Friday, December 29, 2017

Dominican Walk Rates over Time - Plate Discipline



by Matt Klaassen - October 30, 2012


Excellent article from both Fan Graphs and Baseball Prospectus that demonstrate how the old stereotypes about Latin American hitters may be shifting right before our eyes. 
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE ARTICLES:
 While raw skills will always be coveted, it's the players who can translate skills into statistical production—the definition of which seems to change every day—who are considered stars. 
In the short term, this deficiency is causing teams to waste valuable developmental time in trying to teach on-base skills and plate discipline to kids who have no concept of what that means or who have grown up believing that watching a pitch pass by is a sin. And in the end, it might be a fruitless cause anyway. 

 The simplest explanation for this endemic lack of discipline is that Dominican kids rarely play games. Socioeconomic conditions have made sports a low government priority in the poverty-stricken country. By the time players are 17, the AL international scouting director estimates, Dominican players are at least 1,000 at-bats behind their American counterparts. 
"There's not a lot of little league baseball," said Brian Mejia, co-founder of the Dominican Prospect League. "There is a lack of structure for organized baseball at that level. Some kids only learn 'see ball, hit ball.' Free swingers are out there because if they don't have a lot of athleticism, they believe that 'I have to hit.' A lot of it is too because so many of those kids suffer from malnutrition that they have to start their swing so early [because they lack the strength to catch up quickly to fastballs]. They are trying to adapt but getting rid of bad habits is difficult."

It's not that Dominicans are less culturally inclined to be patient—a notion so stereotypically ignorant that it's hardly worth mentioning—it's that they simply haven't had the experiences that would teach them to play that way.


The differences in walk rate are more pronounced in the minors, though the gaps don't grow at the lower levels—we see the biggest separation at Triple-A, at least this season.
Something else it's important to note: some players in the "Dominican" group were born in the Dominican Republic but played in the United States as amateurs and were drafted, not signed as international free agents. These players—including Albert Pujols and Jose Bautista—didn't receive the same sort of swing-happy instruction Jorge wrote about, so we checked to make sure that they weren't skewing the results. Take those players out, and we see some slight changes in the Dominican-born (and Dominican-raised) group at the major-league level: swing rate rises from 47.4 percent to 47.8 percent, O_Swing rate rises from 31.3 percent to 31.7 percent, and walk rate falls from 7.0 percent to 6.8 percent.

As expected, the Dominican-born, U.S.-raised players in the sample weren't saddled with the same impatient approach.

---




by Matt Klaassen - October 30, 2012

Last week, Jorge Arangure wrote a nice piece on the lack of plate patience among Dominican hitters. The article was helpful in illustrating the conditions that reinforce the oft-cited Dominican baseball adage that "you can't walk off of the island." It also inspired me to take a little look at the historical numbers among Dominican-born players to see if there's been any change in walk rates over the years.

Ben Lindbergh wrote a helpful companion piece running some plate-discipline-related numbers for Dominican players in 2012. What I wanted to examine, though, was if anything changed over the years, and to speculate what might have caused the change.

In comparing the walk rates of Dominican major-league hitters relative to everyone else, I ran into one obvious problem: the initial sample was incredibly small. Back in 1956, Dominican-born hitters had 12 plate appearances in the major leagues, all from the Giants' Ozzie Virgil, Sr., the first Dominican to play in the majors (incidentally, in 1958, he was traded to Detroit and broke the color barrier for the Tigers). Virgil also was the full sample (241 plate appearances) of Dominican hitters in 1957. In 1958, there were two Dominican-born hitters in the majors, but in 1959, it was one again. In 1960, there were four Dominican hitters in the league.

Without going year-by-year, you get the idea: early on, the samples were very small. I try not to give the illusion that I am terribly sophisticated statistically, so, somewhat arbitrarily, I  began with 1964. That's the first season in which at least 10 Dominican-born hitters (I excluded pitchers' hitting from this study) got plate appearances in the major leagues. Still, even 10 players is a very small sample. That was about 2.7% of all major league plate appearances by non-pitchers in 1964 — up from about 1.5% the previous season. We have to start somewhere, though. There has been a general increase in numbers of Dominican-born players and plate appearances by them since then.

While a numbers of things make up a good plate approach, for the sake of simplicity and sticking with the overall tenor of discussions around this issue, I restricted the survey to walk rate. Here is a graph of the walk rates of Dominican-born hitters since 1964, compared to non-Dominican-born hitters:

While both lines have fluctuations, the overall trend is pretty clear: the walk rate for Dominican-born hitters has been catching up to that of non-Dominicans. Comparing the walk rates of 1964 and 2012, the non-Dominican walk rate is almost the same; it has increased by 0.6%. The walk rate of Dominican-born hitters, in contrast, is about 48% higher in 2012 than in 1964.

By itself, of course, this does not tell us much. Many things have changed since Ozzie Virgil's debut. The number of Dominicans in the majors leagues and major-league presence there and elsewhere internationally is obviously far greater now than it was 50 years ago. In 1964, only 10 non-pitcher Dominicans got major-league plate appearances. By the early '00s, the seasonal number is more than 50 — usually around 10% of plate appearances by non-pitchers. That in itself is enough to indicate great changes that would have far-reaching effects. Which of those are most germane with respect to walk rates. That is something for a future piece. There are a number of factors that would have to be considered. Here is a short list of possible considerations. It is not meant to be exhaustive, nor are these possibilities mutually exclusive.

*Qualification: This search is based on the easily-available criterion of birthplace, so the grouping is done by whether a player is born in the Dominican Republic. However, the issue of Arangure's piece is Dominican youth baseball culture, not birthplace. That is not to say that birthplace is not a decent stand-in for a quick query like this, but it's simply to note that there is a difference. Players such as Manny Ramirez and Jose Bautista were born in the Dominican but, in Ramirez's case, he grew up in the United States.; in Bautista's case, he went to college in the U.S. They did not have a traditional route for Dominican players. I don't think it makes the graph useless, but it's worth noting that it might skew things given the issue of Arangure's piece was early baseball instruction in the Dominican Republic. One cause of the increase on the chart might be that more Domican-born players are being raised in the U.S.

*One obvious hypothesis for the improvement might be that Dominican baseball instruction is more friendly to walks than before. This might be the case, although the tone of Arangure's piece tends to make it seem otherwise. Morever, there are other possibilities.

*Remember that this survey is just of those Dominican-born players who actually make the majors. Increased major-league attention to Latin America in the past half-century has likely enabled them to scout and select Dominican players with better plate approaches.

*Along the same lines, there might be better minor-league instruction generally, and/or for Dominican players specifically.

To repeat, these are just some suggestions that are neither exhaustive nor exclusive. One thing is clear, though: whatever they were taught as youngsters, those Dominican hitters who make the major leagues have been catching up with the rest of the league in their ability to draw walks. The reasons why are matters for further research.

Finding a Way to Walk off the Island

Most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Jorge Arangure has been a baseball writer since 2003. He has worked as a senior writer for ESPN and The Washington Post. He's got #want and is #wet and will probably spend his BP freelancing money drinking with Jason Parks.
Two years ago, during a lull in an often sloppily played Dominican Prospect League game being contested at a team academy on the outskirts of San Pedro de Macoris, an independent trainer conspicuously called to a player in the batter's box in the middle of an at-bat. After a pitch had thudded into the catcher's glove, the boy, aged 15 and frail, turned quickly and stepped out of the batter's box. 
"Stop looking at pitches," the trainer said angrily. "Swing the bat."
The boy nodded and continued his at-bat, which concluded with a groundout to shortstop. 
Games of this sort, played by unsigned prospects, have become commonplace in a country that is trying to narrow a learning gap that has become exposed as the game continues to shift toward more nuanced baseball skills. While raw skills will always be coveted, it's the players who can translate skills into statistical production—the definition of which seems to change every day—who are considered stars. 
These games, and to an extent Dominican Summer League games, are fascinating character studies. Since no fans are allowed into the academies, the majority of observers are either coaches, scouts or trainers, which creates a highly pressurized environment for kids aged anywhere from 14-17. Prospects can hear every word shouted to them, and all of these instructions hold special resonance since they are uttered by men who control their young futures. 
Kids will listen to what these men say, and follow their instruction. Unfortunately, much of what these young players are hearing—like the trainer chastising his prodigy for being selective—is steering them astray. 
It's been more than a decade since the value of on-base percentage reached the mainstream, yet the significance of that has yet to hit the island. While the industry has evolved to evaluate players based on advanced metrics that capture the impact of previously overlooked contributions, scouting and teaching in the Dominican continues to be based on raw skills grounded in flawed fundamentals. 
Put simply, among other things, Dominican players don't walk. Some stunning number to consider: out of the top 10 leaders in walks last year in each of the 10 full-season minor leagues, only four of the possible 100 players were Dominican. Only two undrafted, non-U.S.-educated, Dominican-born players rank in the top 40 in baseball in walk rate since 2009: David Ortiz, and Cleveland's Carlos Santana
In the short term, this deficiency is causing teams to waste valuable developmental time in trying to teach on-base skills and plate discipline to kids who have no concept of what that means or who have grown up believing that watching a pitch pass by is a sin. And in the end, it might be a fruitless cause anyway. 
"I think you can help a kid, but I don't think you can change a kid from what he is," said one American League international scouting director. "You're not turning someone like Vladdy (Vladimir Guerrero) into a disciplined hitter." 
Mark Newman, a Yankees senior vice president, believes that with hard work—usually during periods such as the instructional league, which will take place for most organizations in the next month or so—a team could significantly improve the walk rate of approximately 10-15 percent of players, a number that hardly seems encouraging. In that example, only one out of 10 offensive players signed out of the Dominican will ever acquire the secondary skills that would make him a very valuable hitter in the majors.
Dominican youngsters are trading potentially lucrative long-term contracts as professionals for the quick profit they can turn by exhibiting skills that will get them a signing bonus as amateurs. Only one of the 30 biggest contracts ever handed out was given to a Dominican-born, amateur free agent player: Alfonso Soriano. And the biggest reason why the Soriano contract has turned into such a disaster for the Cubs? While Soriano can hit (he has 372 career home runs), he can't walk (a lowly .323 career OBP and 7.2 percent walk rate). 
The simplest explanation for this endemic lack of discipline is that Dominican kids rarely play games. Socioeconomic conditions have made sports a low government priority in the poverty-stricken country. By the time players are 17, the AL international scouting director estimates, Dominican players are at least 1,000 at-bats behind their American counterparts. 
"There's not a lot of little league baseball," said Brian Mejia, co-founder of the Dominican Prospect League. "There is a lack of structure for organized baseball at that level. Some kids only learn 'see ball, hit ball.' Free swingers are out there because if they don't have a lot of athleticism, they believe that 'I have to hit.' A lot of it is too because so many of those kids suffer from malnutrition that they have to start their swing so early [because they lack the strength to catch up quickly to fastballs]. They are trying to adapt but getting rid of bad habits is difficult."
Mejia estimates that about 60 percent of prospects in the DPL are playing organized baseball for the first time. Players who don't play baseball as children usually lack a basic understanding of baseball's more mental skills: baserunning, plate discipline, etc. 
It's not that Dominicans are less culturally inclined to be patient—a notion so stereotypically ignorant that it's hardly worth mentioning—it's that they simply haven't had the experiences that would teach them to play that way. 
But with amateur signing bonuses now being capped by baseball's new rules regarding international free agents, there is no better time to shift thinking toward more advanced methods of instruction.
If they don't adapt, Dominican players face a future in which an industry de-values them and limits the length of their careers as they climb up baseball's organizational ladder. The older these players get, and the more they lose their raw athletic skills (bat speed, running speed, hand speed, etc), the easier it will be for them to be replaced by the next crop of young, fundamentally flawed Dominicans. 
***



Dominican Players and Plate Discipline: Additional Data

If you read Jorge Arangure Jr.'s great guest piece on Dominican players and plate discipline today, you may have wondered, as I did, whether we could see any difference between Dominicans and non-Dominicans in the data. Jorge mentioned how few Dominicans are among their respective leagues' leaders in walk rate, but I wanted to see how DR-born players stacked up as a group. I asked BP data dude Dan Turkenkopf to run the numbers, and this is what he found for major leaguers in 2012. (Note: pitcher hitting is included, and the "league" rates include Dominican players.)
Swing Rate
O_Swing_Rate
UIBB Rate
League
695953
46.0
29.2
7.4
Dominican
68823
47.4
31.3
7.0
Major leaguers born in the Dominican Republic did swing and chase slightly more often and walk slightly less often in 2012 (which doesn't mean they were worse hitters overall). Of course, there could be some selection bias here, since Dominican players with worse plate discipline than Angel Berroa would be weeded out before they make the majors. We don't have plate discipline stats for minor leaguers, but we can check their unintentional walk rates:
Level
LG_PA
LG_UIBBR
DO_PA
DO_UIBBR
MLB
184179
7.4%
18547
7.0%
0.4%
Triple-A
164927
8.4%
12369
5.8%
2.6%
Double-A
158288
8.6%
14860
6.5%
2.1%
A Adv. (Full Season)
156140
8.2%
15508
6.4%
1.9%
A (Full Season)
158317
8.6%
18018
7.0%
1.6%
A (Short Season)
63737
8.6%
9606
6.4%
2.2%
Rookie
79243
8.6%
12741
7.1%
1.4%
The differences in walk rate are more pronounced in the minors, though the gaps don't grow at the lower levels—we see the biggest separation at Triple-A, at least this season.
Something else it's important to note: some players in the "Dominican" group were born in the Dominican Republic but played in the United States as amateurs and were drafted, not signed as international free agents. These players—including Albert Pujols and Jose Bautista—didn't receive the same sort of swing-happy instruction Jorge wrote about, so we checked to make sure that they weren't skewing the results. Take those players out, and we see some slight changes in the Dominican-born (and Dominican-raised) group at the major-league level: swing rate rises from 47.4 percent to 47.8 percent, O_Swing rate rises from 31.3 percent to 31.7 percent, and walk rate falls from 7.0 percent to 6.8 percent.

As expected, the Dominican-born, U.S.-raised players in the sample weren't saddled with the same impatient approach.
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Giants Top Minor League Prospects

  • 1. Tyler Beede 6-4, 215 RHP from Vanderbilt projects as top of the rotation starter when he works out his command/control issues. When he misses, he misses by a bunch.
  • 2. Chris Shaw 6-3. 230 1B Lefty power bat, limited defensively to 1B, Matt Adams comp?
  • 3. Bryan Reynolds 6-2, 210 OF Switch hitter with average speed and polished hitting approach. Fits Giants mold of high-floor, low-ceiling prospects.
  • 4. Stephen Duggar 6-1, 170 CF Another toolsy, under-achieving OF in the Gary Brown mold, hoping for better results.
  • 5. Sandro Fabian 6-0, 180 OF Dominican signee from 2014, shows some pop in his bat. Below average arm and lack of speed should push him towards LF.
  • 6. Aramis Garcia 6-2, 220 C from Florida INTL projects as a good bat behind the dish with enough defensive skill to play there long-term
  • 7. Heliot Ramos 6-2, 185 OF Potential high-ceiling player the Giants have been looking for. Great bat speed, early returns were impressive.
  • 8. Garrett Williams 6-1, 205 LHP Former Oklahoma standout, Giants prototype, low-ceiling, high-floor prospect.
  • 9. Heath Quinn 6-2, 190 OF Strong hitter, makes contact with improving approach at the plate. Returns from hamate bone injury.
  • 10. Seth Corry 6-2 195 LHP Highly regard HS pick. Was mentioned as possible chip in high profile trades.
  • 11. Jacob Gonzalez 6-3, 190 3B Good pedigree, impressive bat for HS prospect.
  • 12. C.J. Hinojosa 5-10, 175 SS Scrappy IF prospect in the mold of Kelby Tomlinson, just gets it done.
  • 13. Shaun Anderson 6-4, 225 RHP Large frame, 3.36 K/BB rate. Can start or relieve
  • 14. Garett Cave 6-4, 200 RHP He misses a lot of bats and at times, the plate. 13 K/9 an 5 B/9. Wild thing.

2018 MLB Draft - Top National HS Players

  • 1. Ethan Hankins 6-6, 215 RHP Forsyth Central HS (GA) Mi 90's FB tops at 96-98, plus breaking ball. Vanderbilt commit.
  • 2. Kumar Rocker 6-5, 250 RHP North Oconee HS (GA) Heavy 98 FB, sharp mid 90's slider. Vanderbilt commit.
  • 3. Matthew Liberatore 6-5, 200 LHP Mountain Ridge HS (AZ) High 3/4 arm slot, 91-93 FB tops at 95, with good feel for pitching. Arizona commit.
  • 4. Slade Cecconi 6-4, 195 RHP Trinity Prep HS (FL) High 90's FB tops at 97, with mid 80's breaking ball. Miami commit.
  • 5. Carter Stewart 6-6, 200 RHP Eau Galle HS (FL) Highest spin rate breaking ball in draft. Mississippi State commit.
  • 6. Luke Bartnicki 6-3, 210 LHP Walton HS (GA) Low 90's FB with command, workable slider. Georgia Tech commit.

2018 Top MLB College Draft Prospects

  • 1. Brady Singer 6-5, 200 RHP Florida Sergio Romo-esque slider from whippy low 3/4 arm slot. Mid 90's FB, sharp slider and change-up. 3.4 K/BB rate.
  • 2. Casey Mize 6-3, 210 RHP Auburn Forearm issues, 96 FB with split/slider mix, 6.2 K/BB ratio.
  • 3. Logan Gilbert 6-6, 205 RHP Stetson Loose arm action, 3 pitch mix, 93-96 FB 3.2 K/BB.
  • 4. Ryan Rollison 6-3, 200 LHP Mississippi Smooth delivery from 3/4 arm slot, 89-93 FB tops at 94/95. Late 1st, early 2nd rounder. 2.8 K/BB rate.
  • 5. Shane McClanahan 6-1, 175 LHP South Florida Thin build, 3/4 arm slot, tall and fall delivery. 93/96 FB range. 3.0 K/BB rate.

2018 Top MLB HS Draft Prospects in Tampa Bay Area

  • 1. Connor Scott 6-4, 180 OF Plant HS (FL) Florida commit.