Analysis

What if teams prioritized Strike Zone Production at the Trade Deadline?

When teams think about acquiring players, they probably have a few key reasons as to why they should acquire them. The most obvious is that a hitter has been killing it offensively, and the team needs an upgrade offensively, or they need an upgrade defensively. Another reason could be because a particular team has struggled with a certain platoon split, so they need to acquire hitters that will upgrade their game in those facets. Well, what if teams were to continue to narrow it down and focus on a player’s strike zone production and try to upgrade their team in that way? Obviously, this would not be the primary reason the team would target a player, but it would be a way to help the team. This article will attempt to identify which teams could use production at certain zones and identify which possible players could fill those holes.

First, to clarify using a screenshot from the MLB At Bat app, the strike zone includes the 9 rectangles of the zone. I will focus on a few zones from the image above. The “top” of the zone will be the the first three rectangle boxes at the top of the strike zone and “bottom” of the zone will refer to the three rectangle boxes at the bottom of the strike zone. I will not include pitches that are outside of the zone since MLB Gameday does not distinguish from the outside middle to outside bottom of the zone. Therefore, I will only seek to capture each player’s skill set based on the top and bottom of the strike zone. The player pool will include guys who have had at least 40 at bats that end on a pitch in each particular zone as I have defined them. The player pool for the top-of-the-zone options will be 149 players, while for the bottom-of-the-zone pool will be 289 players. Let’s get started. 

Top of the zone

Philadelphia Phillies – Cedric Mullins

The Phillies have the worst wOBA out of any team, and third-worst batting average, in the bottom of the zone. The Phillies could also use a center fielder, so Cedric Mullins would be the perfect fit here. Mullins currently has .467 wOBA (fifth-best) and a .393 batting average in the top of the zone. He also has the 10th-most hits from the bottom of the zone. Therefore, a guy like Mullins is an obvious target here for the Phillies given how comfortable he is low in the zone. Overall, Mullins is hitting .319/.380/.545 with a 153 wRC+ so he will be an obvious upgrade at center field offensively, and he also provides speed out there. Mullins is in the 88th percentile in sprint speed, while Odubal Herrera is in the 60th percentile. Mullins is tied for ninth in stolen bases (16) and the Phillies are also fifth in stolen bases as a team, so Mullins fits what Girardi wants to do in terms of running the bases. 

New York Mets – Jonathan Schoop

The problem here would be that if Detroit were to trade Schoop, they would be even worse in the top of the zone given that Schoop has the 11th-highest wOBA (.437) and sixth-highest batting average at .393 in that part of the zone. They will only get worse without him. However, if all that mattered was zone production, he wouldn’t be moved…. but that is not the case and the Mets would be the beneficiary of Schoop’s services. The Mets find themselves in the bottom third of the league in both wOBA (21st) and Batting Average (23rd), so they could definitely use an upgrade in that area. They could go for guys like Kris Bryant or Trevor Story, but those guys would cost a pretty penny and Schoop would be cheaper given his age. Schoop currently has a higher batting average than both Story and Bryant, and has the second-most home runs out of the three, only one behind Bryant. That being said, Schoop would be the perfect candidate here, because he solves the Mets top-of-the-zone production, and if Schoop were to be traded today he would have the second-most home runs on the Mets overall. Schoop is also a .324 hitter against lefties, and the Mets have the 18th-best batting average against left-handed pitchers so, while not the worst, he will boost the team in that category as well. 

New York Yankees – Anthony Rizzo

The Yankees have the fourth-worst batting average and the 22nd-worst wOBA in the top of the zone, so they are due for an upgrade there. However, that is probably the last place they are looking to make an upgrade. Prior to acquiring Joey Gallo, they were on the bubble of whether they are buyers or sellers, and Anthony Rizzo would be my pick here. If the Phillies weren’t a more obvious pick for Mullins, I would have sent Mullins to the Yankees. However, Anthony Rizzo would be a nice left handed bat for the Yankees here who currently has the 19th-highest BA and the 21st-highest wOBA in the top of the zone. The Yankees have Gio Urshela who has the 13th-highest top-of-the-zone wOBA, but he is injured and Luke Voit has a .446 wOBA in a very small sample of only 14 ABs and has been on the Injured List three times, so they need some production there. The Yankees have the 10th-highest strikeout rate (24.4%) and Rizzo will bring a 15.9% strikeout rate to the Yankees. If we look further into their plate discipline in the top of the zone, the Yankees have the 10th-highest Swing and Miss percentage in the top of the zone at 15.39% and Rizzo will bring a 7.34% swing and miss % in the top of the zone which is only 34th highest but will be an upgrade for them immensely in that facet. The Yankees are also the worst left-hand hitting team in the league sporting a sub .200 BA. Rizzo would fit a nice role in the Bronx.

Bottom of the zone

San Francisco Giants – Starling Marte / Ryan McMahon / Freddy Galvis

The Giants have the 23rd-lowest wOBA and the 25th-lowest BA in the bottom of the zone and the problem here was that I had Starling Marte going to them. Marte has been one of the best bottom of the zone hitters in the league. He currently sports the seventh-best wOBA (.475) and the best batting average (.450) in the bottom zone this year. He is also having one of his best offensive seasons this year. He is in the 94th percentile in Outs Above Average (OAA) and 83rd percentile in sprint speed, so he also would have been a good defensive player for the Giants. Duggar (86th percentile OAA) and Yastrzemski (91st percentile OAA) are both very good defensive players in center and right field, respectively. Marte would fit right in, replacing Dickerson in the lineup and defensively. But as perfect as he would have been in San Francisco, he got traded across the bay to Oakland at the time I was writing this article. Marte would have been the most likely option to upgrade their bottom-of-the-zone production. However, in an attempt to find players who are available and would also improve the Giants bottom-of-the-zone production, some options could be either Ryan McMahon at first base or Freddy Galvis as a middle infielder. Ryan McMahon would be the least likely traded to them, given he would be traded with multiple years left on his contract and would be going to a division rival, so some teams might stay away. But for the sake of this scenario, he would fit in with San Francisco given he has the 12th-highest wOBA and 11th-highest batting average on pitches low in the zone. He has played third base and second base this year, and currently has a 5.9 FanGraphs Defensive Runs total, which is better than Evan Longoria or Donovan Solano. A more likely option could be Freddy Galvis, who has the ninth-highest wOBA and fifth-highest batting average in the bottom of the zone, and could also be an upgrade at second base for them defensively, but he is currently injured. 

Seattle Mariners – Josh Bell

The Mariners currently have the fifth-worst wOBA and the third-worst BA on pitches in the bottom of the zone. Josh Bell would be a fit here. Not sure how likely it is that the Nationals would trade him, but he would fix some production in the bottom of the zone for the Mariners given he has a .404 wOBA and .310 BA in that particular zone.  FanGraphs has Bauers getting a majority of the playing time at first base, and Bell would be an upgrade immediately offensively. Bell would have the second-highest wOBA on pitches low in the zone on the team if he were to be acquired today.

Milwaukee Brewers – Jose Ramirez

The Brewers are dead last in both wOBA and BA in the bottom of the zone. They also could use a third baseman as well, so Jose Ramirez would be my pick here for the Brewers. Ramirez has the 35th-highest wOBA (.401) and a .303 BA in the bottom of the zone. While not the best, he would be an upgrade there for the Brewers. Ramirez would immediately have the best wOBA and third-best BA on pitches in the bottom of the zone in Milwaukee. However, that would not be the only reason they would acquire him given that this would be one of the better players on the trading block, it would solve so much for the Brewers. It would anchor the left side of the infield given Travis Shaw is injured and Luis Urias hasn’t improved since coming over from San Diego. Ramirez would bring a lot of power to the lineup. They are in the middle of the pack when it comes to total home runs, so it’s not dire, but this move would most likely be for the playoffs rather than the rest of the season. Ramirez would also fit in Seattle, but I felt he would more likely go to the Brewers given they are in the NL and the Brewers are in a position to compete deeper into the postseason, so they may give up more for him. Ramirez to Milwaukee would be perfect. 

On a side note: Adam Frazier has the 12th-highest BA on pitches low in the zone, and he went to the Padres who had the 24th-lowest BA in that regard. So while that was probably not a reason they acquired him, he will still improve them in that area. 

All the data used within this article is provided from Baseball Savant and FanGraphs.

Featured image courtesy of the Los Angeles Angels Twitter account: @Cubs

Statistics updated through July 27th 2021.

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