The 2010 Yogi Berra Awardby Max Marchi
November 05, 2010
As we did last year, we are here to honor a player who showed, during the past season, a trait which is historically attributed to the great Yogi Berra. For those among you who are now expecting a list of exhilarating quotes, I'm sorry but you have to look elsewhere, because in this article we are celebrating another characteristic of the Yankee catcher.
Yogi as a hitter was feared by opposing pitchers because they didn't know what to throw to him.
Yogi (Berra) had the fastest bat I ever saw. He could hit a ball late, that was already past him, and take it out of the park. The pitchers were afraid of him because he'd hit anything, so they didn't know what to throw. Yogi had them psyched out and he wasn't even trying to psych them out. - Hector Lopez
It's quite easy to swing at anything. Being productive while doing so is a different matter. While Berra was said to swing at bouncing balls as well as at pitches over his head, hard data tell us that Yogi struck out just 414 times in 8,364 plate appearances in his career (19 seasons), and never more than 38 times in a season (thanks to reader Paul Gottlieb for pointing to this while commenting on last year article). Thus, at the end of this piece we'll award the prize to a player who swung at a lot of really bad pitches while not suffering too much in his production.
Reading the article from last year might be helpful, but it's not necessary, as the ground rules will be briefly discussed in this one.
A bad ball is defined as a pitch that is called a strike by the umpires less than 10 percent of the time (if the batter doesn't swing). Only hitters who have been fed at least 300 bad balls will be considered for the award and will appear in any of the following tables.
Let's start with the players with the highest percentage of swings on bad balls.
player pct pitches Miguel Olivo 37 584 Vladimir Guerrero 36 876 Ivan Rodriguez 35 559 A.J. Pierzynski 35 538 Alfonso Soriano 34 871 Jeff Francoeur 34 691 Pablo Sandoval 34 884 Alex Gonzalez 32 785 Brennan Boesch 32 693 Ichiro Suzuki 31 1020 (pct: percentage of swings on bad balls. pitches: bad balls seen)
Some usual suspects are on the list: As we said last year, swinging at bad pitches is a repeatable "skill." The correlations between the percentage in 2009 and the percentage in 2010 is 0.85 (95 percent confidence interval: 0.81 - 0.88); last year we had found a value of 0.84 between 2008 and 2009.
Now let's see who is most likely to make contact with the baseball on bad pitches. In the following table the number of whiffs on balls way out of the zone has been divided by the number of swings on bad pitches.
player whiff% swings Marco Scutaro 11 88 Juan Pierre 16 179 Bengie Molina 19 117 Nick Markakis 19 166 Nick Punto 23 66 Ichiro Suzuki 23 313 Jamey Carroll 23 92 Pablo Sandoval 23 298 James Loney 24 195 Alberto Callaspo 24 119 (whiff: percentage of misses on swings on bad balls. swings: swings on bad balls)
The above list is a mix of the most disciplined hitters and the free swingers. (If one doesn't know the hitting tendencies of Scutaro and Ichiro, he has to look no further than the last column of the table.)
Here are the batters who produced the highest run value when swinging at bad balls.
player RV100 pitches Cliff Pennington -0.04 761 Troy Tulowitzki -0.11 685 Josh Hamilton -0.16 831 Ryan Theriot -0.24 760 Nick Markakis -0.24 950 Jamey Carroll -0.25 587 Carlos Gonzalez -0.34 831 Ichiro Suzuki -0.37 1020 Pablo Sandoval -0.43 884 Mike Aviles -0.47 521 (RV100: Run Value per 100 bad balls seen. pitches: bad balls seen)
However, as was the case in 2009, no player produced a higher run value (on those pitches) than he would have totaled had he refrained to swing.
player RVnet pitches Cliff Pennington -0.70 761 Jose Bautista -0.86 1025 Jamey Carroll -0.88 587 Ian Kinsler -0.93 581 Rafael Furcal -0.95 555 Dustin Pedroia -0.95 436 Josh Willingham -1.00 639 Daric Barton -1.03 929 Jeff Keppinger -1.05 675 Nick Markakis -1.07 950 (RVnet: Net Run Value on bad balls. pitches: bad balls seen)
A copy/paste of last year's explanation on the net run value reported in the above table won't hurt here.
For each bad ball
- 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).
Finally, the difference in run production between swings on bad balls and swings on sure strikes (pitches who would have been called for strikes at least 90 percent of the time had the batter held his wood on his shoulder).
player delta Brendan Ryan 3.15 Chone Figgins 2.77 Cliff Pennington 2.41 Michael Brantley 2.30 Ronny Paulino 2.10 Scott Hairston 2.00 Pablo Sandoval 1.52 Mark Ellis 1.44 Juan Pierre 1.33 Nick Punto 1.28 (delta: Run Value from swings on bad balls minus Run Value from swings on pitches down the middle)
It's quite surprising to find batters who perform better on pitches out of sight than on offerings right down Broadway. Some adjustment is probably needed here as ball-strike count is not in the equation and neither is pitch type; thus it might be that the players on top of the list are seeing pitches down the middle in different counts (for example on 3-0 counts and thus taking them for strikes most of the time), or they are served only with breaking balls on the fat part of the plate.
Well, it's time to crown our 2010 Yogi Berra Award winner.
It's a two-man race between Ichiro Suzuki and Pablo Sandoval, both among the top 15 in the following categories: percentage of swings on bad balls, run value per 100 pitches on bad ball swings, lowest whiff rate on swings of bad balls, difference in production between bad balls and sure strikes.
A honorable mention is due for Cliff Pennington, who has great numbers across the board except for the percentage of swings, which is sort of the point for the award. If he starts biting, he is a good candidate for next year.
Meanwhile, the Award goes to...
The Panda wins the prize for the second year in a row.
References and Resources
Bad balls have been defined according to pitch locations provided by PITCHf/x.
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.