Batted ball scouting reports

Editor’s Note: This article is part of the statistical introduction to the Hardball Times Annual 2009. It is just a glimpse into many of the articles and stats included in this year’s volume. More details about the Annual will be published in the next few weeks, but feel free to help the cause by ordering it now.

For the third year in a row, the Hardball Times Annual 2009 will include our unique “Batted ball statistics,” numbers you can’t find anywhere else. These numbers don’t just tell you how many somethings a batter hit or a pitcher gave up, but the way he hit and pitched.

Did he hit the ball in the air a lot? Was he a groundball pitcher? How often did his fly balls leave the infield, or go over the fence? And when he hit a line drive, was it for power?

Those are just some of the “scouting” questions our batted ball stats answer for you. You gain a deeper appreciation for the ballplayer and his strengths and weaknesses by reviewing these stats. And you discover some interesting things about your favorite teams.

For instance, here are the number of runs (above/below the major league average) that the New York Mets batters produced for each type of batted ball last year. “Balls not in play” are strikeouts, walks and HBP.

The 2008 Mets offense
Balls not in play (NIP): +27
Ground balls (GB):         -9
Line drives (LD):        +52
Fly balls (FB):           -38

The Mets were an elite line drive team, with the third-highest run total in the majors (+52), and they also struck out less than most teams. That +27 figure on balls not in play was also the third-highest figure in the bigs.

But they didn’t hit for fly ball power. -38 runs on fly balls was in the bottom 25 percent of the majors. That’s a bit of a surprise, don’t you think? Although it mirrors their pattern from 2007 (but more extremely), they were more of a fly ball-hitting team three years ago.

The simple reason, as you’ll find in our pages, is that only 31 percent of their batted balls were fly balls; the major league average was 36 percent. They were more likely to hit ground balls (2 percent more often than the major league average) and line drives (3 percent more often).

I was particularly taken by the different styles of the Mets’ Big Four. Here are the number of runs each player produced above (or below) average for each batted ball type:

Player        NIP   GB   LD   FB  Tot
Wright D       12    3   23   11   48
Beltran C      12    1   15    4   32
Reyes J         4   16   10   -7   24
Delgado C       5  -12   16   14   24

Every one of the Big Four was more of a line drive hitter than a fly ball hitter, even Carlos Delgado. Yet they also had complementary strengths and weaknesses. Delgado clearly wasn’t beating out any ground balls, but Jose Reyes sure was. In fact, Reyes had the fifth-highest groundball run total in the majors last year.

David Wright and Carlos Beltran exhibited more plate discipline than the other two. They both struck out less often and walked more often than average. Reyes struck out much less than average, too, but he also walked less than average.

How do we arrive at these figures? It’s not terribly difficult. Baseball Info Solutions does the hard work by providing us with batted ball information for every major league player, laid out exactly the same way for batters and pitchers. The data include the number of times they hit (or allowed) a ground ball, fly ball or line drive.

We also have the outcome of each type of batted ball for each player, so we know how often each ground ball was converted into an out or a double play, for example. We can see how many fly balls never left the infield, or fell for a single, double or triple. Or cleared the fence for a home run.

To convert these baseline stats into runs above and below average, we multiply the number of outcomes by simple “linear weights” for each type of outcome (.48 for a single, .8 for a double, etc.). The linear weights we use add up to the total number of runs scored in the majors, when multiplied by the number of respective events.

Finally, to get our ranking, we divide the total runs for each type of batted ball by the number of outs the batter or pitcher made, and then compare them to the major league average.

Here’s an example. The average outfield fly ball yielded .17 runs. the average ground ball, .05 runs. But players sometimes verge from these averages dramatically. Ryan Howard averaged .48 runs for his outfield flies (more than any other player) and -.01 runs for his ground balls (not the worst—about the same as Delgado).

Said differently, the Phillies scored a run for every two fly balls Howard hit. The scored no runs when he hit ground balls, no matter how often he hit them.

Anyway, when you multiply those rates by the total number of ground balls and fly balls Howard mashed, you discover that he was 48 runs above average on fly balls (most in the majors) and 11 runs below average on ground balls (third lowest in the majors).

You’re probably not surprised by Howard’s results. But my guess is that you will find a number of surprises in the Annual, lots of “scouting” information you didn’t know. Let me give you some more examples.

The White Sox were the most extreme flyball hitting team in the majors last year. They were 73 runs above average on fly balls, tied for the highest in the majors with the Rangers. But, unlike the Rangers, they were below average in all other categories combined:

NIP: +10
LD: -11
GB: -26
Tot: -27

The White Sox truly did have a one-dimensional offense. No above-average offensive team relied more on one weapon than the Sox relied on their flies. Here are the lines for their Big Three:

Player        NIP   GB   LD   FB  Tot
Quentin C      14    0   -2   29   41
Dye J          -3    1   13   15   26
Thome J         8  -13   -3   27   20

Carlos Quentin had true plate discipline last year, and Jermaine Dye threw in some adept line drive hitting, but these three hitters were 71 runs above average with just their fly balls, 15 runs above average on all other batted ball types.

Virtually all the prototypical sluggers in the game are fly ball hitters. In fact, let’s look at a table of the best fly ball hitters of 2008. The following players all generated at least 25 more runs off fly balls than the average major leaguer:

Player        FB%   IF/F   HR/OF   Out/OF   OFR   NIP    GB    LD   Fly   Tot
Howard R       36   0.02    0.32      84   0.48    -3   -11    -6    44    24
Rodriguez A    40   0.09    0.24      80   0.38     7     4     1    33    44
Ludwick R      47   0.09    0.21      82   0.32     0    -1    13    32    43
Youkilis K     44   0.03    0.15      80   0.28     6     1     6    31    44
Guerrero V     36   0.07    0.17      73   0.34     3    -3    -5    30    25
Sizemore G     46   0.11    0.16      81   0.28    14    -2    -6    29    34
Quentin C      43   0.10    0.22      89   0.31    14     0    -2    29    41
Uggla D        48   0.08    0.20      82   0.32     2     6    -8    28    28
Thome J        42   0.08    0.24      84   0.36     8   -13    -3    27    20
Pena C         50   0.10    0.21      81   0.33    11    -3    -7    27    28
Berkman L      39   0.07    0.17      79   0.31    17     2     6    27    52
Gonzalez A     37   0.05    0.22      86   0.32     3    -6     2    26    25
Cust J         39   0.05    0.31      85   0.45     9    -6    -7    26    22
Cabrera M      39   0.11    0.19      84   0.30    -3     3     2    26    28
Hamilton J     33   0.02    0.20      83   0.31     1     6     4    25    37
Braun R        44   0.13    0.19      86   0.28    -7     9     2    25    29

Okay, let me explain. FB% stands for the percent of batted balls that were fly balls. IF/F is the proportion of fly balls that were infield flies (automatic outs). HR/OF is the proportion of outfield fly balls that were homers. Out/OF is the percentage of non-homer outfield flies that were caught for outs. OFR is the number of runs generated per outfield fly, and the last five columns are the number of runs above/below average each hitter tallied.

So, now that you know all that, what do you see? Well, there are two main types of fly ball hitters: those who are just about average or worse in all other categories (Howard is a prime example) and those who have above-average plate discipline (such as Lance Berkman, Grady Sizemore, Quentin and Carlos Pena). And you’ve got a few odd types, such as Ryan Ludwick’s line drive hitting and the ground ball prowess of Ryan Braun and Josh Hamilton.

Breaking it down further, Quentin was more of a home run hitter off his flies (.22 HR per OF, but otherwise 89 percent of his outfield flies were fielded for outs), while Vladimir Guerrero was more of a double/triple hitter (.17 HR/OF rate, 73 percent of non-HR outfield flies were outs). As you can see, there were similar subtle differences among all the hitters.

Ground ball hitters? Sure. Here are all the players who were at least 12 runs above average on ground balls:

Player        GB%  Out/GB    GBR  NIP   GB   LD  Fly  Tot
Suzuki I       57     68    0.09    3   25    4  -20   11
Victorino S    45     66    0.11    2   18    9  -14   15
Gomez C        44     67    0.10  -14   18  -13  -11  -21
Weeks R        46     61    0.14    7   16  -13   -5    6
Reyes J        44     70    0.09    4   16   10   -7   24
Guzman C       53     67    0.09   -5   15   15  -13   13
Iwamura A      47     67    0.10    2   14    3  -15    3
Holliday M     46     65    0.11    9   14   12   11   46
Lopez J        44     67    0.09   -7   14    5   -8    3

There are all sorts of different types of hitters in that table, from the superb (Matt Holliday) to the pathetic (Carlos Gomez). The major league average ground ball out rate was 74 percent last year; all these batters were thrown out less often. Obviously, speed is a huge factor in groundball hitting as well as the general ability to hit lots of them (57 percent for Ichiro was his highest total since 2004, but not out of line with recent years. The major league average is 44 percent.).

Holliday sure did it all last year. I was curious to see which other batters posted such an “even” profile. Here’s my list, in descending order of total runs above average, of the best all-around hitters in baseball last year:

Player        NIP   GB   LD  Fly  Tot
Pujols A       25    9   20   24   77
Jones C        19    4   18   15   56
Berkman L      17    2    6   27   52
Ramirez H      13   11    9   19   51
Wright D       12    3   23   11   48
Holliday M      9   14   12   11   46
Bradley M      12    7    9   17   46
Markakis N     14    7   12    8   42
Utley C        11   -2   16   16   41
Ramirez M       7    3   15   13   37
Ramirez A      11    1    9   10   31

Very few surprises here. Well, you might be surprised to see Nick Markakis here, but you shouldn’t be. He’s one of the best young hitters in baseball. Well, okay, I was surprised to see Aramis Ramirez on this list. Prior to 2008, he was more of a fly ball hitter (+23 in 2007). This year, he wasn’t nearly as strong on the fly, but his plate discipline was much better. I don’t know if that’s a good trend for him.

That “M Ramirez” line is Manny’s performance in Los Angeles. I’ll get back to Manny at the end of the article.

Pitching

One thing I love about these stats is that we can present them exactly the same way for pitchers as we do for batters. All the same metrics, all calculated and presented exactly the same way. The only difference is that negative numbers are good for pitchers, positive numbers are good for batters.

To give you a feel for using the pitching stats, let’s look at the Diamondbacks’ top three starters:

Player        NIP   GB   LD   FB  Tot
Haren D       -20    0   -4   -7  -31
Webb B         -7    2  -12  -13  -30
Johnson R     -13   13   -7    1   -6

Dan Haren and Brandon Webb were 12th and 14th in runs below average allowed, the Big Unit was much lower on the list. However, their profiles were pretty different.

Haren and Johnson are classic “control the plate” pitchers. They don’t let batters hit the ball (Haren struck out 23 percent of batters he faced, Johnson 22 percent; the MLB average is 18 percent) and they don’t walk batters (5 percent and 6 percent for Haren/Johnson; MLB average is 10 percent).

Webb also has fine control but only a slightly above-average strikeout rate. Really, Webb is the archetypal groundball pitcher; 64 percent of his batted balls were ground balls, which leads to a slightly counter-intuitive result on his batted ball profile. Ground balls were the only category in which he gave up more runs than the average pitcher.

Bottom line, Webb gave up two more runs than average on ground balls because he allowed so many of them. The real power of the groundball pitcher is that he doesn’t give up line drives and fly balls (-12 and -13 for Webb, respectively).

On the other hand, Randy Johnson gave up lots of runs on ground balls, 13 more than the average pitcher! The only other “good” major league pitcher who compares is Tampa’s Andy Sonnanstine, who gave up 11 runs more than average on ground balls.

Why? Well, in Johnson’s case, his infield simply didn’t back him up. Only 64 percent of his ground balls were fielded for outs—the major league average is 74 percent. If his infield had done an average job (and, to be fair, maybe there were a lot of hard-hit, “seeing eye” grounders), the Big Unit would have give up 13 fewer runs, lowering his ERA from 3.91 to 3.28.

Here are a couple of NL East Beasts:

Player        NIP   GB   LD   FB  Tot
Hamels C      -17  -12   -7    0  -36
Santana J     -14    0    4  -25  -35

Cole Hamels and Johan Santana have outstanding change-ups, but their profiles differ markedly. Actually, not so markedly. Both are outstanding at controlling the plate and their proportion of batted balls allowed is similar. But their fielders seemed to have different impacts on their results.

Hamels didn’t give up many runs on his ground balls, because his infielders successfully converted 80 percent of them for outs. On the other hand, Mets outfielders caught 94 percent of Santana’s fly balls. Combine that with a low home run rate (9 percent) and high infield fly rate (14 percent), and you’ve got a pitcher with the lowest number of runs allowed on fly balls in the majors.

According to our scouting reports, the best three pitchers in the majors were…

Player        NIP   GB   LD   FB  Tot
Halladay R    -20   -8   -9  -11  -48
Lincecum T    -12   -4   -8  -22  -46
Lee C         -19    3   -6  -19  -41

Roy Halladay was phenomenal. He was a groundball pitcher who gave up eight fewer runs than average on ground balls! Kudos to that Toronto infield. Tim Lincecum struck out an amazing 29 percent of batters who faced him. Combined with a 10 percent walk rate, that means that only 60 percent of the batters who faced him batted a fair ball. No wonder he gave up less than average on every kind of batted ball.

Cliff Lee? You can read all about Lee’s season in the THT Annual, courtesy of PITCHf/x and Mike Fast. Meanwhile, here are some vital stats from his scouting report:

Year       K%   BB%    GB%  LD%  FB%  HR/OF NIP  GB  LD Fly Tot
2007       15    10     35   15   50   0.12   2   2   1   9  14
2008       19     4     46   19   35   0.05 -19   3  -6 -19 -41

Okay, who are you? And what have you done with Cliff Lee?

Finally, here are a few pitching and hitting fun facts for you, straight out of the THT batted ball scouting reports:

* Eighty-five percent of Justin Masterson’s ground balls were fielded for outs last year (the major league average was 74 percent). Don’t expect that to continue in 2009.

* Only 10 percent of Carlos Marmol’s batted balls were line drives. Marmol gave up 16 fewer runs than average on line drives, the lowest figure in the majors. I’d expect some bounce-back there, too.

* On the other hand, Bronson Arroyo was 16 runs above average on line drives. Last year, he was seven runs above average on line drives. From a batted ball perspective, that was the only real difference between 2007 Arroyo and 2008 Arroyo.

* I just love this line of Mariano Rivera’s. Talk about consistency.

Player     NIP   GB   LD  Fly  Tot
Rivera, M  -10   -1  -10  -10  -30

*Twenty-three percent of Kelly Shoppach’s fly balls were home runs and (this is amazing) only 68 percent of his non-HR fly balls were caught for outs. He must have thought he was still playing in Fenway.

Finally, let’s compare Manny and Manny:

Player     NIP   GB   LD  Fly  Tot
Boston       6    2   -1   19   26
Dodgers      7    3   15   13   37

Manny’s LA record is more impressive when you consider that he was 37 runs above average in only 229 plate appearances; he had 425 plate appearances in Boston.

Here’s a further breakdown of Boston and LA Manny.

Stat        Boston  Dodgers
K%             20       17
BB%            14       17
GB Rate        41       32
LD Rate        19       32
HR/OF        0.20     0.29
GB Outs       69%      59%
OF Outs       78%      89%

Once Manny hit the West Coast, he struck out less, walked more, hit fewer ground balls and more line drives and hit more outfield flies for home runs. To add insult to injury, only 59 percent of Manny’s Dodger ground balls were fielded for outs (an astoundingly low total). The only chink in his Dodger Blue armor was the out rate on his non-HR outfield flies, 89 percent.

This is just a sample of what you’ll find in this year’s THT Annual. Please support THT by purchasing your copy from ACTA today.

References & Resources
For more information about our batted ball stats, Pictures of Batted Balls is a good place to start.

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