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Pinch Hitting Newsbeat

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Let’s Crown the 2019 Pinch Hitting Champs and Chumps

On September 4, 2019, Ian Miller made his major league debut. With his Twins down 6-0 with only two innings left to play, he replaced Max Kepler to give Kepler a break in the field. Miller’s spot came up eighth in the batting order; he wasn’t guaranteed his first major league plate appearance, but the odds looked good.

But a funny thing happened on the way to his batting debut. Nelson Cruz led off the top of the eighth with a single. Eddie Rosario followed with a home run. The Red Sox went through two pitchers and frittered away a third of their lead — a 6-2 deficit felt less than insurmountable against a shaky Boston team now deep into its bullpen.

So when Miller’s turn to bat came up, with one out and the bases empty in the top of the ninth, Rocco Baldelli made, by some criteria, the best pinch hitting decision of 2019. Rather than have the left-handed Miller face southpaw Darwinzon Hernandez, he brought in Mitch Garver. In addition to being right-handed, Garver was one of the best hitters in baseball last year, full stop. The decision worked: Garver walked, though it didn’t end up mattering — Brandon Workman eventually induced a double play to escape a bases-loaded jam.

Let’s back up. Did I just say the best pinch hitting decision of the year? I did indeed, and I built a framework to get to that conclusion. Here’s how it works: I took each player in baseball’s 2019 single-season line, as well as estimated platoon splits based on regressing their career line, to create rough talent levels for a batter facing each handedness of pitcher (and vice versa from pitchers). From there, I used a lightly modified odds ratio to predict the outcome of the plate appearance that would have pitted the replaced hitter against a given pitcher.

A consideration of the art of pinch hitting under current conditions.

 

QLE Posted: April 08, 2020 at 01:15 AM | 1 comment(s)
  Beats: pinch hitting

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Updating the Pinch Hit Penalty, with a Few Rules of Thumb

Pinch hitting is hard. Baseball is a rhythm game, and pinch hitters are denied any semblance of routine. They’re on the bench, swinging a bat back and forth to get the blood pumping in their arms, and then just like that, they’re in the game. They might have been daydreaming about what they plan on ordering from room service, and here’s Jacob deGrom throwing 92 mph sliders. Good luck!

That’s the classical conception of a pinch hitter, and it explains why Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin found a significant pinch hitting penalty in The Book. They found a 24-point wOBA penalty for pinch hitters, which is a large cost. That’s roughly equivalent to the platoon advantage a lefty gets when facing a right-handed pitcher.

That’s a pretty striking difference. When your team gets a lefty batter up against a righty pitcher in a big spot, it feels great. Imagine that pitcher being replaced by a left-hander. Feels pretty awful, right? That’s the same swing in effectiveness you get when a batter pinch hits rather than batting regularly.

You don’t always hear about this effect on broadcasts, because there are other decisions that go into pinch hitting. You’re getting a diminished version of whichever hitter you select, but other advantages can still tip the scales in a batter’s favor.

An analysis of pinch hitting, attempting to put it on a scientific basis.

 

QLE Posted: April 01, 2020 at 01:27 AM | 0 comment(s)
  Beats: pinch hitting

 

 

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