Pitchers’ wOBA Against, 2010

Batting Average Against is commonly cited in mainstream analysis as an indicator of how hard a pitcher has been hit. This is blatantly incorrect, of course, as batting average treats all hit types the same- so a pitcher that has allowed predominantly singles is seen as more or less the same as a pitcher who allows a standard distribution of singles, doubles, triples, and home runs. Furthermore, we’re also looking at a rather limited analysis- what about other baserunners allowed, via the walk? How about on-base percentage against?

Well, that’s a step up. But we’re still dealing with the issue of all hits being treated the same. So, we’re not all the way there. Slugging percentage accounts for hit types, but the weighting is rather awkward- if you’re relatively familiar with run expectancy, you’ll know that a home run isn’t worth two doubles. A double isn’t worth two singles. A triple isn’t worth three singles, and…well, you get the picture. So, adding both on-base percentage and slugging percentage- otherwise known as OPS- will give us a reasonable estimate, but not as thorough as we’d like. And that’s not even taking into consideration the fact that we’re adding two rates with different denominators, and…well, it’s pretty ugly. We can do better.

That “better,” of course, is Weighted on Base Average (wOBA). wOBA assigns the proper marginal value to each event (linear weight values) and transforms the coefficients to turn it into a rate that matches league on-base percentage. No more awkward weighting for hit types and walks, and we can sprinkle in other events such as reaching on an error, stolen bases/caught stealing, and strikeouts (which make for a tiny, almost insignificant difference). So, which pitchers have the best and worst wOBA against so far in 2010?

First, the National League (minimum 100 IP, league average = .330):

Name	        wOBA
Mat Latos	0.247
Josh Johnson	0.251
Adam Wainwright	0.263
Ubaldo Jimenez	0.264
Tim Hudson	0.286
Roy Oswalt	0.287
Tim Lincecum	0.288
Clayton Kershaw	0.289
Johan Santana	0.289
Roy Halladay	0.294

The Pads’ Latos leads the National League with an extremely low .247 wOBA. The rest of this list is comprised of more or less the usual suspects. The worst? Oh, they’re bad:

Name	        wOBA
Mike Leake	0.344
Ricky Nolasco	0.345
Dan Haren	0.349
Kyle Kendrick	0.352
Aaron Harang	0.356
Paul Maholm	0.357
Wandy Rodriguez	0.363
Randy Wolf	0.363
David Bush	0.367
Rodrigo Lopez	0.371

Haren’s the biggest surprise to me in this list, as he’s been one of the better pitchers in the National League the past couple of years. He didn’t have a very good first half, but here’s to hoping that he sees a turnaround in the second half. The rest of the list isn’t exactly filled with guys you’d shell humongous contracts to, but you knew that already.

Now, the American League (Minimum 100 IP, league average = .327):

Name	        wOBA
Cliff Lee	0.256
Jon Lester	0.273
Trevor Cahill	0.278
John Danks	0.281
Felix Hernandez	0.284
Jered Weaver	0.286
Colby Lewis	0.287
CC Sabathia	0.291
Justin Verlander	0.291
Phil Hughes	0.292

Boy, the Rangers sure got themselves a bona fide ace in Lee. It’s nice to see a few surprises in this list, such as the Athletics’ Trevor Cahill- who’s having a solid season thus far, and the Rangers’ Colby Lewis, who has seemingly reinvented himself since his two-year stint in Japan.

The trailers:

Name	        wOBA
Ben Sheets	0.352
Joe Saunders	0.354
Kevin Slowey	0.356
Tim Wakefield	0.358
John Lackey	0.361
A.J. Burnett	0.367
Brian Bannister	0.368
Scott Feldman	0.369
Kevin Millwood	0.373
Nick Blackburn	0.405

I don’t think the A’s are going to get a lot in return for Sheets, unless the team vying for his services believes he can pitch like he used to a few years ago. Two big names highlight this list from the Red Sox and Yankees, as expensive starters A.J. Burnett and John Lackey are getting knocked around quite a bit. Twins starter Nick Blackburn, in the meantime, has been hit as if every batter he’s faced is Hank Aaron.

One of the beauties of wOBA is that it can easily be disassembled back in to linear weights; expressed as runs above or below the average player. This is often referred to as “wRAA” (for Weighted Runs Above Average) on Fangraphs. I’ve park-adjusted the wOBA using Baseball-Reference’s 3-year park factors, and converted it back into LWTS. Your leaders:

Name	       LWTS
Josh Johnson	33
Ubaldo Jimenez	31
Adam Wainwright	30
Jon Lester	27
Cliff Lee	22
Mat Latos	22
John Danks	20
Tim Lincecum	20
Roy Halladay	19
Felix Hernandez	18

This helps puts things into perspective a bit. While it is true that Lee has the lower wOBA against than the Sox’s Lester, Lester’s also accumulated about 27 more innings. The worst pitchers?

Name	        LWTS
Scott Kazmir	-18
Kevin Millwood	-19
A.J. Burnett	-19
David Huff	-22
John Lannan	-22
Charlie Morton	-22
Brad Bergesen	-23
Zach Duke	-24
Nick Blackburn	-30
Ryan Rowland-Smith 	-32

Of course, the typical caveats apply: this is by no means a perfect measurement of pitcher valuation; simply just another way of assessing a pitcher. All data for 2010 (through July 19th) can be found here. I’ve supplied the non park-adjusted wOBA, as I realize that some people will undoubtedly want to toy with it using other park factors of their choice.

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Comments

  1. Ari Berkowitz said...

    I don’t understand the point of this.  Pitcher’s wOBAs have more to do with luck, fielding, etc. than to do with them.  Therefore they are pretty useless.  Most of the guys at the top of the lists have there wOBAs inflated by lucky BABIPs, Strand Rates and HR/FB Rates.  Just look at Dan Haren and Ubaldo Jimenez.  Although Jimenez has a much lower wOBA, Haren is arguably as good or even better than Ubaldo and has a much better xFIP.  Same goes Nolasco and others.

  2. bob b. said...

    man, people like to whine about everything! “oh my god, your article is not perfect! wah wah”.
    anyway, i thought the lists were interesting.
    thanks!

  3. Ari Berkowitz said...

    People like to make bold comments that don’t mean anything without a reason.  In what way did you think the lists were interesting?  I simply don’t understand the point of the article.  I know JT knows what I previously commented, that’s why I didn’t understand what the point of the article is.  It isn’t an attack on anyone and I’m not saying anything about “his article” I just don’t understand the purpose of posting such a thing in light of knowing that most of these numbers are inflated/deflated by luck and probably have a small year to year correlation.  The whole point of Sabermetrics is trying to understand baseball objectively and that is what I’m trying to do.  You obviously don’t understand anything about Sabermetrics if your comment was directed at Nick Steiner and if it was at me, well this was what I had to say.

  4. Tom B said...

    To observe objectively also means to broaden the scope of your observation, and wOBA against coupled with xFIp and other metrics give a more complete picture of why a pitcher is pitching the way he is.

    No single number by itself is an answer. You need to calm down.

  5. Ari Berkowitz said...

    A more complete picture of what?  Yes if you’re wondering why so and so’s ERA is x, then yes it’ll help if you’re wondering if so and so’s a good pitcher then not really!  The numbers that’ll help you understand if a pitcher is good are Ks, BBs and GBs in any way or form (meaning rate stat or whatever).  Therefore the stats that help you portray this information and strip most aspects of luck out are FIP, xFIP, tRA and now SIERA. 

    Oh and by the way, I’m going to teach this to you now so you won’t get punched in the face in the future.  You shouldn’t tell people to calm down, it only pisses them off (more).

  6. Tom B said...

    Where in the article did the author claim to be providing anything to help you determine if a pitcher is “good” or not? The number does exactly what you said it does, helps you figure out why a pitcher is having the season he is having.  There is no magic number that tells you if a pitcher is “good”… lol… You are totally off base and just rambling at this point.

    You should really calm down there internet tough guy.  This is not 4chan, we act like adults here.

    Thanks for teaching me how immature you are.

  7. Pedro said...

    The guy writes for THT – of course he knows all about how BABIP and LOB% can affect this measurement. He simply wanted to have another way to evaluate a pitcher’s performance, which I think was really fun and easy to understand.

  8. Jeffrey Gross said...

    JT,

    This is one of my favorite stats and one of the most underrated/underutilized. I think the only other person beside you who I can say for sure uses this was the writer Sam Walker in Fantasyland.

    Brilliant post

  9. Ari Berkowitz said...

    He didn’t that’s exactly my question.  What is the point of this?

    “The number does exactly what you said it does, helps you figure out why a pitcher is having the season he is having”

    I never said that!  I said it helps you determine why so and so’s ERA is x.  Which is actually saying the opposite.  Take Mike Pelfrey for example.  He’s had the exact same season three years in a row now yet he’s gotten luck/unlucky and therefore the NY media thinks he was good and is now under performing or vice versa.  In reality he’s just the same average pitcher that gets lucky/unlucky. 

    Off base and rambling?  Seriously?  That’s weak man!  In what way is stating the three most important and predictive events a pitcher can control rambling?  I just don’t understand what you even mean!!!  If it makes you feel better to reiterate telling me to calm down than no problem, otherwise it is pointless because a) why would I listen to you and b) I don’t really care what you think because I personally know I’m calm. And I apologize if I have not met your internet etiquette standards but I really don’t see where I crossed the line of maturity/immaturity.

  10. Tom B said...

    “I said it helps you determine why so and so’s ERA is x.”

    “The number does exactly what you said it does, helps you figure out why a pitcher is having the season he is having”

    Those 2 sentences say the same exact thing… are you on drugs?

  11. bob b said...

    in answer to comment #4:
    i found the list interesting simply because i thought it was interesting to see a list of the leaders and trailers in opposing wOBA. simple as that! as for your snotty comment “You obviously don’t understand anything about Sabermetrics if your comment was directed at Nick Steiner and if it was at me, well this was what I had to say” i think i’ll just say “whatever”.

  12. JT Jordan said...

    Nick,

    Personally, I prefer a rate that I can compare easily to hitters just for the heck of it.  If we use BsR, we’re looking at a different rate.

    Ari- Pedro pretty much summed it up, and it’s something I stated in the last paragraph: *it’s just another way of looking at a pitcher’s performance.*  There’s no attempt to account for “luck,” although that could be done in the same fashion Graham MacAree does with his regressed wOBA.

    It feels quite odd that I have to explain my reasoning for writing a post that gives an alternative view of things.

  13. Matt said...

    Obviously Ari wanted you to post the top 10 pitchers according to xFIP, so he could “understand the point of it.”

    Now what the point of posting an article with a top 10 list that is extremely easy for everyone to access would be, only Ari knows.

  14. Nick Steiner said...

    Of course wOBA is a bit limited in itself.  If you are going to component-ize a pitcher without regard for DIPS, you might as well just use BaseRuns.

  15. Sam said...

    Why is everyone complaining?  The article was merely meant to show an interesting leaderboard, not show who the best pitchers have been.  He even said that wOBAA is not an ultimate measure a pitchers like xFIP, FIP, SIERA ect.

  16. JT Jordan said...

    That’s a good question, Pat- and something worth looking in to. I imagine that they would be virtually identical, though.

  17. Pat said...

    Why is BABIP primarily used instead of wOBABIP to determine “luck” for pitchers on balls in play? Do pitchers have more control over wOBABIP against than BABIP against?

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