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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Vince Gennaro: Can Josh Hamilton hit the Best Pitchers?

Yikes! Even a money train stops once in a while!

A couple of things to recognize about Hamilton. First, he played in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks for lefty hitters. The Ballpark at Arlington ranked 3rd in terms of the park factor for left-handed hitter home runs, while Angels Stadium in Anaheim ranks 23rd. Considering the 2013 schedules for both the Rangers and the Angels and the parks in which they play, Hamilton will play to a park factor that suggests about 20% less homeruns, than if he remained a Ranger. Another issue, which is perhaps more concerning, is Josh Hamilton’s track record against top-flight pitching. In a recent study, I segmented all starting pitchers into different levels of “quality”, based on the OPS they yielded over a season. I defined “top” pitching as the top 1/3 and “bottom” pitching as the bottom 1/3 of starting pitchers. (I controlled for the lefty-righty factor and I rated pitchers for each season in the study—2009, 2010, and 2011.) The average left-handed hitter has a spread of 182 OPS points in his stats against “top” vs. “bottom” pitching. In other words, a .732 OPS guy (MLB-wide average against starting pitchers) is expected to hit .641 against top pitching and .823 against the bottom third of starters. Josh Hamilton’s spread is far more dramatic. Instead of a spread of 182 points, his is 433 points. Hamilton hit .721 against top pitchers, while banging out an OPS of 1.154 against the weakest pitchers. He performed only 12% above the MLB average against top pitchers, but a bone-crushing 40% above league average against the weakest third of the rotation. This suggests that Hamilton, who was a .909 OPS guy over these three seasons, feasts on weak pitching, but is neutralized by top pitching. Incidentally, this is a consistent pattern over the three years in our sample. Even in Hamilton’s MVP season of 2010, when he batted .359 with a 1.014 OPS, he exhibited the same pattern of hitting. In his MVP year he hit under .800 vs. top pitchers and over 1.200 against weak pitchers for another 400+ point spread. This has serious implications for the postseason, since the mix of pitching in the postseason closely resembles what we call the “top” pitchers. These pitchers represent one-third of regular season innings, but over 60% of postseason innings. Hitters who do not fare well against top pitchers are not as likely to get it done in October. Given the quality of the Angels’ roster, we may have a chance to see how this movie ends over the next several Octobers.

Repoz Posted: December 20, 2012 at 06:22 AM | 18 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: angels, sabermetrics

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   1. BDC Posted: December 20, 2012 at 10:35 AM (#4329268)
This is an interesting observation, for sure. Note that Hamilton still hits the best pitchers better than your average LHB. The point that seems odd to me is

Hitters who do not fare well against top pitchers are not as likely to get it done in October


Hamilton certainly has an off-and-on postseason record, like a lot of players, and his overall postseason numbers aren't great. But he was an ALCS MVP a couple of years ago. You're always rolling the dice in the postseason, but it's hardly like Hamilton's number can't come up.
   2. DL from MN Posted: December 20, 2012 at 10:47 AM (#4329277)
He performed only 12% above the MLB average against top pitchers, but a bone-crushing 40% above league average against the weakest third of the rotation.


Why would anyone expect this to be a linear relationship? Top pitchers limit their hits and runs against everyone. It's probably true that "bad" pitchers are "bad" because they can't get the top hitters out, not because they can't get backup catchers out.
   3. TomH Posted: December 20, 2012 at 10:49 AM (#4329278)
well, it does make sense that if you crush poor pitchers that you could struggle in the post-season.

This brings up a fascinating general point; is there a KIND of hitter who has more trouble with really good (or some particular Type of really good) arm? More generally, are there methods of platooning we have not seen, being content to simply use left-and-right handedness?

Do some guys not hit 95+ fastballs? Do pitchers who throw very hard (A Chapman) have different platoon splits? Or hurlers who toss lots of big curves? If a hitter can't hit "good" pitchers, what is it that he feasts on; is it poor control, lower speed, or less variety?

Lots of good studies there.

   4. Nasty Nate Posted: December 20, 2012 at 10:53 AM (#4329282)
Hamilton certainly has an off-and-on postseason record, like a lot of players, and his overall postseason numbers aren't great. But he was an ALCS MVP a couple of years ago. You're always rolling the dice in the postseason, but it's hardly like Hamilton's number can't come up.


Alfonso Soriano and Dave Henderson sympathize with Hamilton.
   5. BDC Posted: December 20, 2012 at 11:00 AM (#4329287)
Do some guys not hit 95+ fastballs?

Just by observation, it always seemed to me that Rickey Henderson had inordinate trouble with the really-fast high fastball. And indeed, some of his lowest career BA-against numbers feature Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Tom Henke, Tom Gordon, Roger Clemens – not like that's anything unusual. By contrast, Henderson was at his best against pitchers like Charlie Leibrandt, Jimmy Key, Dennis Martinez: good pitchers but not blow-it-past you guys. Henderson's style was aided by an extreme crouch: small strikezone, lots of walks, but it made it hard to get around on the higher fastballs.

I don't know if that would help any manager in platooning. Somebody has to go up and bat against Randy Johnson.
   6. Shredder Posted: December 20, 2012 at 01:41 PM (#4329414)
This brings up a fascinating general point; is there a KIND of hitter who has more trouble with really good (or some particular Type of really good) arm? More generally, are there methods of platooning we have not seen, being content to simply use left-and-right handedness?
A good one to look at would be hitters with really high ISO OBPs against pitchers who locate well and generally throw a lot of strikes. I've always wondered if the reason the A's struggled in the playoffs was partially because they were probably facing pitchers that didn't either give a lot of free passes or get behind in counts to the point where they needed to come over the plate. If a pitcher can consistently throw strikes without the batter ever getting "his pitch", that hitter is in trouble.
   7. zack Posted: December 20, 2012 at 01:50 PM (#4329421)
I don't know if that would help any manager in platooning. Somebody has to go up and bat against Randy Johnson.


Super Joe McEwing, come on down!

This is a pretty meaningless study without context. What do the other LH power hitter's of Hamilton's caliber do against great pitching? I don't really care about the average hitter here. Is this adjusted for park and league context?

Edit: Not terribly surprising, the guy with the best record against RANDY JOHNSON (i.e. between 1993-2004) with 50 PA...Barry Bonds. Drop it to 30 PA and Chipper hit .353/.421/.912 in 38 PA.
   8. DL from MN Posted: December 20, 2012 at 02:30 PM (#4329444)
This reminds me of the pitcher's meeting and Schilling. Schilling's answer to every batter was "throw high heat". At some point one of the other pitchers interrupted and told Schilling it may work for him but not everyone has 95 MPH high heat.

It makes sense that certain pitchers would match up better against certain hitters. Obviously there is the platoon advantage but also there are some hitters that can turn on a fastball but aren't good with breaking pitches. Some hitters are trying to work the count in their favor and a pitcher with good control can neutralize them. Lots of older hitters can't turn on the fastball but will destroy a "cripple" pitch.
   9. Jon T. Posted: December 20, 2012 at 04:20 PM (#4329527)
One interesting thing in one of the Bill James Almanacs was that Flyball Pitchers matched up well with Fly Ball Hitters. Bill found fly ball/fly ball was similar to r/r or L/L
   10. Ivan Grushenko of Hong Kong Posted: December 20, 2012 at 05:00 PM (#4329559)
Isn't 12% above average against Top Pitchers pretty good? That's a 112 OPS+ against pitchers who probably give up like a 90 OPS+ right?
   11. OsunaSakata Posted: December 20, 2012 at 05:51 PM (#4329605)
Somebody has to go up and bat against Randy Johnson.


While managing the Orioles in the 1997 ALDS, Davey Johnson started Jeff Reboulet and Jerome Walton against Randy Johnson instead of Roberto Alomar and Rafael Palmeiro and won both games.
   12. Walt Davis Posted: December 20, 2012 at 06:26 PM (#4329631)
Isn't 12% above average against Top Pitchers pretty good? That's a 112 OPS+ against pitchers who probably give up like a 90 OPS+ right?

Actually that's about a 124 OPS+. So he's better than a (full season) average corner OF vs. top pitchers and Babe Ruth vs. bottom pitchers. Sounds like a pretty good guy to have around to me.

I suspect this is pretty common for top hitters. I mean 433 points is probably extreme but "feasting on poor pitching" is surely a major component of any top hitter's success. If you broke it down some I bet it comes down to hitting ahead/behind in the count, K-rates, etc. My guess would be that guys like Thome have a "hard" time with elite pitchers -- they'll hit the low,outside corner and not get behind in the count. Thome Ks about once per 4 PA for his career and I wouldn't be surprised if that was more like 1 per 3 PA against the top and 1 per 5 PA against the bottom.

And speaking of Thome, is Hamilton's good/bad split any more troubling than Thome's R/L split of 1034/766? I guarantee you that I don't let Thome face a RHP from the 6th inning on in a close playoff game (except Mo).

Here are some funny numbers, from Thome's vs. pitchers, some of his highest PAs:

Clemens 1293
Verlander 1136 (this is old Thome!)
Radke 784
Wakefield 691
Belcher 685
Erickson 1347 (surprised it's not higher :-)

Baseball is a funny game.

All-time favorite split I know of:

Sosa vs. David Williams
22 PA, 8-13 with 6 HR, 9 BB, only 2 K -- 615/773/2077 for a 2850 OPS

Small sample or not, it didn't take anybody long to realize that Sosa had Williams number and he was walked anytime there were men on base (6 HR, 6 RBI)
   13. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: December 20, 2012 at 08:35 PM (#4329689)
Isn't 12% above average against Top Pitchers pretty good? That's a 112 OPS+ against pitchers who probably give up like a 90 OPS+ right?


You're double counting. It's 12% above the average against those pitchers. If you're going to compare an individual's OPS+ to the OPS+ allowed by Top Pitchers, then you have to figure his OPS relative to what the league hits against everybody. IOW, Top Pitchers turn Hamilton into a slightly below-average hitter, but they turn average hitters into lousy hitters.

Not sure how Walt figured the 124 either.
   14. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: December 20, 2012 at 09:08 PM (#4329712)

Not sure how Walt figured the 124 either.

OPS+ = OBP/lgOBP + SLG/lgSLG - 1. A guy who has an OPS 12% better than league average will have a ~124 OPS+ (depending on the actual splits, of course).
   15. bobm Posted: December 20, 2012 at 09:25 PM (#4329724)
FYI - http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?topic_id=25929170&content_id=25508473


Gennaro on evaluating hitters
11/28/12
04:20
Vince Gennaro joined Clubhouse Confidential to break down how well the best hitters fare against the best pitchers


Start about 1:20 for this topic
   16. bobm Posted: December 20, 2012 at 09:50 PM (#4329744)
[7] see also article linked in http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/newsstand/discussion/vince_gennaro_a_rods_postseason_problem
   17. Walt Davis Posted: December 21, 2012 at 01:08 AM (#4329865)
It's 12% above the average against those pitchers. If you're going to compare an individual's OPS+ to the OPS+ allowed by Top Pitchers, then you have to figure his OPS relative to what the league hits against everybody. IOW, Top Pitchers turn Hamilton into a slightly below-average hitter, but they turn average hitters into lousy hitters.

Fair point, I hadn't read that right -- it is 12% above average vs. top pitchers.

So, yeah, that's a roughly 124 OPS+ (#14 explained it) split ... but from 2009-11, he averaged only a 135 OPS+ overall. If there was no Hamilton effect by pitcher, he'd average 135 in each split and 124 is not far enough off 135 in a small sample (guesstimate of 500 PA against the bottom third 09-11) to say very much. Oops, less than that as this seems to include only starting pitchers so we're talking, what, maybe 1000-1100 PAs over 3 years?

Anyway, he was about 17.5% above average overall in this time period. 12% above for top pitchers and 40% above for bottom pitchers so, assuming equal PA, he would have to be league average against middle pitchers? That would seem the bigger issue if it was true so I suspect an unequal distribution of PAs. (The definition of top, middle, bottom seems to take no account of IP) So until I know how many PAs we're talking about, I'm keeping quiet.
   18. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: December 21, 2012 at 01:22 AM (#4329871)
This reminds me of the pitcher's meeting and Schilling. Schilling's answer to every batter was "throw high heat".

"smoke him inside.."

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