Much has been said about the Braves' inability to score runs this season to back up what has been one of the best pitching staffs in baseball this season; The Braves rank 23rd in baseball in runs scored, but a stellar 5th in runs allowed and the best FIP of any staff in baseball. Much of the blame for their offensive troubles can be placed on an inability to hit for power (6th worst isolated power in baseball).Lost in this doom and gloom about the offense has been a surprisingly good season for the Braves in the plate discipline department; they are doing a very solid job at walking and avoiding strikeouts with the major's 7th best BB/K ratio, right behind offensive powerhouses like the Red Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays.
Below is a graph showing a breakdown of each batter's performance in the batter's box this season by breaking data down based on whether a pitch was in or out of the strike zone, swung on or watched, and hit or missed. Hopefully we can discover what has made certain hitters contribute positively or negatively towards the Braves's solid plate discipline this season. (click picture to see a larger view)
Z-Contact: Contact made on balls in the strike zone
Z-Whiff: Swinging strikes on balls in the strike zone
Called Strikes/Balls: Nothing complicated here
O-Whiff: Swinging strikes on balls outside the zone
O-Contact: Contact made on balls outside the strike zone
These six categories can be split into two groups - positive and negative - based on what the hitter should've done; ie, balls outside the zone should be taken, balls in the zone should be swung at, etc. Obviously this is not air tight, for example a hitter will take a pitch if the pitcher has shown wildness, or as the lead-off man, or if a runner on is stealing, but in a general sense it works. Z-Contact, Balls, and Z-Whiff can be classed as positive decisions, despite Z-Whiff being a negative outcome, and O-Contact, O-Whiff, and Called Strikes can be classed as negative decisions.
Below is a chart showing the data, with the addition of columns for overall Whiff (swinging strike percentage), Ball/Called Strike ratio, Quality of Swing ratio (Z-Contact+Z-Whiff/O-Contact+O-Whiff), and "Positive" and "Negative" decisions.
(Click to see a larger view)
A sortable spreadsheet is available.
We can take a number of observations from the data presented.
1. Jeff Francoeur sees the fewest number of balls on the team with less than a third of the pitches he sees resulting in balls. Chipper is unsurprisingly the team leader in balls seen with 45%.
2. Using ball/called strike ratio to see what hitters make the best decisions on pitches to take, we find strange bedfellows at the top in Chipper and Francoeur. The worst in this regard are our backup infielders, Prado and Infante who take an awful lot of called strikes. To their credit, they whiff less than anyone else on the team.
3. Your whiff leaders are unsurprising - Schafer, Diaz, Ross, and Francoeur all have a reputation for swinging and missing.
4. Using Quality of Swing we can find out which batters are swinging at the best pitches, assuming that balls are more difficult to hit than strikes. Greg Norton comes out looking the best here, swinging at nearly 5 strikes for every ball he swings at. The presence of Chipper at the top is unsurprising. At the bottom of the list is "professional hitter" Garret Anderson and free-swingers Diaz, Francoeur, and Schafer.
5. Using the "positive" and "negative" categories that I created, Chipper and Norton come out looking very good, as neither swings much outside the zone nor do they take many called strikes. Prado comes out at the bottom, which is a product of his taking a lot of called strikes. There are two explanations for this; either his high contact rate is a product of him only swinging at pitches he can hit, which means he will take a lot of pitches in the zone, or he is simply not swinging enough at balls in the zone because he isn't recognizing that they are strikes. His poor Quality of Swing ratio may hint towards the latter explanation as he is below average at swinging at good pitches.