Bill Ladson interviewed Pudge recently and it's always interesting to me to hear a player's take on himself, especially when they are doing particularly well or poorly. In theory a player should have the best view of what is happening in his season, but often our own biases get in the way of a proper analysis. Is this the case for Pudge? Let's find out.
MLB.com: You are off to one of your best starts of your career. Why?
Rodriguez: ...I've had some better luck than I did the last two, two and a half years. The last two and a half years, I hit the ball hard, but right at people. I'm still doing the same things -- hitting the ball pretty solidly, finding holes, and they are falling in the outfield...
Analysis: We would expect, if Pudge was right, to see his LD% to be about career average the past 3 years (hitting the ball hard) but the BABIP to be abnormally low in 2008 and 2009 (right at people).
LD% (Career 22.4%) 2008: 20.2% 2009: 18.5% 2010: 23.6%
BABIP (Career .323) 2008: .316 2009: .294 2010: .436
Result: Pudge was NOT hitting the ball hard the past 2 1/2 years (LD rate 19.4% in 2007) and he is getting worse. However, to his credit, his "get this guy out of baseball" 2009 might have been a little bid because of bad luck. The elephant in the room though is that even though some of his improvement in 2010 is because of better hitting it is BY FAR because of good luck.
MLB.com: Has there been a mechanical adjustment when it comes to your swing?
Rodriguez: ...What I'm doing right now is being more selective, hitting strikes and trying to put the ball in play.
Analysis: If this is the case then we'd expect to see Pudge swinging at a lower pecentage of pitches outside the strike zone and maybe higher percentage of pitches in the strike zone. We'd expect to see a higher contact rate if he was trying harder to put balls in play (then say trying to drive the ball)
% pitches swung out outside the strike zone: 2009: 39.3% 2010: 38.0%
% pitches swung out inside the strike zone: 2009: 75.8% 2010: 69.1%
% pitches contact was made on : 2009 : 77.0% 2010: 82.3%
% pitches contact was made on outside the strike zone : 2009 : 59.6% 2010: 71.7%
Results: He's sort of right. His contact rate is up and the best since 2002 (which is as far back as fangraphs goes), so he is probably being more selective and trying to find balls that he can put into play. But they aren't strikes. He's actually swinging at fewer strikes. The big difference is he's making far more contact on pitches outside the strike zone.
MLB.com: When you reach the 3,000-hit plateau, what would that mean to you?
Rodriguez:...To reach a milestone like that, there are not too many players who can reach that mark and get to 3,000 hits as a catcher. It's pretty awesome....
Analysis/Result: Pudge is selling himself waaaay short here. He is closing in on having 400 more hits than the next best catcher (Fisk). He'll likely finish his career with only one catcher within ~700 hits of him. To reach 3000 would be pretty awesome, but what Pudge has done already is pretty awesome too.