Sometimes a number merits discussion but doesn't require an entire story. Sometimes a trend is worth keeping an eye on before it turns into an avalanche. Sometimes it's just fun to break down stats. Welcome to Five Figures, the debut of a recurring feature on MLB.com in which we'll look at a few interesting stats from around baseball.
Heath Bell's Z-contact%
We'll start with a number that isn't pretty. At all.
Marlins reliever Bell signed a big deal in the offseason despite the fact that he was coming off a year in which his strikeout rate and swing-and-miss rate absolutely plummeted -- two very bad indicators for any pitcher, but especially a late-inning reliever. Well, there's bad news for the Marlins: It's getting worse.
Entering his ugly outing on Monday, Bell was simply not getting swings-and-misses in the strike zone. Like, almost none. According to Fangraphs.com, Bell carried a 97.6 Z-contact% into Monday's game. That is to say, when he has thrown a pitch in the strike zone and the batter has swung, the batter has made contact 97.6 percent of the time. Roughly 1 out of 42 swings at pitches in the strike zone has failed to make contact. That's up from a 90.8 percent rate last year, which was a career worst. By comparison, Jonathan Papelbon has a Z-contact% rate of 77.8 percent.
Batters have made contact on 88.1 percent of all swings against Bell this year, well up from his 81.8 percent last year, which was his career worst before 2012. Bell is throwing fewer strikes this year, and that's a problem. But he's throwing a lot fewer quality strikes, and that's a much bigger problem.
Albert Pujols' O-swing%
Here's another one from Fangraphs.com, and another negative one. (Don't worry, we'll get to some nice ones before long.) Pujols' problem isn't a lack of contact. It's a lack of hard contact.
Pujols is actually making contact on 87.9 percent of his swings, which would be his highest rate since 2008. Yet he might be better off if he were missing a little more often. That's because he is taking his hacks at far too many pitches out of the strike zone. A hitter long known for his exemplary plate discipline, Pujols is fishing at a rate we've never seen before.
His O-swing% is at 40.3 percent, which is radically higher than it's been in any season of his career. That means he's swinging at 40 percent of the pitches he sees that are out of the strike zone. His previous high, set last year, was 31.8 percent, and before that it had never been higher than 27.5 percent. For a comparison, noted free swinger Pablo Sandoval is swinging at 41.7 percent of pitches out of the zone, a very similar number to Pujols.
Players don't forget how to hit at the age of 32. When Pujols gets his pitch, he still has the ability to do damage -- see his three-homer game in last year's World Series. But he's got to make sure he gets his pitch. Right now he's not doing that.
The Orioles' record in close games
If you're looking for a reason Baltimore tops the American League East, look at close games. The O's are 8-2 in games decided by one or two runs. That comes from a bullpen that's been nails, and an offense that has specialized in comebacks.
The O's have hit 14 of their 30 homers in the seventh inning or later, with a slugging percentage of .470 in the late frames. That compares with a .417 SLG in the first six innings and .434 overall. Hitting homers is a skill, but timing them is not, so there's reason to think that will normalize over time. Likewise, that relief corps, with its 1.88 ERA, probably will come back to earth somewhat as the year goes on.
Still, these are encouraging signs for a franchise that needs them. The O's are winning by hitting homers and protecting leads, and that's not a bad formula.
The Blue Jays' defensive efficiency
Defensive numbers can be shaky in small samples, and three weeks certainly counts as a small sample. However, by multiple measures, Toronto has been the game's best defensive team so far. Whether you measure by Baseball Info Solutions' team runs saved, Baseball Prospectus' Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency or the Defensive Efficiency Rating you can get here at MLB.com, Toronto has been the best defensive team in the Majors. According to Baseball-Reference's Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average, they've been the best in the AL.
And it's all about the infield. According to BIS, the Jays have gotten the most runs saved, or are tied for it, at second base, shortstop and third base. The 19 runs saved just at those three positions would rank second in the Majors for an entire team total. That's Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson doing great work -- and Omar Vizquel coming off the bench to boot.
The White Sox feast-or-famine lineup
If any manager needs to optimize his lineup, it's Robin Ventura. His team has three hitters performing at a star level, two more who are a good bit above average and four absolute sinkholes. Chicago carries three of the six lowest on-base percentages among qualifying hitters in the AL, and four regulars with an OPS+ of 56 or lower. OPS+ is a quick-and-dirty measure of on-base and slugging relative to the league average, with 100 being an average number. Fifty-six, it's fair to say, is not good.
So although Paul Konerko has been brilliant, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios have been resurgent, and A.J. Pierzynski is putting up All-Star numbers, the Sox rank 12th in the AL in runs per game.
This isn't basketball. One or two or three people can't do it alone. Chicago's attempt at a bounce-back year will fizzle unless the rest of the lineup proceeds to producing.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.