HitTracker and future player evaluations

Those of you that have been reading me all year know how much I love HitTracker. I use it for all of my player evaluations, so I would first like to express my infinite gratitude to Greg Rybarczyk for creating such a magnificent tool. It is simply amazing.

However, I have been using it somewhat crudely so far this year, and I would like to improve my methods for next year.

Three types of home runs

Back in April, Greg Rybarczyk penned an article for THT entitled Sometimes It Is How Far You Hit Them. In this article, he introduced a system he created, organizing all home runs into three categories: Just Enough, Plenty, or No Doubt.

I love the logic behind this system, but because of certain flaws I see in it I haven’t really referred to it much here.

Imagine you’re out hitting baseballs with a friend. You’re going to hit 1000 of them. Now imagine the farthest you can possibly hit the ball in the air. Maybe it’s just out of the infield, maybe it’s as far as a Major League warning track. However far it is for you, personally, you probably won’t hit too many of the 1000 balls that far. You will only be able to muscle a few out that far. If it were easy for you to hit them that far, then it likely wouldn’t be the farthest you could hit a ball, would it? Greg would classify these types of balls as “No Doubt” home runs.

Now, pretend that there is an imaginary line roughly 80-85% of the distance to the point of your farthest hit. Let’s say that for major leaguers, out in center field, 475 feet is the farthest a particular player can hit a ball. Let’s say the center field wall is at 400 feet. Anything under 400 feet, hit to that part of the park, will not clear the fence and will not be a home run.

Back to you. Pretend that that 80-85% mark is your personal home run fence. Any balls you don’t hit over that mark, in the air, will not be a considered a home run for you. Now pretend that there is another imaginary line just a little past your personal home run line, maybe 85-88% out. Now, while you might hit a lot of balls that don’t quite make the barrier and a lot between 88% and 100%, you probably won’t hit too many that are just clearing the fence, simply because of the limited space you have to work with. The balls that do get hit into this small area, Greg would classify as a “Just Enough” home run.

Any ball hit between 88% and maybe 95-97% would be classified as a “Plenty” home run. These balls are clearing the fence enough to escape being classified as “Just Enough”, but they aren’t your best hit ones, so they aren’t “No Doubt” home runs either. These are the types of home runs you will hit the most of, given a lot of swings.

The way Greg recommended using this system was to calculate every home runs a player hits. Let’s say a particular player is hitting a ton of “Just Enough” home runs compared to his “No Doubt” and “Plenty” home runs. A lot of his shallow fly balls are just clearing the fence. This isn’t real power, and over time is likely to correct itself, causing that player’s home run rate to decrease.

Now let’s say a player is hitting a ton of “No Doubt” home runs and not very many “Just Enough” home runs. He clearly has good power, he just isn’t getting some of those shallower fly balls to clear the fence. It’s likely many of them are getting caught on the warning track. This should also correct itself over time, increasing the player’s home run rate.

Flaws I see in the system

Now that we understand this system, I’ll go over my problems with it. Again, my problems are not in the logic behind it, but rather in the implementation of it. Consider this example.

Magglio Ordonez’s home run on 7/15/07 against Jake Woods at Safeco Field. It was marked as “Just Enough/Lucky,” yet I don’t really think that this label fits. True, the home run might fall into the Just Enough/Lucky qualification, but it still traveled a true distance of 418 feet. That shows good power.

It could be argued that Ordonez was actually unlucky for hitting that ball against Jake Woods at Safeco Field. Had he hit it in another park, say Fenway (let’s pretend for a second that Magglio is on the Red Sox and he played in Safeco against Jake Woods on 7/15/07), it would probably have been labeled as a Plenty or a No Doubter since the Fenway fence distance at the point of Magglio’s HR is roughly 390 feet.

Again, while I think the logic behind the Just Enough/Plenty/No Doubt is great, I think there may be a problem with its implementation. It doesn’t really serve the purpose most people will want to get out of it… to evaluate the validity of certain batters’ power.

Hypothetically, if Magglio had hit every home run in Safeco Field (now let’s pretend he’s a Mariner) to exactly that same spot, while his real power would be pretty good (hitting the ball 418 feet each time), every time it would still be marked as “lucky”. That just doesn’t seem too fair to me. If Magglio is hitting every home run 418 feet, I’m going to expect him to start hitting some shallower ones when he plays in friendlier parks (and even some around 405 feet when he plays in Safeco).

Now, I certainly realize that ballparks have an effect on home runs and should definitely be used in HitTracker evaluations. I just feel like they aren’t being utilized properly at the present time — not for what we’re looking for anyway. A home run, hit exactly the same distance to exactly same part of the field can, theoretically, be a “No Doubt” in one park and a “Just Enough” in another park. That, essentially, is what we need to find a way to correct.

One idea

While I have been meaning to put some thought into this, I just haven’t had a lot of time to do it. Here is what I’ve just come up, although I am sure there would be a better way doing it.

Run the home run numbers for every player on the player’s home park and also on a park with league average dimensions. That way, combined, we could tell how many home runs a player should reasonably be expected to hit, since the circumstances of the home runs are essentially out of his control.

Of course, there is still the matter of the pitcher. Kevin Kouzmanoff hit a home run off of Jeff Francis on August 14. Kouzmanoff would have never faced Francis at a park close to league average, as Coors and Petco are both probably more spacious than a league average park.

So then you might say to run each home run at the hitter’s home park and the home park of the pitcher he hit it off of. If we do this, though, we are still feeding into circumstance. Kevin Kouzmanoff had the ability to hit that home run 417 true feet all along. It just so happened that he hit it against Jeff Francis in Petco. Regardless of the ability of the pitcher, the hitter still hit the ball far.

This seems like a murky subject.

Closing thoughts

Again, I’d like to extend an enormous thank you to Greg Rybarczyk for creating HitTracker. I can’t put into words how highly I think of HitTracker and the endless possibilities it presents.

Also, please know that my idea above is a very rough idea that I just came up with. I am absolutely open to any ideas you might have for creating a better system than I currently am using, and when I get some free time I will brainstorm new ideas as well. I just wanted to let you know the direction I’m trying to go with it.

With Greg allowing us to download the HitTracker program (another big thanks to Greg!), once I come up with a system, I don’t think it will be difficult to use it for our purposes. I haven’t taken much more than a glance at it yet, but this quote from the HitTracker download page makes me believe that we could plug the numbers given on the HitTracker website into it and have it spit out the numbers we want.

“If you’ve ever wondered how Hit Tracker works, or wanted to see how far a home run in one stadium would have gone in another, or just wanted to check for yourself how far a long homer went, now’s your chance.”

Again, if you have any ideas, feel free to comment. HitTracker has enormous potential, and if we are using a system here, in conjunction with it, that is not used anywhere else, you will have an enormous advantage going into the 2008 season.

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