Who Gave Up What?

The first Hardball Times Baseball Annual (hopefully, the first of many) will be available for sale in about a week. We’ve been so busy preparing the book that we haven’t told you much about it, but we plan to correct that oversight this week. To start, I thought we might share some nuggets we found in the baseball stats provided by Baseball Info Solutions.

One of the stats in the book will be the plate appearance outcomes for every pitcher and batter with at least 100 plate appearances. By outcome, I don’t mean hit, home run, etc. I mean strikeout, walk, groundball, outfield flyball, infield fly, line drive or other (usually a bunt) — the result of the bat meeting (or not meeting) the ball before anything else happens on the field.

Here’s the distribution of outcomes for all plate appearances in 2004:

Strikeout: 17%
Walk: 10%
Groundball: 32%
Outfield Fly: 22%
Infield Fly: 4%
Line Drive: 13%
Other: 2%

When we first covered this material, we found that batted-ball types matter a lot. For instance, 97% of infield flies are caught for outs, making them virtually as powerful as a strikeout. Outfield flies are caught for outs 75% of the time (and turn into home runs 12% of the time), Groundballs are fielded for outs 72% of the time (and they’re never home runs), and line drives are turned into outs only 26% of the time. You can tell a lot about a pitcher or batter when looking at these stats, even if you don’t look at his BA, OBP, SLG or CIA. Let me show you what I mean.

Here are the lines for a couple of Diamondbacks, superstar Randy Johnson and slumping sophomore Brandon Webb:

Player     BFP     K     BB     GB     OF     IF    LD    Oth
Johnson    964    30%     6%    28%    20%    4%    11%    1%
Webb       933    18%    14%    43%    11%    2%    11%    2%

Johnson, of course, is your classic power pitcher who also happens to have phenomenal control, and the stats show it. Webb is your classic groundball guy, whose control deserted him this year. And their results followed suit: Johnson registered a 2.60 ERA and Webb came in at 3.59. This data suggests that if Webb can just find the strike zone again, he may regain his freshman success. For instance, here’s the line of the pitcher who gave up the greatest proportion of groundballs in the majors (minimum of 300 BFP):

Player         Team   BFP     K      BB     GB    OF     IF   LD   Oth
Westbrook J.   CLE    895    13%     7%    49%   16%     2%   11%   1%

Interestingly, all three of these guys gave up line drives at a below-average rate of 11%. But the only significant difference between Westbrook (3.38 ERA) and Webb (3.59) was that walk rate. Other high-groundball pitchers included Derek Lowe (48%), Tim Hudson (47%) and Aaron Cook (46%).

In addition to looking at the raw data, I played around and developed a “similarity score” for each pitcher, based on the sum of the squared differences between him and the major league average in each category. This allowed me to answer the never-asked question, “Who’s the most typical major league pitcher?”

Well, someone had to ask it, right? It turns out that the most typical pitcher in the major leagues this year was a guy who pitched for a team that no longer exists, the Expos’ Livan Hernandez. Take a look at his line vs. the major league average:

                BFP      K     BB     GB     OF     IF    LD    Oth
Average         ---     17%    10%    32%    22%    4%    13%    2%
Hernandez       1053    18%     9%    33%    22%    3%    13%    2%

Pretty eerie, right? Actually, Hernandez had a pretty good year, with a 3.60 ERA. So you may wonder what exactly makes him so typical. Well, Hernandez’s record was helped by two things:

1. He pitched in a pitcher-friendly home park, with an overall park factor of .95.

2. His fielders turned his batted balls into outs more frequently than average. Hernandez had a .722 :DER: behind him, vs. the league average of .695. As you can see, Hernandez didn’t achieve that high DER by keeping his line drive rate down. He either had some good fielding plays behind him, or he successfully threw a lot of “at ‘em” balls — balls that were hit in his fielders’ zones. My guess is a little of both.

It’s worth noting that Hernandez’s :FIP: was 4.04, just a ballpark adjustment below the league average of 4.31.

Okay, so who was the most atypical pitcher this year? That would be the guy who relocated Octavio Dotel to Oakland and created a sensation in the postseason, the phenomenal Brad Lidge:

                BFP      K      BB     GB     OF    IF    LD    Oth
Average         ---     17%    10%    32%    22%    4%    13%    2%
Lidge           369     43%    10%    16%    18%    4%     9%    2%

That’s a lot of strikeouts. Lidge easily had the highest proportion of strikeouts in the majors, followed by K-Rod (37%), Gagne (35%), Dotel himself (34%), B.J. Ryan (also at 34%) and Brendan Donnelly (33%). Among starters, Johnson tied for the major league lead with Johan Santana at 30%.

And how about not giving up line drives? Well, the leader in that category (minimum of 300 batters faced) is none other than the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera (at 8%). Other pitchers who kept line drives to a minimum included Jorge Julio, Chan Ho Park (both at 8%) and Odalis Perez (9%).

As I said, the Hardball Times Baseball Annual will include the outcomes line of every pitcher who faced at least 100 batters. Hopefully, this article provided a little perspective on those numbers.


imageThe Hardball Times 2004 Baseball Annual will be available for purchase next week. The book will include a dozen new articles summarizing the major events of the 2004 season, as well as a number of “best of…” articles from the website.

And we’ve included over 150 pages of baseball stats and graphs. These aren’t just reproductions of the stats on our site; they’re new stat tables, including comprehensive batting, pitching and fielding stats for all major league players, and stats you typically can’t find anywhere else.

You’ll be able to purchase the book online. The cost will be approximately $16 plus shipping, and you should allow about a week for printing and shipping. If that’s too long to wait, we’ll also have an e-book available for approximately $6, which you’ll be able to download right away. Keep in mind, however, that this book will be about 300 pages long. Which will make it kind of hard to read on a computer monitor.

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