Sean Rodriguez’s Possibly Improving Plate Discipline | The Process Report

Sean Rodriguez’s Possibly Improving Plate Discipline

Sean Rodriguez looks different at the plate this season despite so-so statistics and sparse playing time. The change in his appearance goes beyond a cosmetic tweak to his stance or equipment, and centers on his approach—particularly during the waning stages of his at-bats. In the past pitchers exploited Rodriguez’s tendency to expand his zone and swing over the top of soft or spinning pitches away.

Thus far Rodriguez is showing a different side: His early-season strikeout rate and on-base percentage would represent career-bests were they to continue. Those numbers mean nothing at this point, of course, but there are underlying indicators that suggest Rodriguez is headed in another direction.

Recently Kevin Durant, of the NBA’s Thunder, talked to Sports Illustrated about his improved shot selection:

Durant has hired his own analytics expert. He tailors workouts to remedy numerical imbalances. He harps on efficiency more than a Prius dealer. To Durant, basketball is an orchard, and every shot an apple. “Let’s say you’ve got 40 apples on your tree,” Durant explains. “I could eat about 30 of them, but I’ve begun limiting myself to 15 or 16. Let’s take the wide-open three and the post-up at the nail. Those are good apples. Let’s throw out the pull-up three in transition and the step-back fadeaway. Those are rotten apples. The three at the top of the circle — that’s an in-between apple. We only want the very best on the tree.”

While it’s a different sport, the same philosophy applies to plate discipline. Taking fewer swings and leveraging them against better pitches tends to lead to improved results. But things are rarely that easy. Not every batter is equipped with the bat-handling and pitch recognition skills required to take a highly selective approach at the plate. Whether Rodriguez possesses those skills or not is debatable, however, he is attempting to curb his over-enthusiastic approach at the plate.

Rodriguez is swinging at a career-low rate of pitches in 2013. Additionally, he’s chasing fewer pitches than before. During the first three seasons of his Rays career he chased at least 28 percent of the pitches he saw overall, and more than 30 percent when he trailed in the count. This season Rodriguez’s rates are at another extreme: 12.3 and 10 percent. For now Rodriguez’s swing rate in pitcher counts (30 percent) is the lowest in the league amongst qualifying batters, and puts him in a company with the likes of Nick Swisher, Dan Uggla, and Russell Martin.

This may feel like a positive development but there is a potential snag. If Rodriguez’s selectivity is fake hustle rather than legitimate improvement then big-league pitchers can still exploit him. One encouraging sign is Rodriguez’s near-normal swing rate on pitches in the zone while behind in the count. While no batter has abstained on pitches out of the zone more than often than Rodriguez in unfavorable counts, he’s within 10 percent of the league-average on offerings within the zone.

If these changes continue then Rodriguez’s outlook will change one way or the other. Genuine gains should lead to better overall results while forgery may force the 27-year-old back into his aggressive ways. The season is too young to know how this will play out. Just keep it in mind the next time Rodriguez falls behind.

Data courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info



3 Comments

  1. […] ← Sean Rodriguez’s Possibly Improving Plate Discipline […]

  2. […] 30 team games after logging just five in his career prior to this year. Offensively, Rodriguez has tightened his swing zone, and early signs point to a rebound in production versus left-handed pitchers. The […]

  3. […] shift in responsibilities, he remains an above-average defender and a good runner. He is showing more discipline at the plate, but is still a bit below average with a continued favoritism for left-handed […]

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