Kosuke Fukudome should quit playing baseball and become an umpire

The 'Bright' One and myself were talking about how frustrating a player Kosuke Fukudome is. He is simultaneously a guy with great pitch recognition and limited hitting ability. The 'Bright' One went so far as to suggestion that Fukudome should just quit playing baseball and start umping behind the plate. Is he right?

A look into the numbers does confirm Fukudome's great pitch recognition. His 17.6% walk rate is sixth in all of baseball, only .01% behind Albert Pujols, who has 21 more intentional walks than Fukudome, and his 16% O-Swing percentage is almost 9 points lower than the league average (24.8%). These numbers seemingly indicate the building blocks of a quality ballplayer -- the guys who have similar recognition peripherals this season are Albert Pujols, Adam Dunn, Nick Swisher and Nick Johnson. Offensively speaking, you'd love to have any of them (Swisher has the worst wOBA of the bunch on the season, at .384).

So what gives? Why has Fukudome, a semi-veteran player who recognizes pitch location as well as the league's most elite hitters, struggled so much in the majors? The answers lie in the contact rates.

While Fukudome may know what's coming and know when to swing or lay off a pitch, it hardly has translated into contact for him. His 79.9% contact rate is a smidge below the major league average (89.2%). Outside Adam Dunn and Nick Swisher, most elite walking hitters in the majors have better than average contact rates -- largely because they have good pitch recognition. The two skills (pitch recognition and contact) are highly correlated, but hardly mutual. A hitter may know what's coming and how it's going to break, but that hardly means he has the bat speed and proper hand-eye coordination to make contact with said pitch.

Fukudoke's contact rate on pitches within the zone (89.2%) is slightly higher than league average (84.7%), but pitches in the zone are not his problem. Fukudome's contact issues almost entirely come from bad pitches. Fukudome's elite walk rate and O-Swing% indicate that he is very good at laying off pitching outside the zone, but his 52.4% contact rate with those pitches (62.4% league average) highlights that when he takes a hack at bad tosses, they usually result in a signature strikeout spin that can generate hurricane force winds. Fukudome's struggles at making contact with bad pitching is skewed by the fact that pitchers throw him 4% less pitches in the zone than the rest of the league. He also see's 2% less of his first pitches for strikes.

Such struggles with bad pitching has led to a large K rate for Kosuke Fukudome. His 22.9% strikeout rate this season is the second worst amongst the Cubs starting roster, second to only Alfonso Soriano. This heavy strikeout rate negates a lot of Fukudome's hitting ability because, despite the walks and the fact that when Fukudome drives the ball with authority when he does make contact (his 22.4% LD rate this season is top 25 in all of baseball), he ultimately puts the ball in play too little and with too little offensive impact (.156 ISO) to affect the Cubs' offensive game. His 4.1 speed score (5.1 league average) on the basepaths doesn't help much either.

All in all, what does this mean? It sort of confirms The 'Bright' One's assertion that Fukudome should be a plate umpire. He's got good pitch recognition but too poor contact ability (for whatever reason, perhaps age and declining batspeed?) and too little power to be anything more than a walking machine with above average defense. Think an Asian Reggie Willits with a little more power; that's Kosuke Fukudome.


The 'Bright' One said...

Nice job using my real name.

Asian reggie willits? Kosuke doesnt live in a batting cage. In fact willits isnt even currently on the major league roster and the only reason he played at all this year is cause their pitcher was killed

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

1) let me have my obscure reference!
2) Fixed the name drop
3) I'm all bit up form midnight frolf :(

fadde said...

It may be that Fukudome doesn't have enough commitment to Pitch Recognition to lay off 2-strike pitches outside of zone. I bet Dunn and Swisher types have big percent of called strike 3. Berkman too. 2-strikes is the real test of committed PR approach. K taking is no worse than K swinging, and neither is any worse than any other way of making an out (Bill James). The batters who really buy-in suffer a lot of crap. Like Frank Thomas got from Hawk Harrelson. But they are committed to an approach they know works for them.

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

Sadly, 2-strike pitch data is not available on the internet for free (if it is out there; if it is, i suppose such info is on BP), but I assume the numbers would stay consistent. While swinging strikes and called strikes are no worse in terms of out creation, the fact that Fukudome's PR does not translate into contact does highlight the thesis point that he may make a better umpire than player. Another statistic of interest may be his swing% (% of pitches he swings at), which is also lower than the MLB average. While this does not affect contact rates (because contact rates are derivative of pitches that a player actually swings at), it perhaps does indicate a self-recognition of his value as a walker to get to first as much as a singles hitter. If fukudome knows he has contact problems and minimal power, even with good LD rates, he may be more prone to simply take pitches (esp. in close counts) than risk swinging -- this may also be less self awareness and more hitting coach telling him this

Regardless, you raise an important point

Cubsfan4evr said...

Reggie Willits reminds me a lot of Ryan Theriot talent wise. It is funny how he converted his house into a batting cage. Obviously it isn't enough. As Fadde points out, Fukudome isn't good at Pitch Recognition. That is obvious, especially when he uses the bail out swing which drives me crazy.