May 9 is Adequate Sample Size Day


After a long offseason with no baseball (and little off-season action), a spring training that was interesting but inconclusive, and a few weeks of early data that was just Too Small a sample size, we finally reach a time when there is something to talk about.

According to the gospel of sample sizes, around about now, we can start say something about how hitters are hitting (or rather, swinging) after 50-100 PAs without chasing ephemera. Specifically, we can talk about swing rate and contact rate, and we can almost talk about strikeout rates and pitches per plate appearance.

To date, all of our regular starters have 115 to 131 PAs. Note that David Freese and Daniel Descalso are significantly trailing the seven regular starters in terms of PAs, with fewer than 80 for both. So we can talk knowledgeably about starting position players.

What we see is that most of our regular starters are pretty normal with regard to their swing rates. The league average swing rate is around 46%. Most of our starters stick around 45-47% in terms of swing rate, with two exceptions.

Pete Kozma has a 49% swing rate, which is hardly disastrous, especially since he has a pretty good contact rate and a very low swinging strike rate. It still makes me somewhat nervous, since he suffered from a very high K rate in the minors.

The other big exception is WAAAY on the other side, and it should not surprise the average spectator at all. Matt Carpenter has a 38% swing rate, which puts him in the top ten percent for qualified MLB players. AJ Ellis is the choosiest of batters, followed closely by our friend Lance Berkman in third place. At the other end, no one will be surprised to find Pablo Sandoval as the most swing-happy of hitters and Josh Hamilton close behind.

When we talk about contact, we see something else that's striking. Guess who is leading the team in contact rate?

Matt Carpenter.

Ladies and Gentlemen, that's how you put together an astounding on base percentage. Don't swing at much, and make contact with damn near everything you do swing at. He puts the wood to 91% of all pitches he swings at.

I've been a terrible Matt Carpenter homer for a very long time, but I think there's good reason to be optimistic. He has an excellent approach at the plate. He fits very well in the lead off or #2 slot and has succeeded in every way there.

Yadier Molina, who has been very good at making contact for several years closely follows Carpenter with an 89.5% contact rate.

Way at the other end of the scale, although he's still a little shy of a meaningful sample size, David Freese has a concerning 73% contact rate, which is somewhat below an already low career contact rate. He has particularly struggled in making contact with balls out of the zone, with a 38% out of zone contact rate, versus a league average of 63%.

Since we're already working with a small sample size with Freese, it's early to read too much into it, but it's something to note and watch for. Freese already had a high-strikeout profile, and I worry about even minor changes to his plate patience significantly altering his outcomes.

I don't see large, global problems with the current Cardinal lineup. It should have the ability to score runs in bunches, and replacing a lot of Daniel Descalso PAs with Matt Carpenter PAs should keep this year's run scoring up in 2013.

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