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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) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: pinch hitting

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   1. puck Posted: April 08, 2020 at 09:08 PM (#5937739)
The range was +4.3 runs over the season to -1.5. This doesn't include pinch hitting for pitchers. He used a pinch hitter penalty, which I did not dig far enough to discover.

The Rangers had the +4.3 and it sounds like much of that was due to pinch hitting for Jeff Mathis.

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