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The early returns on selective aggression

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It's early in the season, but the hitting philosophy of Todd Steverson has produced promising results.

Brian Kersey

Throughout the offseason, the White Sox' new hitting Todd Steverson talked up his approach as "selective aggression." That means laying off pitches outside the strike zone and attacking pitches inside the zone. With Jeff Manto's philosophy, it was difficult to put a finger on anything statistically that would show a problem or improvement. With the new approach from Steverson, we do have several stats that we can look at for signs of improvement.

Yes, this all screams of small sample sizes and the afterglow of a 15-run win, but if we look at the improvements that can be attributed to the new approach to pitches outside the zone, we can get a good a look at what's happening while hopefully limiting the effects of small sample sizes.

As a team, the Sox haven't shown much improvement in the percent of swings on pitches outside the strike zone. Right now, the Sox are at 32.6%, 27th in the majors this season, compared to 32.3%, 22nd in the majors last season. Prior to yesterday's game, they were a couple percentage points better.

The effect of a few batters, however, is hiding the improvement by several batters.

Name O-Zone% 2014 O-Zone% 2013 Difference
Adam Dunn 14.8% 24.2% -9.4%
Adam Eaton 26.2% 27.3% -1.1%
Marcus Semien 26.8% 42.1% -15.3%
Adrian Nieto 28.6% - -
Tyler Flowers 29.6% 37.2% -7.6%
Leury Garcia 30.0% 36.2% -6.2%
Alejandro De Aza 30.2% 26.8% 3.4%
Alexei Ramirez 30.4% 41.8% -11.4%
Conor Gillaspie 38.5% 28.4% 10.1%
Dayan Viciedo 40.5% 42.5% -2.5%
Avisail Garcia 41.9% 45.7% -3.8%
Jose Abreu 44.3% - -
Paul Konerko 57.1% 28.6% 28.5%

Marcus Semien is showing the biggest improvement so far by dropping his swings outside the strike zone by 15.3%. Alexei Ramirez, the current AL leader in hits, is second with an 11.2% improvement. In third place is Adam Dunn, cutting is his excellent zone discipline another 9.4%. Finally, in fourth, is Tyler Flowers with 7.6%. Before yesterday's game, Dayan Viciedo was in this bunch, but his taste for swinging at sliders outside got the best of him.

On the flip side, Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu are helping to keep the swings outside the strike zone numbers up for the team with 41.9% and 44.3% respectively. Both are also seeing pitches outside the strike zone over 60% of the time, so the scouting is already getting out to keep things outside the zone for them -- if the two-homer night for each on Tuesday didn't do that already.

A side effect of not swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone is seeing more pitches per plate appearance. As of right now, the leader on the Sox for the first time in a while is not Dunn. Semien right now is at 4.52 P/PA with Dunn just behind with 4.48 P/PA. They are eighth and 10th in the American League, respectively. Boston and Detroit are the only other teams with two batters in the top 10. Not surprisingly, Adam Eaton is in third on the team with 4.18 P/PA while fourth, surprisingly, goes Avisail Garcia at 4.14 P/PA. Last season, the Sox only had two season regulars over a 4.0 P/PA: Dunn and Alejandro De Aza. As a team, the Sox as a team had a 3.76 P/PA in 2013 (28th) while coming in at 3.81 right now (20th).

Yes, this means, on average, Jose Abreu gets to see about nine pitches thrown before he gets to his first at-bat of the game.

Finally, the Sox have also seen their walk percentage rise from 6.8% in 2013 (29th in the majors) to 7.6% so far in 2014 (23rd). The team leader is Dunn at 16%, followed by Viciedo with 13.0%. Viciedo's three walks already this season tops his April walk total last season by, well, three. Avisail Garcia's 8.8% rate shows that he is listening to himself about patience. Finally, Alexei Ramirez is also at a nice 8.1% BB% compared to 3.9% last season.

Overall, the Sox aren't doing anything earth-shattering, but things have been promising. Several Sox players are showing significant improvements in strike zone discipline, taking pitchers deeper into counts, and taking walks when pitchers are giving them away. So, as long as we all remember that the Sox are not going to the playoffs, we can revel in the baby steps they are making.