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Mike Trout and Mookie Betts have opposite approaches — and both are perfect

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The answers to this mystery show some of the nuances of how each player approaches a count, and how each player’s count rhythm (to make up a phrase) can defy the broad generalities we draw about a player’s approach from their overall plate discipline stats. (Trout takes more pitches with two strikes, for example; Betts chases more often with three balls.) More significantly, they show how much foul balls, of all dumb things, matter.nfl authentic jerseys cheap

We don’t pay much attention to foul balls. They’re not a whiff, but they’re also not a ball in play. In most counts they’re bad (but not too bad), but in two-strike counts they’re good (but not too good). Some travel 500 feet; some are detectable only by sound. You can stare at a foul ball percentage leaderboard and struggle to find any pattern.
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But Trout is a major foul ball hitter. Of all qualified hitters this year, only two have fouled off a higher percentage of pitches per swing. Betts is a major foul ball avoider, down around the 25th percentile of fouls per swing. In the case of these two elite hitters, these foul balls create a huge shift in outcomes. Trout and Betts are just as likely to swing at, for example, any 1-0 pitch, but Betts is 60 percent more likely to put the pitch in play, because Trout fouls off so many of those pitches.

It’s hard to say whether these different rates represent a deliberate approach by each hitter or merely the subtle differences in their hitting skills and styles. The “deliberate approach” hypothesis draws some evidence from foul ball rates per count: Trout’s foul ball “edge” over Betts is especially high in early hitter’s counts, like 1-0, 2-0 and 2-1. Betts’ foul ball rates go way up with two strikes, when a foul ball gets the batter a new pitch, while Trout’s stays steady throughout the count.

But regardless of whether these rates show intent, they do illustrate two different philosophies about count leverage.

The Betts philosophy (again, whether or not intentional) is that, in this era and with the strength of these hitters, there’s a tremendous value to simply putting a fair ball in play, and a tremendous penalty to reaching two strikes.

We can see this striking trend in a stat called tOPS+, which measures the league’s performance in one split relative to its performance overall. The league’s tOPS+ with two strikes is 43 this year, which is a way of saying that its OPS with two strikes is just 43 percent of its OPS in all counts.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

That 43 figure is the lowest since at least 1988, when count data began to be recorded. The second-lowest tOPS+ on two strikes came in 2017. The third lowest came in 2016, and the fourth lowest came the year before that. Modern pitchers are pitching for strikeouts, and they’re really good at getting strikeouts, and so there has never been a worse time to hit with two strikes.

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