The 2011 Yogi Berra Award

Awards are presented in November, and for the third time, The Hardball Times is going to name the Yogi Berra Award winner.

The great Yankee catcher used to swing at everything, and when asked about his habit of swinging at bad pitches, he once replied with one of his trademark quotes: “If I can hit it, it’s a good pitch.”

A young baseball fan, reading about Yogi’s tendency to go after every pitch, might be tempted to assume he struck out a lot. Nothing is further from reality, as you can see from this FanGraphs chart. (Do not mind the final data point, as it is based on nine plate appearances.)

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Thus, in crowning the third recipient of the Yogi Berra Award, we are looking for hackers who get good results from their aggressive approach at the plate.

You can read about the previous awards by checking out the 2009 and 2010 articles. In both occasions Pablo Sandoval was named as the winner.

Since bad-ball swingers are the subject of this article, a definition of bad-ball is needed. As was done in the past editions, pitches that are called strikes fewer than 10 percent of the time (based on where they crossed the plate—thanks to Sportvision and MLBAM for PITCHf/x data) are considered bad balls. Only players who have been fed at least 300 such pitches are considered for the analysis.

Who are the free-swingers? Below are listed the 10 players with the highest percentage of swings at bad pitches.

Player               Pct    Pitches
Alfonso Soriano       41        871
Humberto Quintero     39        405
Vladimir Guerrero     36       1003
Alex Gonzalez         36        901
Miguel Olivo          36        926
Mike Carp             36        354
Reid Brignac          36        418
Pablo Sandoval        36        718
Mark Trumbo           35       1028
Rod Barajas           34        652

However, as was said above, a good candidate for the Yogi Berra Award must be able to connect when swinging at bad pitches. Thus, below are the players with the lowest whiff percentage on bad balls.

Player          Whiff%   Swings
Juan Pierre         11      217
Marco Scutaro       11       44
Todd Helton         17      119
Brett Gardner       19      145
Angel Pagan         20      176
Eduardo Nunez       20       84
Ichiro Suzuki       21      331
Brian Roberts       21       94
Jamey Carroll       21      170
Ryan Sweeney        22      120

Obviously, Marco Scutaro can not hope to be included in the race for the award, as he is good at connecting when he decides to go for a bad pitches but chooses to do so very infrequently. On the contrary, Juan Pierre and Ichiro Suzuki, with 217 and 331 attempts, respectively, are good candidates.

Suzuki and Pierre are also at the top of the following list. These are the players with the highest number of base hits obtained on bad pitches (BPH).

Player            BPH
Ichiro Suzuki     102
Juan Pierre        95
Brandon Phillips   82
Martin Prado       81
Gaby Sanchez       78
Pablo Sandoval     75
Adrian Gonzalez    74
Matt Wieters       71
Mark Ellis         68
Vladimir Guerrero  65

We don’t have a clear-cut winner for this edition of the award, since the players with a combination of hacking attitude and low swing-and-miss ratio did not excel with the bat in 2011. (Both Pierre and Suzuki were close to replacement, according to FanGraphs WAR stats.) Lacking a better option, Juan Pierre gets our nod due to his ridiculous percentage of whiffs—11 percent, the same obtained by the very disciplined Marco Scutaro.

Getting historical

What about the great hackers of the past, including Yogi himself? There’s no PITCHf/x data going back to the late ’40s, when Berra started his career, but a handful of stats can be combined to outline the hardly-whiffing free-swingers of the past.

The AVG/OBP ratio (with intentional walks removed when data are available) can be used as a proxy of the batters’ reluctance to let pitches go past. The K% (strikeouts divided by PAs) tells us how much the free swingers came out empty after their efforts.

The following hypothetical list of Yogi Berra Award recipients throughout baseball history (since integration) has been obtained by naively combining the two stats (adding the AVG/OBP ratio to 1-K%). Batters with fewer than 300 PA in the season and batting below replacement have been removed.

Season   Player
1947     Dale Mitchell
1948     Alvin Dark
1949     Ted Kluszewski
1950     Ted Kluszewski
1951     Nellie Fox
1952     Red Schoendienst
1953     Don Mueller
1954     Don Mueller
1955     Nellie Fox
1956     Vic Power
1957     Red Schoendienst
1958     Vic Power
1959     Bobby Richardson
1960     Russ Nixon
1961     Roberto Clemente
1962     Vic Power
1963     Frank Malzone
1964     Willie Smith
1965     Jesus Alou
1966     Felipe Alou
1967     Jesus Alou
1968     Felix Millan
1969     Al Oliver
1970     Jesus Alou
1971     Manny Sanguillen
1972     Bill Buckner
1973     Manny Mota
1974     Bill Buckner
1975     Larry Bowa
1976     Bill Buckner
1977     Bob Bailor
1978     Bill Buckner
1979     Lou Piniella
1980     Bill Buckner
1981     Bill Buckner
1982     Bill Buckner
1983     Mickey Hatcher
1984     Don Mattingly
1985     Bill Buckner
1986     Don Mattingly
1987     Don Mattingly
1988     Don Mattingly
1989     Brian Harper
1990     Tony Gwynn
1991     Brian Harper
1992     Brian Harper
1993     Tony Gwynn
1994     Carlos Baerga
1995     Tony Gwynn
1996     Lance Johnson
1997     Tony Gwynn
1998     Tony Gwynn
1999     Tony Gwynn
2000     Darrin Fletcher
2001     Ichiro Suzuki
2002     Randall Simon
2003     A.J. Pierzynski
2004     Ichiro Suzuki
2005     Placido Polanco
2006     Paul Lo Duca
2007     Placido Polanco
2008     Cristian Guzman

So Yogi himself is not on the list, but he is in the top five each year from 1947 to 1950 (with two second-place finishes) and finished sixth in 1951.

Finally, to have a sort of hackers hall of fame, let’s assign 10 points to the top free-swinger in each season as selected with the method above, nine to the runner-up, and so on, down to one point to No. 10.

	Player	        Points
1	Tony Gwynn	   144
2	Bill Buckner	    89
3	Al Oliver	    80
4	Ichiro Suzuki	    77
5	Don Mattingly	    67
6	Willie Davis	    56
7	Nellie Fox	    52
8	Brian Harper	    48
9	Vic Power	    47
10	Placido Polanco	    45
11	Dale Mitchell	    42
11	Vlad Guerrero	    42
13	Matty Alou	    41
14	R. Schoendienst	    40
14	Smoky Burgess	    40
14	Ted Kluszewski	    40
17	Garret Anderson	    39
17	M. Sanguillen       39
17	N. Garciaparra      39
20	Lance Johnson       37
20	Mickey Rivers       37
20	Yogi Berra	    37

References & Resources
PITCHf/x data from MLBAM.

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Comments

  1. David said...

    Seems like your historical list is populated with a few weak hitters.  They’re probably benefitting from the AVE/OBP portion of the formula because who would ever want to walk them?  Can we get slugging or ISO into the picture?  Something to show they’re doing something with these bad pitches they’re swinging at, instead of just trying to not strikeout?

  2. Matthew said...

    Kind of crazy that Jesus Alou led the league 3 times but couldn’t muster enough points the rest of his seasons to make the HoF. Shame.

  3. Frank K said...

    Yogi himself is NOT on the list???  Call him at the Museum he started and get his reaction—-another great Berra saying will soon enter the American lexicon.  We can all enjoy deja vu all over again.

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