Mike Cameron and Plate Discipline

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Mike Cameron and Plate Discipline
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

While listening to the broadcasts for the first two games, I’ve noticed that a big deal has been made over Cameron’s four walk game on Tuesday. Yes, it is encouraging to see any Brewers hitter walking after having only one regular with an OBP over .360.

However, their was a definite implication out of the Brewers announcers (as well as a few casual fans here that I’ve watched the first two games with) that Cameron has poor plate discipline. This is just plain wrong.

Yes, Mike Cameron does strike out quite a bit. Over his career, he’s struck out in 27.8 percent of his plate appearances, ranging from a season high of 32.3% with SEA in 2002 to a season low of 24.5 percent with SEA in 2000.

For reference, the league average strikeout rate is around 19.0%. Cameron’s high strikeout rate tends to lead fans along the following logical path.

Mike Cameron strikes out a lot. Therefore, he must swing and miss at a lot of pitches. It is probable that many of those pitches are out of the strike zone, and so he must have bad plate discipline.

Let’s examine this line of reasoning. Our assumption is certainly true, as we’ve established. Cameron struck out in 32.0 percent of plate appearances last year, compared to a league average of 19.0 percent.

Over 500 PAs (roughly what Cameron had last year), that means he struck out 65 more times than the average batter. So yes, he strikes out a ton. Does this, however, mean that he’s swinging and missing at a high rate?

Luckily, FanGraphs tracks these stats. Cameron was actually below average in Swing percentage, O-Swing% (O refers to outside of the strike zone) and Z-Swing percentage (Z refers to inside the strike zone).

Not only does Cameron not swing a whole lot at pitches outside of the zone, he’s just patient in general. Cameron’s philosophy appears to be to wait for the mistake and drive it, which he has shown he can do quite well over his career (241 HR). So why does he strike out?

Likely, it’s because of his low Z-Swing percentage combined with his below average Contact%. As a result, Cameron will end up taking strikes, go deep in counts, and occasionally swing and miss at pitches in the zone.

It is not a lack of patience or discipline that causes the high strikeout rate for Cameron, but rather a patient philosophy that leads to deep counts combined with low contact.

If you want to see a lack of discipline, check out Pablo Sandoval, who we’ve seen with the Giants over the last two games. Here’s a chart of all Sandoval’s at bats on Tuesday (except for his first, where he was hit by a pitch on the first pitch). Data from MLB Gameday.

Sandoval vs. MIL

There are maybe six pitches here out of 14 that are bordering the strike zone, and he took three balls.  He did take a couple of strikes in here, but still, wow.

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