The approach: how much correlation is there between patience and performance? | pitcher list (2023)

Plate discipline, like everything else in baseball, isn't just a black and white concept. Like cake, ogres and the feudal system of the medieval era, it has layers. Too often we see record discipline simply translated intopatience. That is, of course, part of it. However, even that works heavily in shades of gray.

Baseball at every level has a long-held belief that a player who sees a large number of pitches is automatically a better attacker than one who presents himself aggressively at the plate. At the highest level, we know that this is not necessarily always true (the amateur levels still have some work to do there).

For example someone likeTrent Grishamcan be characterized as beingthepatient. While routinely among the league's lowest swing rates, he constantly works himself into deep counts. He also doesn't have the contact ability to compensate when he's at 2-2 or 3-2. Other way around,Luis Arraez- who is arguably the best pure hitter the game has to offer - is nowhere near the top of the leaderboard in terms of swing rate or pitches per plate appearance (P/PA). Surely we don't think less of him because henot see a large number of pitches.

There are countless ways we can quantify plate discipline. A low success rate. A tall pitcher-by-plate look. Minimize the chase rate. A high swing percentage within the strike zone. Even a high contact percentage, regardless of swing frequencies, can be representative of quality plate discipline. However, for my purposes here, the patience aspect is paramount.

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Patience mainly focuses on two components of plate discipline: Swing% & P/PA.

Here are the five lowest swing rates in baseball to date:

Lowest swing% through June 5

Swing set%Contact%Brl%K%BB%wRC+
Juan Soto33.475.6 (56e)14.1 (89ste)22.0 (51st)22,0 (100ste)151
Monte Wade Jr.36.479.8 (78e)10,4 (74e)19.1 (70e)17.3 (99e)148
Adley Rutschman36.684.8 (96e)6.1 (38e)13.5 (92e)16.6 (98ste)136
Ruige Tellez36.677.8 (66e)10.2 (72e)25.4 (33e)10.9 (76e)117
Connor Joe36.975,1 (53e)10.9 (77e)28.1 (20e)9.7 (63e)122

And here are the five highest P/PA:

Highest P/PA through June 5

Ha-Seong Kim4.5581.1 (you are 85)4,7 (26e)23.8 (42e)12.4 (85e)105
Patrick Wisdom4.5266,8 (11e)20.0 (99e)36.5 (3e)10.1 (66e)114
Connor Joe4.4675,1 (53e)10.9 (77e)28.1 (20e)9.7 (63e)122
Monte Wade Jr.4.479.8 (78e)10,4 (74e)19.1 (70e)17.3 (99e)148
Ryan MacMahon4.3969.5 (21e)13,8 (88e)31,4 (11e)10.5 (71e)106

As you would expect, there is quite a bit of overlap between the two lists. That goes well beyond the small sample of five names for each list. Notably, Soto, Wade Jr., Rutschman, Tellez, Joe and Kim are the top 15 players in both Swing% and P/PA.

Perhaps no player here is more intriguing in such a discussion than this oneJuan Soto. The league's lowest swing rate and 4.28 P/PA comes as no surprise; Soto is consistently seen as one of the league's most patient hitters. There was an argument earlier in the year that he was too disciplined. Much of that talk, however, probably stemmed more from the futility of the collective offense in San Diego. Because with Soto hitting, the patience is a boon to his output. He walks at an obscenely fast pace and makes hard contact with an impressive clip. He's an elite player for a reason. The patience and strength work together in a way that doesn't quite make sense for, well, the majority of players in the league.

Wade Jr. and Rutschman also each provide their own offensive stability as a result of their patience. Wade Jr. uses his patience to reach base on a walk, but also makes regular contact and finds the barrel regularly. Rutschman is not quite the same. He increases his OBP through walks, but also makes a healthy amount of contact through his number of pitches seen. It's not quite the violent contact of a Soto or even Wade Jr, but his patience is a big factor in his top-level offensive production.

Names like Wisdom and McMahon are especially interesting on this list. Neither is anywhere near the top in terms of swing rate. But they see a lot of throws off the foul ball. Each of them is capable of generating a high level of vessel contact, but regular contact in both is a relatively absent trait. While they both have offensive advantages, mainly due to the hard contact created by the barrel, working deep counts isn't something that necessarily works in their favor.

If we were to draw conclusions, we could probably point to the increased contact rate, faster walking pace, and overall "above average level" exemplified by wRC+. Patience has benefits.

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Patience, zero

Conversely, here's the other side of the spectrum regarding Swing%:

Highest swing% through June 5

Swing set%Contact%Brl%K%BB%wRC+
Eddie Rosario60.669.8 (23e)9.2 (64e)25.0 (34e)3,8 (5e)97
Salvador Perez60,072.2 (36e)10.3 (72e)20.5 (59e)3.6 (4e)117
Mauricio Dubon58.082.5 (89e)2.0 (7e)13.3 (92e)4.3 (8e)96
Ryan Mountkasteel57,871.6 (32e)14.5 (91e)23,3 (45e)4,7 (13e)91
Ezekiel Tovar56,570.2 (25e)5.9 (36e)28.9 (17e)5.2 (16e)74

And pitches per plate view:

Least P/PA through June 5

Swing set%Contact%Brl%K%BB%wRC+
keibert ruiz3.2286.4 (98e)10.0 (71e)7.8 (96e)6.8 (34e)87
Tommy Edman3.3583.9 (93e)6.3 (40e)14.6 (89ste)7.3 (40e)108
Mauricio Dubon3.3982.5 (89e)2.0 (7e)13.3 (92e)4.3 (8e)96
Ty France4.4678.7 (72e)4,8 (26e)15.8 (85e)6.3 (27e)116
Esteury Ruiz3.574,0 (45e)2.1 (7e)17.6 (78e)3,8 (5e)98

And this is where the argument for patience as a performance driver gets even more confusing. There are really big contradictions. Walking speed is not a factor here at all. Edman and France are adept at drawing the occasional walk, but if any of the other names mentioned intend to make it to base, it will be through contact. And some contact rates are really quite strong. This speaks to the skills that are here, particularly with Ruiz, Edman and Dubón.

This is why strikeout rates are not nearly as high as one might expect. Especially when compared to the much more patient hitters. Ruiz, Edman and Dubón seem to have no problem putting the ball in play.Ryan Mountkasteeldoesn't struggle to put the barrel on the baseball. Neither does Sal Perez. And while the wRC+ numbers are largely below the "average" line, it's not like they're buried below it. At least they take it into account.

So while we can definitely say that patience has its benefits, given the findings above, so do wecan notsay aggressiveness is a disadvantage.

Is patience actually a virtue?

Similar to the way our society seems to have abandoned the concept (thanks, Amazon) of patience, there's really nothing in this brief example to suggest that patience is a heavy factor in boosting performance.

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Of course it could be a factor. There are hitters with a keen eye who can use it as a tool to boost OBP and find pitches to hit. Even if they're not riding at Soto's level, the obvious gap in their ability to make contact at least suggests putting the ball into play more consistently with a more disciplined swing speed. At the same time, an aggressive batter doesn't automatically signal falling on the wrong side of a threshold.

Can we draw any conclusions from this at all? Some guys just hook up a lot regardless of their approach. Because this brief survey is a small sample painted with broad strokes, it says nothing of the pitch type. It says nothing about the swing rate of the zone against the whiff rate. Just as plate discipline has other factors to consider, so does patience itself.

What we can notice is this. There are advantages to being a patient hitter. And some weave it into their skills. In the case of an outlier like Soto, it becomes part of their offensive identity. However, patience is not automatically an indicator of an attacking elite performer, nor is aggressiveness a sign of an underachiever. There are just too many factors at play. And that's a big part of the beauty of baseball.

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What is the O swing percentage? ›

O-Swing%, which is also known as Chase Rate measures the proportion of pitches out of the zone the batter swings as (or pitcher induces a swing). It is one of the best plate discipline metrics out there, as batters strive not to swing at pitches out of the zone.

What is the zone contact rate in baseball? ›

According to FanGraphs, Zone-Contact percentage (Z-Contact%) measures pitches on which contact was made in the strike zone divided by swings at pitches in the zone.

Does contact percentage include foul balls? ›

If you whiff, you didn't make contact.” Sort of, but contact% also includes foul balls, which starts to address an issue we saw earlier: some players mgith be especially good at defending the strike zone with two strikes.


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