First Pitch: Analyzing Batted Ball Data For Five Key Pirates

Yesterday FanGraphs released batted ball data, showing the numbers for soft, medium, and hard hit contact, along with some details on where the balls were being hit. These previously unreleased numbers give a deeper look into certain players, showing what kind of contact they are making, and giving some deeper perspective on their performances. I spent a lot of time digging through the numbers, and found a lot of interesting trends this year. Here were the most notable situations for the 2015 Pirates.

Pedro Alvarez – Out of 183 qualified hitters, Alvarez ranks 16th in hard hit percentage, with 40% of his batted balls going for hits. He also has the tenth lowest soft hit rate at 9.1%. The hard hit rate is in line with his 2013 numbers, but the soft hit rate is very encouraging, representing a career low. His previous low was 13.3% in 2013. That 2013 season saw a .233/.296/.473 line, with 36 homers. So far he has a .227/.322/.480 line with five homers. It would be nice if the 2013 version of Alvarez is really back, and the batted ball data suggests he is.

Francisco Cervelli – He has the best hardest hit rate among all catchers with 50 PA or more, and it’s not close. Cervelli is at 46.9%, and the next best is 39.1% for Caleb Joseph. On a non-batted ball related note, Cervelli also ranks sixth overall in the majors in pitch framing this year, saving a combined 3.5 runs so far between his framing and blocking.

Francisco Liriano – The Pirates’ ace is right where you want to be with the soft and hard hit data. He ranks 23rd out of 111 pitchers with a 21.6% soft hit rate, and ranks 11th with a 20.3% hard hit rate. Gerrit Cole isn’t too far behind him, ranking 13th with a 20.8% hard hit rate. The only other years that saw Liriano over 20% soft contact were 2014 and 2011. This is the lowest hard hit rate he has allowed in his career.

Vance Worley – On the opposite end of the Liriano spectrum, Worley has the third worst hard hit rate at 40%, and the lowest soft hit rate at 6.3%. That’s a big change from last year when he had a 27.4% hard hit rate and a 15.8% soft hit rate. Worley has never been above 30.5% hard hitting in his career, and that number came in his disastrous 2013 season. Last year was his previous low for soft hitting. Obviously these aren’t good early trends for Worley.

Andrew McCutchen – I was surprised that McCutchen’s numbers aren’t too far off his career numbers. His soft hit rate is 15.1%, which is a bit above the 10-12% range he has been in from 2012-14. Likewise, he has been around 40% hard hitting the last two years, and is at 34.2% this year. So there is some difference, but it’s not the drastic change I expected before seeing the numbers. One thing I did find interesting is that McCutchen is pulling the ball a lot less this year, with a 37% pull rate, down from 44.2% last year and 47.1% the year before.

**We had writers at all three minor league games tonight, and those games featured some of the worst defense of the year. Naturally, this would happen on a night when two of our writers were working on individual defensive articles, and on the same day I wrote about Josh Bell’s defense. That seems to be how these things work out. We had photos from every game tonight, including the Pirates game, on our Instagram account.

**Prospect Watch: Horrible Night on Defense Throughout the Farm System

**Encouraging Signs From Josh Bell’s Development at First Base

**Kevin Young’s Coaching Role Expands Beyond Pedro Alvarez

**Morning Report: Updates on the 2013 Draft Class



  • Pulling the ball puts stress on rib and knee, whether cutch is hurt or not is not the question its whether his mind thinks he’s hurt. We all have that bit of caution in the back of our mind when in situations that may harm us, mostly it’s just good sense in a ball player it’s a bit more complicated. I just hope he gets healed either way.

  • Related, Fangraphs also just posted updated xBABIP calcs incorporating this batted ball data:

    Jordy, Josh, Pedro, and Cutch all under performing what their batted ball profile says should be expected by *at least* 70 points, and the Pirates as a team have been the most “unlucky” in all of baseball.

  • Alvarez has also cut his swinging strike rate 5% and his O-swing rate by 7% compared to ’13 while increasing his contact rate by 10%. Hitting way too many ground balls right now, but he could be putting together a heck of a season.

  • I would bet the big difference you would see in McCutchen is in two areas: Frequency of swings and misses, and avg. speed of the ball leaving the bat. It isn’t that he isn’t ever hitting the ball hard, but he isn’t hitting it as hard as he typically does, and he’s whipping way more on pitches he typically crushes

    • ….and honestly, if he isn’t healthy enough to steal bases, he probably shouldn’t be playing at all. But that’s just an opinion

      • Y2: With a .185 average, he may not be getting on in situations where it would be beneficial to steal. With as difficult as it has been to score, nobody better try to steal a base! In ST he had a knee issue, and resting it obviously helped – his D has been excellent and he has gotten to some very tough batted balls. He is pressing at the plate, because he knows how important he is to the success of this team.

        • emjay- are you serious? as difficult as it has been to score is exactly WHY you try to steal a base!!!! Sitting around and waiting for a 3 hit inning is pretty darn unlikely. We have ridiculous speed and are downright horrid at playing smallball. If you have been watching the games, and I know it’s been painful so I won’t give you a hard time if you haven’t, but i’ve seen Cutch talk a walk or get a single at a crucial point in the game, 0 outs, 1 out, down by a run…..and we just aren’t being aggressive. When have you ever seen Cutch go 5 weeks without trying to steal a base. I don’t think there has been a time in his whole career where that has happened, so I think his health is still a concern.

    • From Fangraphs: McCutchen’s contact % is 78.2%, compared to 78.6% last year.

      His swing % is 42.4%, and per ESPN, he’s seen 420 pitches, so he’s swung 178 times.

      Across 178 swings, the difference between a 78.2% contact rate and a 78.6% contact rate is one swing and miss.

      So, technically, yes, his frequency of swings and misses has increased, but not by a statistically significant amount.

      • What is his contact rate for pitches that would have been called strikes? I’m not concerned about him missing pitches he can’t hit, i’m concerned about him not hitting pitches under 93 MPH which are right down the middle. For a guy known for his electric fast hands, it realistically should not happen- ever

  • Snakebit. It will come; there is just too much proven talent on this team for that not to happen. As bad as it has been – 7 or 8 one run losses, the Pirates are still in the mix for a playoff spot. The numbers tend to support being patient, but I still think the team needs to make a few moves.

    • Teams don’t rebound later in the season when they get beaten down by 15 walkoff losses in the first two months of the season. Noone is immune to the effects that has on your psyche. I honestly just don’t think this is our year. Things could change of course, but I’m already at the point where i can’t sit and watch a whole game, and that typically didn’t ever happen early in the season

      • What about last year’s team? They rebounded pretty well and they were much worse off then they are now.

        They are still hovering right around .500. As long as they do that they’re in pretty good shape. The bats will come.

        • bsmith- i didn’t say lose, i said beaten by walkoffs….. how many games through may 7th were they walked off last year compared to this year.

  • Pirates are playing into a headwind. Last night was a perfect example. Two biggest AB’s of the night for Pirates, and both Khang and Mercer hit line drives right at Hamilton. Either of those fall, and who knows what happens.