Let’s Look at Swing Path Variety within the 2023 Playoffs


Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports activities

Within the cat and mouse recreation that’s the postseason, each choice issues, no matter how huge or small. If a marginal aggressive benefit might be exploited, odds are a crew will take their likelihood. Final 12 months, I investigated what I believed was a key motive for the Astros’ postseason success over the past decade. The piece explored swing path variety and the way Houston had extra of it than another crew from 2021 to 2022. Developing a balanced, dynamic lineup is likely one of the instruments groups can use to maintain pitchers and opposing managers trustworthy. There are a number of methods to outline stability in a lineup, together with swing aggression, whiff tendencies, velocity and athleticism, and handedness. However that piece centered on variance in Vertical Bat Angle (VBA) inside lineups.

Should you aren’t acquainted with VBA, it’s the vertical orientation of the bat at contact, the place 45 levels is a diagonal bat. It’s pitch peak dependent – the quantity goes down as peak will increase (flatter bat) and goes up as peak decreases (steeper bat), making it differ inside a participant’s personal swing profile. There’s additionally variance participant to participant. On common, Aaron Decide and Freddie Freeman have a lot steeper barrels at affect than flatter-swinging hitters like Juan Soto and Randy Arozarena. VBA is one in all a number of necessary bat monitoring metrics — horizontal bat angle, level of contact, bat velocity, acceleration, and time to contact are a number of others — however VBA is essentially the most simply accessible as a result of pc imaginative and prescient work achieved at SwingGraphs.

Due to this accessibility, VBA has been my go-to proxy for monitoring bat path adjustments on a player-specific degree. Bat path has a strongest causal impact on whether or not or not a participant is an effective hitter, however it additionally impacts how pitchers decide sequencing and pitch choice. With that mentioned, let’s examine swing variety among the many playoff lineups, and specifically, these of the Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks.

To start, I took a barely completely different method to preprocessing my knowledge this time. As I discussed, handedness performs a giant function right here as a result of it’s a key think about how managers stagger their lineups. Two hitters can have the identical VBA, but when they’re of the alternative handedness, their path is completely different. To account for that, I took the inverse of all left-handed hitter’s VBA. Equally, I needed to account for switch-hitters. 72.2% of switch-hitter plate appearances got here in opposition to right-handed pitchers in 2023. So as a substitute of taking the inverse, I multiplied all switch-hitters’ VBAs by -.722. Give it some thought as them being a lefty 72.2% of the time.

When it comes to who was in or out of the dataset, I solely included hitters on postseason rosters with not less than one plate look. That basically solely considerably affected the Rays, who have been with out Luke Raley and Brandon Lowe. Lastly, I solely used VBA from the September/October portion of the common season. My logic was that what a hitter seems to be like in April might be completely different from September. Hitters undergo swing fluctuations, and I needed to have the latest illustration of their swings. For the calculation, variance continues to be the measure used to characterize variety, however I’ve adjusted the quantity to be a proportion above or under common (of playoff groups solely), with the typical set at 100, as with wRC+, OPS+, and many others. With that mentioned, I current VBAVar+ for playoff groups in 2023:

2023 VBAVar+ Leaders

Workforce VBAVar+
Philadelphia Phillies 115.07
Los Angeles Dodgers 113.87
Minnesota Twins 110.49
Toronto Blue Jays 102.37
Texas Rangers 98.25
Milwaukee Brewers 98.03
Arizona Diamondbacks 97.98
Atlanta Braves 95.93
Miami Marlins 95.87
Houston Astros 95.43
Baltimore Orioles 92.02
Tampa Bay Rays 70.59

For 2 postseasons in a row, the Phillies have been the best NL offense by wRC+. This 12 months, their team-wide 118 wRC+ was excellent, a full 19 factors greater than their NLCS opponent, the Diamondbacks. The crew doesn’t have any switch-hitters, however on each the left- and right-hand aspect, they’ve over 10 levels of dispersion. Trea Turner (29.0 levels) has the flattest swing on common amongst right-handed hitters, whereas Nick Castellanos (40.5) has the steepest. Brandon Marsh (41.6) has the steepest on the crew, and Kyle Schwarber is 0.8 levels above Turner, making him the flattest lefty. There’s a extensive variance of swing path on this lineup, and the Turner addition added a layer of variety that the 2022 crew didn’t have. From a recreation planning perspective, that variety is a nightmare in a postseason matchup.

Equally, the Twins and Dodgers have variance not less than 10% above common. The Twins platoon technique considerably impacts this, however in addition they have hitters as steep as Edouard Julien (42.1) and as flat as Royce Lewis (25.8). Each are on the intense ends throughout your complete league, not simply their very own crew. On the Dodgers’ aspect, Freeman can be excessive at 42.0 levels, and is balanced by flatter swingers like Jason Heyward (27.6), David Peralta (28.8), and Enrique Hernández (28.1).

As for the Astros, my piece final 12 months topped them the crew with essentially the most swing path variety, so what provides? Properly, there was a little bit of convergence of their VBAs in comparison with the earlier two seasons. Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker’s swings converged nearer to 1 one other after being on reverse sides of the spectrum. Chas McCormick’s swing flattened considerably within the closing month after being virtually completely diagonal for a lot of the season (and final 12 months). Swapping their first baseman from the extraordinarily flat swinging Yuli Gurriel to a middle-of-the-pack swinger like José Abreu additionally introduced them nearer to the typical. To be clear, these are nonetheless improbable hitters, however the convergence damage the benefit they’d constructed up in years previous.

Let’s now shift to essentially the most related a part of this dialog: the World Sequence matchup. The Diamondbacks and Rangers could not have the identical degree of swing path variety as different golf equipment, however there are facets to every crew that make for fascinating selections by Bruce Bochy and Torey Lovullo.

The Diamondbacks 97.98 VBAVar+ mark is common, however there’s good stability right here from a handedness perspective. They run out two lefties and two switch-hitters day by day, then have a gaggle of strong right-handed hitters. The limitation is that each of their lefties have extraordinarily flat swings. Corbin Carroll (28.3) and Alek Thomas (24.9) are on the shorter aspect, in order that is sensible. Nonetheless, Lovullo has been very strategic in who follows these two within the lineup. Gabriel Moreno’s bat path steepened as his well being improved and made its approach to an above-average mark at 37.6 levels. Following up a flat swinging lefty like Carroll with a extra crazy hitter like Moreno (even when they’re separated by one hitter in opposition to right-handed pitchers) forces a pitcher to alter their pitch choice. Nathan Eovaldi doesn’t considerably partition his pitch combine, however he’ll have to alter how he makes use of his four-seamer in opposition to every of those hitters after they face off tonight. And plus, Ketel Marte will possible be sandwiched between these two and he has been on absolute tear.

Eovaldi will face an analogous subject when the Thomas-Lourdes Gurriel Jr. a part of the lineup comes up too. Gurriel’s VBA is available in at 34.9 levels; he had good success in opposition to changeups and splitters this season and wasn’t nice in opposition to heaters. This can possible imply Eovaldi takes a fastball-heavy method in opposition to the left fielder. Nonetheless, if Thomas follows him within the lineup like he has beforehand, Eovaldi must instantly pivot his method due to Thomas’ success in opposition to four-seamers this 12 months. He hit .309 in opposition to them with a .384 xwOBA. It could be superb if Eovaldi might instantly get in a rhythm together with his splitter, however he’ll be compelled to combine issues up with this a part of the lineup. Nonetheless, it’s not all dangerous information for him. Tommy Pham and Christian Walker have lower than a level of VBA separation between them and are more likely to hit behind each other. This will likely be a possibility for Eovaldi to make use of an analogous pitch combine and particularly lean on his splitter since these two hitters haven’t had a lot success in opposition to offspeed pitches.

On to the Rangers’ aspect of issues, Zac Gallen will likely be compelled to rotate handedness all evening besides in opposition to Corey Seager and Evan Carter. That’s not a lot of a break! The 2 are separated in VBA by over 1.5 levels, and Seager is a breaking ball killer. Attributable to its vertical orientation, Gallen’s greatest pitch in opposition to lefties is his knuckle curve, however Seager slugged .686 in opposition to right-handed curveballs this 12 months. His knack for creating carry on low pitches by adjusting his physique is dangerous information for Gallen. After Seager and Carter, he’ll then need to handle Adolis García, who simply continues swatting homers.

However the extra fascinating a part of this lineup from a VBA perspective comes when Leody Taveras and Josh Jung step to the plate. Taveras has a flatter swing; his VBA is at 29.6 levels. He maintains a taller posture all through his swing and doesn’t make any vital barrel changes. This will likely be a bonus for Gallen as a result of he can use his knuckle curve and changeup to maneuver below Taveras’ barrel. In different phrases, will probably be about conserving the ball down in opposition to Taveras. The difficulty is that the identical zones which might be Taveras’ weaknesses are literally Jung’s strengths. His loopier 36.9 diploma VBA steepens much more on low-middle and low-in pitches. His xwOBA in these zones in the course of the common season have been .468 and .515, respectively.

That is the place staggering swing sorts can grow to be a bonus. Going from an excessive weak point in a single zone to an excessive energy back-to-back forces a pitcher to alter his bodily really feel and pitch method. Nothing is tougher than needing to execute a number of recreation plans on a rotating foundation. But when Gallen is in search of one thing to lean on, it’s that he can take an analogous method in opposition to the flatter swinging lefties like Heim, Taveras, and Nathaniel Lowe. Since there isn’t a lot variety amongst these three, he could have a neater time getting in a rhythm within the backside half of the lineup. The important thing will likely be staying away from Jung’s sizzling zones and never letting Mitch Garver cheat on the four-seamer since that was the pitch he ambushed so properly in opposition to righties this 12 months (.510 xwOBA).

As you watch this weekend’s video games, take note of these matchups, particularly how every pitcher is compelled to alter their pitch choice relying on swing paths. These groups will not be as extensively dispersed as others within the playoff area when it comes to pure VBA variance, however there are lanes in every lineup that may pressure pitchers to dynamically execute completely different recreation plans, one thing that’s a lot simpler mentioned than achieved.

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