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Braves Breakdown: Looking At Brian McCann's Walk Total

Is Brian McCann's high walk rate a mirage?
Is Brian McCann's high walk rate a mirage?

Throughout Brian McCann's career, he has displayed a decent amount of plate discipline. His career walk percentage is 9.1% and the average major leauger walks about 8.7% of the time. Most of Brian's above average .359 career OBP is through his above average .291 BA. However, this year Brian is walking at a much higher rate of 13.6% and only needs 13 walks to surpass his career high of 57 set in 2008.

The .381 OBP that McCann currently has would be his second highest since his first full season, when he batted .333 and had a .388 OBP with an 8.3 BB%. So, despite being on pace for his lowest career batting average, McCann is also on pace for his second highest OBP. The question at hand is, why has his walk total increased so much this season?

By looking through his career numbers, the first thing I noticed was that his pitchers per plate appearance are up. This has been a trend in Brian's career. 

Pitches per Plate Appearance

'06: 3.64
'07: 3.68
'08: 3.72
'09: 3.90
'10: 4.06

Brian took a big jump in 2009 and took another big jump this year. The additional pitches seen will obviously lead to more walks in the long run, but what we want to find out is if he is taking more strikes, swinging less or more frequently, or taking more balls.

Brian is taking strikes at a fairly low rate this season. 28.3% of the pitches he sees are taken for strikes, where the league average is 31%. His career low is 26.5% in '08. To coincide with this statistic, Brian is striking out looking just 3.1% of the time and the league average is 4.5%. Once again, his previous career high came in '08 when he struck out looking 3.3% of the time.

Now, with the knowledge of his pitches taken, we must look at his swinging percentage. Since we know he is seeing more pitches per plate appearance but taking less strikes, the next step is finding out how frequently Brian is swinging and how good the pitches he is swinging at are. This is where we start figuring out what Brian is doing differently, what pitchers are doing differently, and how his walk rate has been affected.

This year, Brian is swinging at just 44.7% of pitches seen. The league average is around 45%, and Brian's lowest total before this season was 46.4% in 2008, which was the season he posted a 9.9% BB ratio.

This can be easily be contributed to seeing less strikes, and pitchers are only throwing 42% of their pitches for strikes against Brian. His career average is 48.2% and he has never seen less than 48.1% pitches in the strike zone. 

This is a very telling number. It shows that Brian's increased walk rate may not be directly correlated with anything he has changed but rather what pitchers have changed when facing him. The lower thrown strike totals can mean a number of things. It could mean he is facing lesser competition, pitchers are being more careful with him, or it could be just by chance. Regardless, he is seeing less strikes and when that occurs, walk rates increase.

Enhancing that argument, Brian has swung at more pitches outside of the zone this season than ever before. He is swinging at 28.4% of the pitches he sees outside of the strike zone. His career average is 25.9% and his previous career high was 27.5%. This states that Brian actually hasn't been more patient at the plate. 

The oddest part of Brian's plate discipline statistics this season is that he is also swinging at less pitches inside the zone. He is swinging at just 67.2% of pitches in the strike zone, which is above the league average of 64.2% but below his career average of 70.5%. Each season, Brian has taken more strikes.

Swings Inside the Zone:

'06: 73.2%
'07: 72.3%
'08: 69.8%
'09: 68.1%
'10: 67.2%

So Brian is taking less called third strikes but also swinging at less strikes this season. This points to Brian likely taking pitches while ahead in the count. Brian is also on pace for a career low of first pitch strikes at 54.2%. 

Concluding the study, Brian is also striking out more frequently than he ever has. His strikeout rate of 20.7% this year is much higher than his career average of 14.9%. With that said, Brian is striking out swinging at the highest rate of his career, 14.2%. His swing-and-miss percentage is up to 19.4%, also the highest of his career. 

Swinging and missing leads to more pitches seen, as does seeing less overall strikes. Brian's increased walk rate has been great and has certainly helped his production, but we should not look at walk totals and believe that Brian has become more patient at the plate. Pitchers may continue to throw less strikes to Brian, which will lead to high walk totals in the future, but if they throw strikes closer to how often they did before this season, then his walk totals will regress back closer to his career averages. 

There were a lot of numbers here and I hope everyone understood clearly, but if you didn't feel, free to ask any questions in the comment section and I'll try and clear everything up for you.

Most of the numbers were taken from http://www.fangraphs.com, http://www.statcorner.com, and http://www.espn.com

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