Batted Ball Leaderboards

Pull a chair up by your mailbox and set a spell, because The Hardball Times Annual 2006 will ship early next week. You won’t want to miss it.

There are several sections of the Annual, including a review of the 2005 season (divisions and postseason play), commentary on the 2005 season (such as Rob Neyer’s list of the biggest management mistakes of the year and Brian Gunn’s “GM in a Box” view of Walt Jocketty), a few articles dealing with the history of baseball (including two articles by Bill James, one of which focuses on Bert Blyleven’s record) and a rather large analytic section that includes many in-depth studies of the batted ball data we receive from Baseball Info Solutions, among other things.

That’s half the book. The other half consists of a passel of stats, including league, team and player stats, as well as graphs and leaderboards. And you can have it next week just by clicking here. After you’ve ordered the Annual, come on back because I want to tell you more about the batted ball data.

All done? Thanks. Back to what I was saying…

To prepare for the Annual, we ordered a special data set from BIS. Specifically, we asked for all types of batted balls (outfield fly, ground ball, infield fly, line drive and bunt) hit by every single batter and allowed by every single pitcher over the last four years. In addition, the data set includes the outcome of every one of those batted balls (such as outs, singles, doubles, triples and the like). There was so much data, we hardly knew where to begin, but we managed to pack a lot of info into the book you just ordered. There are five articles that review the batted ball data…

- “What’s a Batted Ball Worth?” which calculates the relative value of each type of batted ball.
- “They Play in Parks,” an analysis of the difference that each ballpark makes on batted balls, with some very interesting findings.
- “Batted Ball Fielding Stats,” which combines the batted ball data to assess the fielding prowess of each team in 2005, laying the groundwork for David Gassko’s Range stats, which are listed in the statistics section.
- “Do Players Control Batted Balls?” a joint effort by J.C. Bradbury and David Gassko, which may be the definitive study so far of how much impact individual batters and pitchers have on the outcomes of batted balls.
- “Giving Players their PrOPS,” a year-end review of J.C. Bradbury’s PrOPS, including the leading over- and under-performers of the year.

The articles in the Annual are just the beginning of what we will share with you from the BIS data. Today, just to kick things off, I’m going to list some batted ball leaderboards of the past four years.

For background, you might want to review Tom Ruane’s July Retrosheet article, which lists the run value of every type of plate outcome for each of the past gazillion years. For instance, from 2002 to 2004, the average value of a strikeout was -0.287 runs and the value of a walk (both intentional and non-intentional) was .304 runs. If you apply those values to the number of times each batter struck out or walked over the past four years, you have the following top 10 value “leaders and laggards” for non-batted balls:

Balls and Strikes Value Added
Leaders                         Laggards
=======                         ==========
Bonds     Barry     144.49      Patterson  Corey     -108.94
Giles     Brian      64.18      Soriano    Alfonso    -99.81
Helton    Todd       50.77      Hernandez  Jose       -94.92
Kendall   Jason      45.41      Jones      Jacque     -82.82
Pujols    Albert     40.85      Wilson     Preston    -75.97
Sheffield Gary       36.06      Cameron    Mike       -75.74
Gonzalez  Luis       26.10      Pena       Carlos     -71.68
Berkman   Lance      26.02      Gonzalez   Alex       -69.16
Eckstein  David      26.01      Sanders    Reggie     -68.86
Hatteberg Scott      25.77      Burnitz    Jeromy     -66.77

Mr. Bonds laps the field even though he didn’t play very much in 2005 (note: intentional walks are included in the totals), while the number-two guy is my favorite 2005 free agent: Brian Giles. At the other end of the list is Wrigley Field-whipping-boy Corey Patterson, who was over 100 runs in the hole before even getting the bat on the ball, even though he didn’t play full-time the entire four years in question.

Here’s some perspective for you: The difference between Barry Bonds and Corey Patterson over the past four years has been 250 runs before even getting a fair ball in play.

Now let’s apply the same logic to batted balls, outfield flies up first. I calculated the value of each type of batted ball for each batter, based on how often he singled, doubled, homered, flew out, etc. etc. for each ball. For instance, here is a list of the leaders and laggards in value per outfield fly, in which we see that every outfield fly smacked by Bonds was worth a full half run more than an outfield fly plinked by Einar Diaz. Only players with at least 1,000 plate appearances appear on the list:

Outfield Fly Value Per Ball
Leaders                         Laggards
=======                         ==========
Bonds     Barry      0.328      Diaz       Einar      -0.169
Edmonds   Jim        0.279      Vina       Fernando   -0.155
Thome     Jim        0.278      Palmeiro   Orlando    -0.145
Sexson    Richie     0.271      Vazquez    Ramon      -0.139
Clark     Tony       0.270      Kendall    Jason      -0.131
Ramirez   Manny      0.263      Pierre     Juan       -0.120
Bay       Jason      0.252      Hairston   Jerry      -0.120
Sosa      Sammy      0.250      Perez      Neifi      -0.118
Dunn      Adam       0.237      Izturis    Cesar      -0.117
Rodriguez Alex       0.234      Sanchez    Rey        -0.113

I should mention that I didn’t park adjust these figures, which can make a significant difference. For instance, the average value of an outfield fly in Coors Field is .112 runs, compared to -.021 in RFK (last year only). Said differently, for every 7.5 flyballs, a run scores in Coors that doesn’t score in RFK.

The two guys who jump off this list to me are Jim Edmonds, second to only Bonds in value per outfield fly, and Jason Kendall, one of the worst of all at getting value from his flyballs. Kendall’s strength, obviously, comes when he doesn’t hit the ball at all (fourth on the strikeout/walk list) while Edmonds offsets his power somewhat by his plate judgement (-43 strikeout/walk runs).

You probably won’t be surprised to see who the leader is in value per ground ball:

Ground Ball Value Per Ball
Leaders                         Laggards
=======                         ==========
Suzuki    Ichiro    -0.019      Phillips   Jason      -0.176
Baldelli  Rocco     -0.025      Piazza     Mike       -0.165
Figgins   Chone     -0.027      Diaz       Einar      -0.163
Byrnes    Eric      -0.030      Miller     Damian     -0.156
Crawford  Carl      -0.031      Lowell     Mike       -0.154
Lofton    Kenny     -0.032      Pierzynski Anthony    -0.152
Byrd      Marlon    -0.034      Johnson    Charles    -0.152
Mench     Kevin     -0.039      Choi       Hee Seop   -0.150
Ellis     Mark      -0.040      Griffey Jr.Ken        -0.148
Damon     Johnny    -0.041      Mayne      Brent      -0.147

Ground balls are a negative event for even the great Ichiro, but he manages to squeeze more value out of them than anyone else. Most of the other leaders on this list are speedsters, while the laggards are catchers and other slow guys.

I was a little surprised to find Ken Griffey Jr. on a list with players like Jason Phillips and Charles Johnson, but this ranking corroborates the poor fielding rankings Griffey received this year. Both imply that Junior has gotten tremendously slow. Also, the Great American Ballpark has the lowest value per ground ball of any park in the majors. It’s just not the place to hit a ground ball.

How about value per line drive?

Line Drive Value Per Batted Ball
Leaders                         Laggards
=======                         ==========
Thomas    Frank      0.495      Sanchez    Rey         0.256
Branyan   Russell    0.492      Castillo   Luis        0.267
Thome     Jim        0.457      Scutaro    Marcos      0.269
Pujols    Albert     0.452      Mayne      Brent       0.273
Walker    Larry      0.451      Ausmus     Brad        0.283
Floyd     Cliff      0.449      Diaz       Einar       0.285
Delgado   Carlos     0.434      Olerud     John        0.286
Bonds     Barry      0.432      Pierre     Juan        0.288
Sheffield Gary       0.430      Surhoff    William     0.290
Hunter    Torii      0.428      Counsell   Craig       0.291

While there is a correlation between strong outfield fly batters and strong line drive batters (R squared of .28, where 1.00 is perfect), this list of leaders is substantially different from the outfield fly list. Only Bonds and Thome make both lists, and a comparison between the two lists allows you to start to categorize batters.

For instance, Floyd and Sheffield are only slightly above average in value per outfield fly; they’re categorized as line drive batters. On the other hand, Richie Sexson, Tony Clark, Jason Bay and Manny Ramirez are all about average in value per line drive; they’re categorized as power fly ball batters.

Getting value for your line drive is very important, but so is hitting a line drive in the first place. Here are the leader and laggard lists for line drive percentage:

Line Drives Per Plate Appearances
Leaders                            Laggards
=======                            ==========
Loretta      Mark       21.5%      Dunn       Adam        10.5%
Polanco      Placido    20.2%      Dellucci   David       11.0%
Young        Michael    19.8%      Branyan    Russell     11.3%
Lo Duca      Paul       19.7%      Bellhorn   Mark        11.4%
Grudzielanek Mark       19.6%      Johnson    Charles     11.6%
Garciaparra  Nomar      19.3%      Pena       Carlos      11.8%
Karros       Eric       19.2%      Jones      Jacque      12.0%
Mayne        Brent      19.1%      Ventura    Robin       12.0%
Diaz         Einar      19.1%      Stairs     Matt        12.1%
Vizcaino     Jose       19.1%      Crosby     Bobby       12.1%

Mark Loretta has been the purest line drive batter in the majors the last four years, although his value per line drive is slightly below average. In the other extreme, Russell Branyan, who has the second-highest line drive value, is third-worst at hitting them.

As I said, these leaderboards are the tip of the iceberg. Over the next month or two, I will post pitching leaderboards and I will also set up a system to categorize batters based on the value of the batted balls they hit. If you have any suggestions or comments for what you’d like to see from the data, or other areas of investigation, drop me an e-mail.

Special Bonus

One of the things that surprised me was how effective the bunt can be, in the hands of the right hitter and when used in the right situations. Here is a list of leaders in batting average on bunts (minimum of 20 bunts; sacrifice bunts are included):

Batting Average on Bunts
Last      First       Bunts     BA
Terrero   Luis          21    .524
Aurilia   Rich          31    .516
Beltran   Carlos        34    .500
Baldelli  Rocco         26    .500
Suzuki    Ichiro        57    .491
Taveras   Willy         66    .455
Ellison   Jason         23    .435
Punto     Nick          30    .433
Johnson   Reed          51    .431
Renteria  Edgar         48    .417

And here is a list of the performance among batters who have bunted most often in the past four years.

Guys Who have bunted the most
Last      First       Bunts     BA
Pierre    Juan         283    .339
Sanchez   Alex         195    .385
Roberts   Dave         166    .325
Furcal    Rafael       141    .312
Perez     Neifi        126    .310
Podsednik Scott        104    .346
Wilson    Jack         103    .223
Womack    Tony         100    .410
Crisp     Covelli       96    .281
Eckstein  David         96    .250

Why is Jack Wilson bunting???

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