In Who Will be Next Season’s Unsung Hero for the Diamondbacks, I wrote that one of Pavin Smith’s strengths is power hitting. Later, I wondered was I wrong?
Heath Klein’s comment inspired me to investigate. His comment began as follows (before he added support for his opinion):
“Nice write up Kilo, the only area in which I would disagree is Pavin Smith as a power hitter. Historically he’s had the most success when he’s going with what the pitcher gives him and chasing very little.” — Heath Klein
Let’s look at Pavin Smith’s strengths as a batter. Reasonable people could find fault with my first step, which was to divide his last two seasons into 8 segments corresponding to streaks of relatively better performance and relatively worse performance. Nevertheless, that step led to insights, albeit the small sample size caveat applies.
What are Pavin Smith’s batting strengths?
After looking at several possibilities, three strengths stood out.
In all 8 segments, his whiffs per pitch were less than the 2022 average for the Diamondbacks. This is one indication that he sees the ball well and knows when to swing. That is one strength.
In half the segments, his barrels per ball-in-play was above the 2022 average for the Diamondbacks. Two of above average segments covered April 7 to June 29 of 2022. Barrels per ball-in-play is a characteristic of a power hitter. Also, it is a second indication that he sees the ball well and knows when to swing.
From Sept 1 of 2021 through October 5 of 2022, his walks per PA were either above average or near average. That is a significant improvement compared to 2021. It is a third indication that he sees the ball well and knows when to swing.
The following table shows his three strengths.
Is Pavin Smith a power hitter?
Let’s look at four characteristics of power hitters – above average fly ball percentage, above average slugging (SLG), above average barrels per ball-in-play, and above average home runs per plate appearance. My comparison was to average for 2022 Diamondbacks.
There were 3 segments when he exceeded average in three of the four characteristics:
- July 1 to August 6, 2021
- April 7 to May 6, 2022
- May 7 to June 29, 2022
The following table shows his power hitter characteristics for the 8 segments. For most of his plate appearances in 2022, he had these characteristics of a power hitter. However, that is not the whole story.
Is Pavin Smith a balanced hitter?
Let’s look at the characteristics of a balanced hitter – above average line drive percent, above average ground ball percent, below average pull percent, and above average wOBA.
There were 4 segments when he had at least three of the four characteristics:
- April 1 to June 5, 2021
- June 6 to June 30, 2021
- September 1 to October 3, 2021
- September 23 to October 5, 2022
The following table shows his balanced hitter characteristics for the 8 segments. Most interesting was the pattern of his batting approach: balanced, then power, then balanced, then power, then balanced. Therefore the rest of the story is that either he often changed his batting approach or he often used both approaches with alternating effectiveness.
Perhaps the alternating pattern is explained by small changes to his swing. The AZ Snake Pit Review of Pavin Smith referred to two changes made in 2022:
- He improved the timing of his swing to prevent his body from “compensating for being late.” — better explanation in article by Nick Piecoro
- He improved his swing by blending new movements into his swing mechanics to “optimize the balance, direction, and/or rotation of his swing.” — better explanation in article by Nick Piecoro
“Pavin has been doing a great job for us, playing just about every day for us in right field. He came through our system as a very good hitter, and we’ve watched him turn into the same type of player at the big league-level.” — Torey Lovullo, 2022
Which batting characteristics are most correlated with his performance?
After looking at several possibilities, two stood out – Ground Ball Percentage (this surprised me!) and walks per plate appearance.
The following graph shows that when Pavin Smith had a higher ground ball percentage, his wOBA was higher. With next season’s restriction on defensive shifting, the effectiveness of his ground balls will likely be improved. Although 7 of the 8 segments show a high correlation, one segment was anomalous for unknown reasons (June 6-30, 2021). The following graph clearly shows the relationship.
The following graph shows that when Pavin Smith had more walks per plate appearance, his wOBA was higher. This time there was no anomaly. This is another confirmation of what may be Pavin Smith’s best strength – he sees the ball well and knows when to swing.
Heath Klein was correct in that a foundation strength is he chases pitches very little. Maybe Pavin Smith’s best strength is that he sees the ball well and knows when to swing. That strength resulted in his consistently low whiffs per pitch and his high walks per plate appearance.
Two batting characteristics are most correlated with his performance.
- His higher ground ball percentages are correlated with higher wOBA. That strength will likely improve with next season’s restrictions on defensive shifting.
- His higher walks per plate appearance are correlated with higher wOBA. That strength flows directly from his foundational strength that he sees the ball well and knows when to swing.