A couple weeks ago, I was pondering the plate approach of Josh Vitters. It was from just a few Arizona Fall League games, so I had a plan to follow-up:
I'm hypothesizing is Vitters is as likely to swing as anyone else, but less likely to whiff. In other words, we may be confounding his ability to make contact with an inability to control the strike zone. Perhaps.
I left the "perhaps" in at the end and I'm glad. Because I was wrong.
Vitters has maintained a low whiff rate in the AFL, missing on 12.9% of swings (league is ~20%). On the other hand, his swing rate (~48%) is actually a little higher than the AFL average (~44%). In possible defense of the "knows the zone" side, when he does take, it's more likely than average to be a ball (2.9 per called strike, 2.3 AFL average).
But that's for a stint in the AFL. How did Vitters compare to the Southern League during his promotion to Double-A in 2010? Both his swing rate (51% vs. 45%) and whiff rate (26% vs. 23%) where on the high side of league average. But, hey, his Ball-to-Called-Strike ratio was 2.6, noticeably better than the league rate which was below 2.2.
So, when he doesn't swing, he's more likely taking a ball than the average player. Another thing he does more often than average is pop-up.
Along with pop-up rates, I'm looking at the little bit of PITCHf/x data for Vitters and I've been doing a little work on similarity rankings -- major leaguers who have a similar profile to Vitters.