In the first part of this look at the Pirates hitters with two strikes, we looked at launch speed with respect to the rest of baseball. We looked specifically at those hitters with significantly lower two-strike launch speed and examined some reasons for why launch speed might decrease with two strikes. In this part, we take a look at hitting performance metrics to see how the Pirates compare to the rest of MLB and who on the team stands out.
This first graph shows two-strike batting average plotted against batting average without two strikes. As you can see here, and in the subsequent graphs, no one is very good with two strikes, and the best hitters are only slightly better than the worst hitters with no strikes to give (please note that the two-strike axis only goes up to .350, whereas the non-two-strike axis goes up to .600). There are some outliers, but there is only one player in all of baseball with at least 30 at-bats who has a .300 average with two strikes: the much-anticipated and hot-starting Red Sox call-up Rafael Devers. On the Pirates, there are three hitters with significantly better-than-average batting averages with two strikes: Starling Marte, David Freese, and Adam Frazier. Frazier has the best two-strike average at .238. On the other end of the spectrum, Jose Osuna brings up the rear, batting a miserable .120 with two strikes, 32 points below John Jaso's .152.
Taking a look at wOBA reinforces the picture that the batting average graph shows. Again, Frazier leads the pack and Osuna brings up the rear, though everyone is a little closer to average, since wOBA takes into account walks and extra-base hits. Speaking of extra-base hits, a quick look at isolated power really shows just how inept hitters become with two strikes.
That conspicuous dot sitting up close to .400 with two strikes is again Devers; the next-best power hitter with two strikes is Bryce Harper with a .258 two-strike ISO. The Pirates don't have a single hitter within 100 points of Harper’s two-strike ISO. Francisco Cervelli comes in first on the team with a .135 two-strike ISO, and Josh Bell comes encouragingly in second at an above-average .130. Again, Frazier is better than average and Osuna is worse, but their differential is much less pronounced.
These individual numbers don’t tell a particularly compelling story. For the most part, they just reaffirm our knowledge that the Pirates are a fairly average team across the board. Perhaps Frazier’s two-strike talent can give us some hope for his continued development as a hitter, and Bell’s slightly better-than-average numbers with two strikes can reassure us that he is most likely not the next Pedro Alvarez, who hit .137 with a .112 ISO with two strikes over his major league career. So, how does a team made up of league-average two-strike hitters stack up when compared with the rest of the league?
MLB With Two Strikes
The Pirates are 16th in two-strike batting average and 15th in wOBA, which puts them right in the middle. They’re also and 25th in ISO, and first in weak contact percentage, but they’re 10th in BB% and 29th in K% with two strikes. So, the Pirates are harder than most to strike out, but are also not a significant power threat with two strikes. It’s hard to say which statistic influences the other, but it makes sense that a team that isn’t much of a power threat would get pitches to hit with two strikes and this would result in a lot of contact with few strikeouts. Being first in weak contact percentage with two strikes could indicate that the Pirates haven’t joined the fly ball revolution to the extent other teams have, or it could mean that their hitters see the ball really well and just don’t miss very often, so let’s take a look at where all their batted balls are going with two strikes. First, here is a radial chart from Baseball Savant, showing the launch angles, launch speeds and type of contact for each batted ball the Pirates have hit this year with two strikes:
It’s clear from this chart that the great majority of weak contact is on the ground, that grounders and popups result in outs, and that those balls with a positive launch angle have the greatest hit probabilities. Most hitters’ swings have a positive approach angle, and so the best contact is going to occur when the bat meets the ball squarely resulting in a launch angle that matches the approach angle. This will result in the greatest launch speed, which together with launch angle contributes greatly to the probability a batted ball results in a hit. So, the batted balls likeliest to result in hits will have launch angles that match approach angles, and balls hit at higher angles (hit under) or lower angles (topped) will be struck more weakly and result in more outs. What changes from team to team, and player to player, is the ratio of balls topped and hit under. The Pirates rank fifth in topped-ball percentage, which makes sense given the individual average, wOBA and ISO numbers we saw above — in general the Pirates aren’t a power-hitting club. Some of these topped balls sneak through for hits leading to respectable two-strike averages, but in general, there is nothing to write home about when it comes to power.
As a final example of how the raw data lines up with the metrics we looked at above, compare these two radial charts for Frazier (the Pirates’ best hitter with two strikes when looking at batting average) and Bell (arguably the Pirates’ only true power hitter).
While Bell has a greater percentage of good contact (8.2% of his batted balls are barrels or solid contact, versus 5.2% for Frazier), his isolated power is about the same as Frazier’s despite a much lower average, because he hits more fly balls and isolated power is a measure of extra base hits. Compared to the rest of the team, and Frazier specifically, Bell does not hit many ground balls with two strikes — he is a true power hitter who gets most of his outs and production from balls hit in the air, even with two strikes.
In conclusion, hitters across baseball are uniformly poor with two strikes, and the Pirates are no exception. However, the Pirates hitters are very patient and are good at making contact, striking out less and walking more than most. They make more of their outs in two-strike counts on the ground than in the air, with the notable exception of Bell, who always hits a lot of fly balls. As always, feel free to continue the discussion in the comments — there are a lot of other ways you could approach the Pirates’ performance with two strikes.