going to ruin all the “fun stuff” with his return.
Let’s start with O-Swing%, which is the percentage that hitters swing at pitches outside the zone. As a team, the Detroit Tigers are last in the majors, swinging at 37% of such “bad” pitches. The Los Angeles Angels sit at 26.4%. Here are the Top 5 teams:
Why don’t we take a look at Z-Swing%, the percentage of pitches in the zone at which hitters swing? The Mets are all over this, at 71.4%. Here are the five teams with the lowest Z-Swing%:
Naturally, with the Angels swinging the least in both categories, and since a pitch has to either be in the zone or out of the zone (Schrodinger’s Pitch?), they certainly must swing the least overall. Yes they are! They check in at 41.8%
Well, we know that the Angels don’t freaking swing. What do they do when they swing? Do they make contact? Do they whiff? The next in this great research experiment is to check the contact rates.
By now, you’ve probably caught on. O-Contact% describes the percentage of contact that was made when the batter swung at a pitch outside the zone. Mind you, the Angels already don’t swing at this stuff. The Rays check in last in O-Contact%, at 55.9%. Let’s see the top 5.
There’s also Z-Contact%. To no one’s surprise, the Angels are best at this, as well.
Which of course means that they are tops in the majors at overall contact rate.
This number, should it hold for the remainder of the season, would be the best contact% since the 2014 Yankees exceeded the 82.3% mark.
The success of the Angels in this department is due to the quality and skill of David Fletcher and Tommy La Stella, who both check in in the Top 6 in the majors individually. Fletcher leads the league with a 93.3% contact rate. But Jonathan Lucroy (yes, he does something good!) and Wilfredo Tovar (curses!) are 10th and 11th in the majors, respectively, and Mike Trout is 26th, with a minimum of 40 PA. Andrelton Simmons is 30th, Albert Pujols is 44th, and Zack Cozart is 45th. That’s eight(!) Angels in the top 50.
Because they don’t freaking swing, the Angels are tied for highest zone%, which is the percentage of pitches in the zone. Basically, they see more strikes than anyone. And perhaps because they don’t swing, the Angels’ first pitch of an AB only results in a strike, called or swinging, 58.6% of the time, the second best rate. (The Indians are first, at 58.0%, the only time in this article we don’t win something. Grr. AL Central pitchers must not be able to hit their spots.)
Finally, as a result of all this plate discipline and contact-making skills, the Angels SwStr%, or the percentage of pitches in which an Angel swings and misses, is very low, at 7.4%. The Tigers are nearly double that, at 13.3%. When you take a look at the Top 5, check out the distance between the Angels and the pack:
This mark would be the best SwStr% since the 2012 Twins. It’s all thanks to David Fletcher’s majors-leading minuscule mark of 2.4%, but Lucroy is 5th! (How!) La Stella is 8th, Trout is 13th, and Tovar is 23rd. Five Angels in the top 25.
This is absolutely crazy! These contact rates are helping the Angels be more selective and hunt for their pitch. It feels as if the offense can always keep the team in the game, even if the pitching has lagged. And the lineup is definitely built on making opposing pitchers work. Hitters don’t strike out, they look to put the ball in play, and it seems as if this is an offense built for 1919, not 2019.
Oh, and remember that Angels Swing%? What was it...
Should it hold over the course of the season, that would be the lowest mark ever recorded by Fangraphs (started recording plate discipline stats in 2002).
The next lowest is 42.3%.
**stats accurate as of 6/18/2019 and courtesy of Fangraphs
Play around with the numbers a little more here.