The 2009 Yogi Berra Awardby Max Marchi
November 06, 2009
If you followed the blog I run for a couple of months before making it to The Show (i.e., The Hardball Times), you might remember a post about the bad ball swingers of 2008. Since Vladimir Guerrero is the poster boy of the third millennium greatest chasers, I gave the nickname "Vlad Guerrero Award" to the standings I produced.
Here I'm going to revisit that post, but I have decided to change the name of the award. Since awards are named after retired players, I went to Yogi Berra, because many sources report him as a batter who used to swing at anything within his reach, from his eyes—and higher—to his toes—and lower.
Before proceeding to the 2009 standings, let me remind you what I did a few months ago. First, I calculated the probability that a pitch is called a strike given its location. I calculated two sets of probabilities (one for right-handed batters and one for lefties), after standardizing the vertical component of the location taking the batter's height into account.
Then I classified as a "bad ball" every pitch that had a probability lower than 10 percent of being called a strike. The cut point was arbitrarily chosen, so if anybody has a better option, the suggestion is welcome.
Note: Repeating all the work I did on 2008 data I discovered a few errors in my code, so I urge you not to look at last year's result anymore.
Here is a graphical representation of the bad-ball zones.
The first table I will present shows the top 10 bad-ball chasers; that is, the 10 batters with the highest percentage of swings on bad balls.
Note: from now on I'm using 300 bad balls seen as the qualifier.
Table 1 - Swinging percentage on bad balls. Top 10. last first pct bad balls Olivo Miguel 39 574 Guerrero Vladimir 36 559 Soriano Alfonso 36 877 Rodriguez Ivan 36 529 Sandoval Pablo 36 972 Gonzalez Alex 35 542 Molina Bengie 35 612 Aybar Erick 34 628 Pierzynski A.J. 34 635 Cedeno Ronny 33 417
Some usual suspects come on top.
A top 10 chart is often followed by a bottom 10 one, and I won't make an exception here, especially since the guys at the bottom of this list have the great virtue of letting pitches unlikely to be called strikes go by.
Table 2 - Swinging percentage on bad balls. Bottom 10. last first pct bad-balls Castillo Luis 10 725 Abreu Bobby 10 901 Ramirez Manny 10 610 Willingham Josh 9 625 Bautista Jose 9 488 Scutaro Marco 9 827 Iannetta Chris 9 448 Drew J.D. 9 719 Jones Chipper 9 820 Cust Jack 9 855
After what I wrote this summer on Marco Scutaro we should have expected him to finish down on this list.
Do players mantain their chasing tendencies? In the following chart I have plotted the players' percentage of swings on bad balls in 2008 versus the same quantity in 2009.
It's quite clear that chasing balls is a permanent trait: To confirm what's already apparent in the above figure, the correlation between the plotted variables is 0.84 (with a 95 percent confidence interval of 0.79-0.87)
The first time I wrote about the subject, I introduced the net run value on bad balls to quantify the cost of swinging at those pitches.
For each bad ball I calculate the net run value as following:
- if the batter didn't swing, assign the run value of the pitch (likely the run value of a ball; but if the ump called it a strike, then the run value of a strike);
- if the batter swung, assign the run value of the outcome minus the expected run value of the pitch had the batter not swung (that is something like 90-percent-plus-something times the run value of a ball, plus 10-percent-minus-something times the run value of a strike).
So here's what players have cost their teams by not refraining from swinging the bat.
Top 10, that is low cost for their team.
Table 3 Net run value on bad balls. Top 10. last first net run value Suzuki Ichiro -1.99 Keppinger Jeff -3.67 Iwamura Akinori -3.97 Castillo Luis -4.17 Ruiz Carlos -4.28 Gerut Jody -4.37 Lewis Fred -4.52 Millar Kevin -4.59 Paulino Ronny -4.61 Hinske Eric -5.00
Bottom 10, i.e. high cost.
Table 4 - Net run value on bad balls. Bottom 10. last first net run value Longoria Evan -23.53 Teahen Mark -23.61 Pence Hunter -23.65 Francoeur Jeff -23.78 Cabrera Miguel -23.98 Morneau Justin -24.14 Cuddyer Michael -24.88 Peralta Jhonny -25.29 Soriano Alfonso -28.24 Howard Ryan -30.43
Some of the players in the second list more than make up for their discipline shortcomings thanks to their powerful lumber; sometimes they might be deliberately giving up the chance of a walk because they feel their power is more needed. Soriano (I didn't want to point the finger at Francoeur, everybody's whipping boy when it comes to plate discipline), on the other hand, is listed at Fangraphs at 8.6 batting runs below average: his season would have been less disatrous had his bad balls swing percentage been closer to the MLB mark of 20.4 percent.
What about pitchers? Do they take advantage of opponent hacking tendencies? You would expect that the less-disciplined hitters get the highest percentage of bad-balls.
The correlation between bad-ball swing percentage and bad-balls seen percentage (out of all pitches seen), while significantly different from zero, is not very high at 0.255. Anyway there's at least one factor confounding the relation: the hitter's proficiency. Manny is in the bottom list of bad-ball chasers, but that's not a good reason for throwing him a lot hittable pitches.
Here are the top 10 pitchers at making opponent fish.
Table 5 - Swinging percentage induced on bad-balls. Top ten. last first pct bad balls Wuertz Michael 33 507 Pena Tony 30 352 Madson Ryan 30 369 Gregerson Luke 30 406 Nathan Joe 29 441 DiFelice Mark 29 302 League Brandon 29 391 Halladay Roy 28 1067 Rivera Mariano 28 342 Buckner Billy 28 432
And now the bottom 10.
Table 6 - Swinging percentage induced on bad balls. Bottom 10. last first pct bad balls MacDougal Mike 14 309 Wilson Brian 14 420 Aardsma David 14 370 Cecil Brett 14 474 Miller Andrew 13 438 Hill Rich 13 342 Lewis Jensen 13 334 Cabrera Daniel 13 371 O'Sullivan Sean 12 321 Swarzak Anthony 8 306
The first list contains three notable cutterballers: Mo, The Doc, and... well.. DiFelice; the other seven have their top weapon in either a slider or a mid-90s fastball (or a combination of the two). A couple of flamethrowers (and a former one in Daniel Cabrera) appear on the second list as well, but for the most part you can not point out a dominant pitch in the repertoire of the pitchers among the bottom 10.
Hey, I was forgetting to actually give away the Yogi Berra Award. We could give it to Miguel Olivo, because it's the batter with the highest percentage of swings on pitches way out of the zone. However, while Yogi used to throw his bat to any spherical object that happened to transit in the area where the game was played, his swings were successful more often than not, leaving opposing batteries wondering what they should have thrown him to avoid a double.
Thus Ichiro could be crowned for having totaled the highest net run value with his hacks.
But it doesn't sound good to me to attach an award to a negative contribution, so I will simply end this article with the list of the players with the most hits on bad-balls.
Table 7 - Base hits on bad balls. Top 10. last first bad-ball hits Sandoval Pablo 68 Phillips Brandon 64 Polanco Placido 61 Molina Bengie 60 Ramirez Alexei 60 Gonzalez Alex 55 Suzuki Ichiro 54 Cano Robinson 52 Loney James 51 Aybar Erick 51
The Award is yours, Panda!
References and Resources
PITCHf/x data from Sportvision & MLBAM.
I used batter handedness and the coordinates of the pitch only when crossing the plate to estimate the likelihood of a pitch to be decreed a strike. Pitcher handedness, balls and strikes count and pitch type also have some weight on the umpire's decision. And the knowledge of the umpire tendencies may change the batter's threshold on pulling the trigger.
After creating a baseball rendition of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper cover, Max began his baseball writing because he needed an excuse to show the picture. He wrote for an Italian audience for six years before making the jump to The Hardball Times. You can contact him by e-mail.