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.)
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.
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.
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.