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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Lookout Landing: An Incredible Discovery About Position Players Pitching

Over those 200+ innings, the position players have posted a 7.64 ERA, and a 7.82 RA/9. That ERA is supported by the peripherals, as the position players have generated 77 strikeouts, 157 walks, and 33 home runs. The home runs aren’t laugh-out-loud horrible, but they’re bad, and the strikeout-to-walk ratio is ghastly. Predictably ghastly, sure, but ghastly nonetheless, as position players possess neither command nor putaway pitches.

But there was one statistic that blew me away. One statistic that caught me so off guard that I double-, triple-, and quadruple-checked it to make sure I didn’t screw up the calculation. I looked at the position players’ collective batting average allowed on balls in play (BABIP). I was expecting something in the mid-.300s or so, figuring that they’d allow a greater rate of solid contact than the typical figure you see with real pitchers. Why wouldn’t they? They aren’t real pitchers.

But I didn’t get a BABIP in the mid-.300s. I got .296.

In other words, I got a BABIP very near the league average. The league average for real pitchers. I think it’s a little higher—the .300 BABIP rule we have in our heads doesn’t apply to the 1970s and ‘80s, when the league BABIP was lower—but it’s not off by much. Over the last few decades, position players have seen a similar number of balls in play find holes as pitchers have.

WHAT?!

still hunting for a halo-red october (in Delphi) Posted: August 04, 2011 at 12:44 AM | 31 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: baseball geeks, sabermetrics

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   1. Lowry Seasoning Salt Posted: August 04, 2011 at 02:46 AM (#3892349)
Let's get this out of the way: The author didn't know of Voros McCracken's earlier work on this. Only in the comments to the post was it pointed out to him.
   2. bigglou115 Posted: August 04, 2011 at 02:52 AM (#3892355)
And this proved what exactly? That pitchers don't control BABIP by being good? Whether he knew about Voros' stuff or not he should know everyone who was going to buy into that idea already has.
   3. SteveF Posted: August 04, 2011 at 02:56 AM (#3892356)
Well, presumably by calculating BABIPs he should have probably already known the primary reason why people began calculating BABIPs in the first place.
   4. PreservedFish Posted: August 04, 2011 at 03:04 AM (#3892358)
And this proved what exactly? That pitchers don't control BABIP by being good? Whether he knew about Voros' stuff or not he should know everyone who was going to buy into that idea already has.


I think this is notable, even if Voros pointed it out years ago. There were many statheads that could only sanely accept DIPS because of the idea that the minor league system successfully weeded out the bad pitchers that would naturally have higher BABIPs. It was a way of softening the brain-exploding blow... "no, BABIP is definitely a skill, Pedro would have a better BABIP than you or me, it's just that everyone who sticks in the majors is good enough and we don't see differences."

And it's still kind of brain-exploding. Were Glendon Rusch and Steve Woodward really just unlucky 10 years in a row?
   5. AROM Posted: August 04, 2011 at 03:14 AM (#3892361)
How much of this is the surprise factor? A batter prepares to face 90-95 mph pitching, and then gets an AB with a guy throwing 80 mph. Had his team prepared to bat off Nick Swisher they might hit considerably better than that. Non-pitchers are not very good at throwing strikes either. The batter might be more willing to expand the zone, swing at anything close, and get the game over when the score is 15 to 1.

That of course, cannot explain Wilson Valdez.
   6. PreservedFish Posted: August 04, 2011 at 03:31 AM (#3892366)
The batter might be more willing to expand the zone, swing at anything close, and get the game over when the score is 15 to 1.


In college, like many of us, I played on an intramural co-ed softball team. There were no umpires and no walks. Some teams employed the terrible but very effective strategy of putting their most inept girl on the pitcher's mound. You would watch about 6 totally unhittable balls go, swing at the first one anywhere near the strike zone, and hit it weakly.

Seems like that's an effect that one could control for though - check the BABIP against real pitchers in the 9th inning of any game with a 12 run lead.
   7. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: August 04, 2011 at 03:45 AM (#3892374)
6 - my thought exactly. even then, i imagine hitters would be inclined to back off more v. a position player in that scenario than v. a pitcher.
   8. Bhaakon Posted: August 04, 2011 at 03:48 AM (#3892376)
How much of this is the surprise factor? A batter prepares to face 90-95 mph pitching, and then gets an AB with a guy throwing 80 mph. Had his team prepared to bat off Nick Swisher they might hit considerably better than that. Non-pitchers are not very good at throwing strikes either. The batter might be more willing to expand the zone, swing at anything close, and get the game over when the score is 15 to 1.


The position players spend all their BP time hitting off coaches with 80 MPH fastballs (or less), so it can't be that surprising.
   9. PreservedFish Posted: August 04, 2011 at 03:51 AM (#3892377)
We really just need Voros here. Does this vindicate Glendon Rusch? I need to know!
   10. Bhaakon Posted: August 04, 2011 at 04:03 AM (#3892383)
What is the relationship between pitch velocity and batted ball velocity, as well as batted ball velocity and BABIP? If facing what amounts to a BP pitcher is stealing 5 or 6 MPH off the velocity of balls in play, it could explain why there's virtually no discrepancy in BABIP. That's obviously grasping at a straws, though.
   11. Srul Itza Posted: August 04, 2011 at 04:15 AM (#3892388)
The real answer is that by the time they bring in a position player, the other team is exhausted from batting 6 times and running the bases all night.

I also have in my mind's eye things like the eephus pitch and the Folly Floater. Those balls are literally just "lobbed" to the plate, and all the batter has to do is wait and time it -- and hope he doesn't look too much fool when he swings and misses.

Batting is just damn hard.
   12.   Posted: August 04, 2011 at 04:40 AM (#3892401)
It's interesting, but 200 innings at the ~ same leverage isn't really much.
   13. akrasian Posted: August 04, 2011 at 05:16 AM (#3892414)
It's interesting, but 200 innings at the ~ same leverage isn't really much.


Well, that it is within the margin of error of all other pitching performances within the time frame IS interesting. Not conclusive, but a useful data point.
   14. KJOK Posted: August 04, 2011 at 05:27 AM (#3892422)
The real answer if your purposely taking out the hardest hit balls (home runs) and the softest hit/non-hit balls (strikeouts) then OF COURSE if you just look at the 'middle range' everyone is going to be around the same rate.

For example, if I were on the mound, after I gave up 5 or 6 home runs in a row, and someone finally got under one a little bit, and flew out to the warning track, my BABIP is pretty good, even though I'm not pitching well at all...
   15. McCoy Posted: August 04, 2011 at 05:29 AM (#3892423)
And what would the BABIP be if instead of hitting 33 homers they hit 33 doubles off the wall?

Basically all this is measuring is what happens when a baseball player doesn't crush the ball and with position players pitching they crush the ball a lot.

Aside from the assasination Mrs. Lincoln how was the play?

Damn you KJOK for beating me to the punch.
   16. Ozzie's gay friend Posted: August 04, 2011 at 05:50 AM (#3892429)
How is Tony Pena jr doing these days?

A spot mound appearance changed his life.
   17. cardsfanboy Posted: August 04, 2011 at 07:13 AM (#3892439)
edit:repeating previous comments
   18. Walt Davis Posted: August 04, 2011 at 07:26 AM (#3892441)
Szym has looked at this over several years. Batter-pitchers are over 300 on BABIP but it's not scary bad (320-330, something like that). On the flip side, the BABIP of pitcher-hitters is about 220 so you can't expect an actual batter to do worse than that long-term.
   19. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: August 04, 2011 at 12:14 PM (#3892469)
My memory of the research on position players pitching is that while their BABIPs seem superficially not-that-bad, the actual run effects of a BABIP at that level are basically the same as the run effects of the strikeout, walk, and homer rates of position players pitching.
   20. Fly should without a doubt be number !!!!! Posted: August 04, 2011 at 05:29 PM (#3892742)
And it's still kind of brain-exploding. Were Glendon Rusch and Steve Woodward really just unlucky 10 years in a row?

Why would this lead to that conclusion? This is an average performance of many different styles of pitcher, combined into one guy. This tells us that BABIP doesn't correspond to QUALITY of pitcher, not to individual pitchers or styles of pitcher.
   21. PreservedFish Posted: August 04, 2011 at 05:38 PM (#3892752)
Fly, I do not understand the distinction.
   22. Fly should without a doubt be number !!!!! Posted: August 04, 2011 at 05:42 PM (#3892756)
Sinkerballer, fastball, junkball, slow, fast, lefty, righty, national league, Tropicana Field, etc.

You can be good or bad at any of those, but all those things could easily influence your expected BABIP.

This article does nothing to show that a specific pitcher is "unlucky" because he has a high BABIP.
   23. smileyy Posted: August 04, 2011 at 06:03 PM (#3892781)
Given the number of walks, if their BABIP was any higher, their ERA wouldn't be that low. But yeah, it is surprising that LD% (and thus BABIP) isn't higher. I suspect WINNING has an influence on that. That is, if a position player were to start the game and try to win, you'd see him get hit much harder.
   24. Mike Emeigh Posted: August 04, 2011 at 06:04 PM (#3892783)
Szym has looked at this over several years.


I have, too. It's usually around .330. The sample size of position players pitching is getting smaller as teams expand their bullpens (I haven't even seen it yet in the minors this year, usually by now I've seen at least two or three games where a position player pitched). There have been five in the majors this year, four in the AL (McCoy, Maier, Kelly, Cuddyer) and Wilson Valdez in the NL. They've all done pretty well, actually; think Cuddyer's the only one who has allowed a hit.

-- MWE
   25. Ron J Posted: August 04, 2011 at 06:31 PM (#3892807)
#5 I recall a story about Dan Gladden pitching. Not sure if I've mentioned it here before.

He bounced a curve ball, it got called a ball and he screamed at the ump, "Don't squeeze me. I need that pitch to be effective." (or something close)

I think there's an element of mercy rules in play (generally speaking) when a position player is in there. Game's out of hand and everybody wants to get home with a minimum of fuss.

It's basically exhibition game stats other than the rare occasions when a position player is forced into a meaningful situation. I'd be very reluctant to draw any conclusions from the stats.
   26. cardsfanboy Posted: August 04, 2011 at 06:41 PM (#3892815)
here have been five in the majors this year, four in the AL (McCoy, Maier, Kelly, Cuddyer) and Wilson Valdez in the NL. They've all done pretty well, actually; think Cuddyer's the only one who has allowed a hit.


I swear I thought the Cardinals had a position player pitch for them this year...I guess considering the "success" our bullpen has, it just felt like it was not a real pitcher pitching.
   27. PreservedFish Posted: August 04, 2011 at 06:44 PM (#3892818)
Was that crazy Cardinals-Mets game last year? That was a rarity: the position player pitching in a really tight game.
   28. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: August 04, 2011 at 06:47 PM (#3892820)
OF COURSE if you just look at the 'middle range' everyone is going to be around the same rate.


It may be obvious to you, but it's the complete opposite of what everyone in baseball believed for a hundred years.


I think there's an element of mercy rules in play (generally speaking) when a position player is in there. Game's out of hand and everybody wants to get home with a minimum of fuss.


And yet position players give up large numbers of runs, home runs, and walks. The opposing players aren't just getting up and swinging at anything.
   29. Mike Emeigh Posted: August 04, 2011 at 07:06 PM (#3892836)
I swear I thought the Cardinals had a position player pitch for them this year


No, although I did miss one, Brian Petersen of the Marlins.

Mitch Maier allowed a hit, Cuddyer allowed 2. Overall hitters are 3-19 with 2 walks and a HBP against their fellow non-pitchers this year.

Was that crazy Cardinals-Mets game last year?


Yep.

-- MWE
   30. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: August 05, 2011 at 01:06 AM (#3893107)
I did this about four years ago:

Non Pitchers Pitching

That's everyone I could identify since 1946 through 2006 (before that everything gets a little dicey). One difference though is that the league average BABIP for those pitchers is considerably lower because for much of that time period it was considerably lower. So the gap I had as 20 points.

It's also worth noting that if a single season BABIP for a pitcher is unreliable, so is the above since it's only about two seasons worth or pitching.
   31. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: August 05, 2011 at 05:16 PM (#3893415)
Forget BABIP. What's their SLGBIP?

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