One of the skills of good pitchers is the ability to get hitters to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone. This week, we’ll look at the Orioles starting staff in this regard. Among AL starting pitchers the median rate for coaxing hitters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone (O-Swing %) is ~28%. But it’s not enough to just get guys to go after pitches out of the zone, pitchers need hitters to miss too. For American League pitchers the median contact rate (O-Contact %) when swinging at pitches out of the strike zone from starting pitchers is ~68%. In contrast the American League median contact rate (Z-Contact %) for hitters when swinging at pitches in the strike zone from starting pitchers is ~87%. Let’s see how the Orioles starting staff stacks up against these averages. It is important to note that it is mid April and increased sample sizes will make these numbers more reliable. However, for now, small samples are all we have and these types of plate discipline statistics stabilize more quickly than more traditional metrics such as strikeouts.

Opposing hitters struggle when they chase Jason Hammel’s pitches outside the zone.

Analysis after the jump.

Name O-Swing% O-Contact%
Tommy Hunter 33.3 % 80.0 %
Jake Arrieta 27.7 % 71.4 %
Brian Matusz 26.8 % 83.3 %
Jason Hammel 26.4 % 64.3 %
Wei-Yin Chen 18.6 % 63.6 %

Besides the second inning in his most recent start Jason Hammel has had a very successful season. Hitters don’t swing at his pitches out of the zone particularly frequently but when the do they’re having trouble making contact. Currently Brian Matusz doesn’t share this skill. He isn’t getting hitters to chase pitches either but when they do, they make contact at almost the same rate as if the pitch was in the strike zone. Its disappointing to see that Arrieta doesn’t fair better in this analysis. From my untrained eye he has had good “stuff” in his starts this season, however that has not translated to getting hitters to chase pitches out of the zone. Furthermore, when they have chased they are making contact at an average level. Tommy Hunter’s numbers are far from awe-inspiring. He can get hitters to go fishing, but thats isn’t a particularly useful skill when hitters make contact at an 80% rate. Chen is a much more interesting case. He struggles to get hitters to expand the strike zone, however, when they do they struggle to make contact against him. Overall, these numbers should make fans a little more realistic about the future of AL East leading Orioles. While they have pitched effectively enough to allow the team to win six games, the underlying numbers don’t point to sustainable pitching success. Let’s hope an increased sample size through the end of the month paints a somewhat rosier picture, especially for Matusz and Hunter.