Archive for Hitting

Unproductively Productive Hitters

Why not? Here’s a list of players with batting averages over .280 and OPS+ under 100.

Player		Team	AVG	OBP	SLG	OPS	OPS+
#Erick	Aybar	LAA	0.298	0.311	0.397	0.708	94
Yadier	Molina	STL	0.296	0.354	0.400	0.754	99
Jason	Kendall	MIL	0.293	0.376	0.379	0.755	99
#Randy	Winn	SFG	0.287	0.326	0.364	0.690	82
*Adam	Kennedy	STL	0.287	0.342	0.337	0.679	81
Billy	Butler	KCR	0.286	0.351	0.368	0.719	97
Julio	Lugo	BOS	0.285	0.348	0.341	0.689	87
*Juan	Pierre	LAD	0.281	0.360	0.326	0.686	80
*Left-handed
#Switch-hitter
Minimum 100 plate appearances

Productively Unproductive Hitters

Here is a list of players batting under .250 but have an OPS+ of 100 or more.

Player			Team	AVG	OBP	SLG	OPS	OPS+
*Nick	Johnson		WSN	0.226	0.420	0.443	0.863	128
*Jack	Hannahan	OAK	0.244	0.402	0.372	0.774	123
#Carlos	Beltran		NYM	0.246	0.377	0.444	0.821	118
*Jason	Giambi		NYY	0.177	0.333	0.458	0.791	117
*Jim	Thome		CHW	0.214	0.353	0.429	0.782	112
*David	Ortiz		BOS	0.240	0.341	0.427	0.768	106
Evan	Longoria	TBR	0.223	0.324	0.415	0.739	105
Chris	Young		ARI	0.238	0.335	0.470	0.805	105
Mark	Ellis		OAK	0.242	0.328	0.379	0.707	101
Brandon	Inge		DET	0.227	0.340	0.386	0.726	100
*Left-handed
#Switch-hitter
Minimum 100 plate appearances

It’s interesting that a majority of the players can bat from the left side.

How is Frenchy Doing?

Just a quick observation.

I don’t normally put much stock in spring training statistics; but, when a player says he’s planning to work on something, I pay attention. Last week, Jeff Francoeur expressed a goal of improving his walk rate. However, he doesn’t seem to be sticking to his plan. So far, he has one walk in 24 plate appearances, after earning his first walk yesterday. Scott Thorman, who normally makes Frenchy look like a disciplined hitter, has already walked five times in the same amount amount of plate appearances. Let’s hope that Francoeur is just getting a lot of good pitches to hit.

If you are interested in predicting Jeff Francoeur’s walk total, there is still time to enter The French God of Walks contest.

Is Andruw Jones Overrated?

I first became aware that Andruw Jones was going to be the lead story in Jayson Stark’s new book The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History during a radio interview several months ago. In the discussion Stark mentioned that Andruw Jones is not as good as people think he is and that he would be explaining why in his upcoming book. I was anticipating what he had to say when, lucky for me, ESPN.com published an excerpt from the book on Jones.

What does Stark mean by overrated? Well, that is a tough one, which he admits. It is certainly subjective, and while some people might think Andruw Jones is the greatest center fielder in history this is not the consensus. Stark clearly doesn’t think the public sees Andruw in this class, just in a class higher than he should be.

What does the baseball public think of Jones? Well, in his 10+ year career he has made five All-Star teams, all during excellent offensive seasons (OPS+ > 120). His career OPS+ is 117, which is good, but not outstanding, offensive production for a center fielder. On defense Jones is considered to be one of the best in the game winning nine straight Gold Gloves. I’d say the baseball watching public considers Jones to be a good hitter and an excellent defender. So, how does Jones stack up to Stark’s case?

Luckily, Stark gives up a reference point for judging excellence in center field.

[Center field is] the position of Mays, Mantle, and DiMaggio. Of Cobb, Puckett, and Griffey. Those aren’t just names on a lineup card. Those are names that conjure up magic. This is the glamour position in baseball. Nothing else is close.

Did you catch that? Read over the list of names again. Kirby Puckett? Are you kidding me? Don’t get me wrong. Kirby Puckett was a very good player, but is nowhere close to the class of the other players on the list. In fact, Andruw Jones’s career OPS of 117 is quite similar to Puckett’s 124—and don’t forget that Puckett was forced to retire near the top of his game. Hey, I’ll grant that Puckett was the better player, but I’m a bit uneasy saying that Jones falls well short of of Stark’s own standard. Puckett is more similar to Jones than he is to the other players on the list. Maybe Puckett would have been a better choice for an overrated center fielder if people really do consider him to be as good as Mays, Mantle, DiMaggio, and Cobb.

Let’s look at offense first. Stark quotes a scout who describes Jones’s offense as “not very good.” Now, I’m not sure how to interpret the quote. Taken literally, Jones is not a very good hitter; but, when I’m at a family reunion and someone says, “this congealed salad isn’t very good” I skip it. It’s not like Jones is known for his bat: he’s garnered only one Silver Slugger award, and three are handed out every year. While his offense wouldn’t be anything special for a corner outfielder, he’s more than adequate for his position. For the previous three seasons he’s finished second in OPS among center fielders (2004, 2005, 2006), and I have little doubt that he will finish this season near the top.

Now let’s move to defense. Here is where Stark makes most of his case. He acknowledges that Jones was once one of the best defenders at his position, and he believes he is living off a reputation that is no longer deserved. As he did for offense, he cites the opinion of a few scouts that Jones’s defense has declined.

“I first noticed it two or three years ago,” he said. “Just from sitting there, scouting, watching balls dropping in that should have been caught. I’m not talking about balls that needed to be dived for. I’m talking about balls that should be caught.”

I surveyed other scouts. They’d begun to see the same things. Not getting the same jumps. Not reacting. Not putting in the defensive effort he used to. His body getting thicker. A sudden obsession with home-run hitting over everything else.

Stark doesn’t just believe these words, he goes to some numbers. There is no denying Andruw’s putouts are down from the mid-400s to the 370s—though Jones is on a pace for around 450 putouts in 2007. Stark says this can’t be because the composition of his pitching staff as changed, because his zone rating has fallen. Here is where Stark’s argument falls apart. There is no denying Jones isn’t a zone rating wonder, but zone rating doesn’t tell us much about defensive prowess.

Zone rating is a seductive statistic because it seems like a batting average for hitters. How many outs did you generate from chances withing an a somewhat objective zone? What a nice idea! The problem is that zone rating is very sensitive to balls that players catch outside of their assigned zone. It’s one of the reasons that the inventor of zone rating, John Dewan, abandoned his creation and developed an entirely new method for evaluating defense—more on that in a moment.

Three years ago I wrote a post, Thoughts on Zone Rating, using Jones as an example of why zone rating is flawed (it comes up number one in the Google search for “zone rating problems“). The basic problem is that defensive shifts allow fielders to catch more balls outside of the zones, but also causes them to give up balls hit in zones. Fielders are asymmetrically punished and rewarded for players made and not made in and outside of the zone. I’m not going to rehash the argument, but the quick summary is that the way outfield defense is played today, zone rating has some problem evaluating players, especially when they are catching balls outside of assigned zones.

The problems with ZR extend beyond my critique, and its flaws became so obvious that its creator John Dewan developed two new defensive measures: Revised Zone Rating and the Plus/Minus System. Both are presented in Dewan’s amazing book The Fielding Bible. (I’m also excited to learn that a new volume is scheduled for 2008…Yes!) While the latter measure is superior, I want to focus on Dewan’s revised ZR, because of some information presented in the book that shed’s light on traditional ZR.

Rather than include balls out of a fielding zone in the traditional ZR metric, the revised system credits balls caught out of the zone separately. On page 234 we see that from 2003–2005 Jones made 218 out-of-zone plays—40 more than Juan Pierre (in 53 more innings played), 49 more than Johnny Damon (in 10 fewer innings played), 63 more than Vernon Wells (in 92 more innings played), and 64 more than Carlos Beltran (in 53 more innings played). Long story short: Andruw Jones is good at getting to balls outside of his zone, and because one of weaknesses of traditional ZR is handling balls out of the zone we ought to be wary when using it to judge Jones.

Next, let’s go to the Plus/Minus System. This is Dewan’s masterpiece: a system based on objective video analysis of how players field balls according to the speed, trajectory, and location of batted balls relative to other fielders playing the same position. It’s frickin’ awesome. To use zone rating to evaluate fielders when this system is available is like using a wooden tennis racket at Wimbledon today. How does Jones do in the Plus/Minus system? Using the original Plus/Minus metric presented in The Fielding Bible, from 2003–2005 Jones made 26 more plays than the average center fielder, putting him behind only Torii Hunter (+44) and Aaron Rowand (+34). Furthermore, Dewan awards Jones Gold Gloves in all three seasons.

Dewan published a few results from an updated system that more precisely measures fielding in The Bill James Handbook 2007. Jones performs even better in this system. From 2004–2006 Jones made more plays than any other center fielder—48 more than the average center fielder and three more than the next closest player (Corey Patterson). In 2006, Jones finished second only to Patterson (+34) by making 30 more plays than average. He’s still got it!

The funny thing about this is that before the Plus/Minus system came into being I thought Andruw was underrated as a defender. Rumors of Jones’s defensive decline have been discussed openly for years, but I never saw it. I believe that the main reason for this is that Jones isn’t as skinny as he used to be. Hey, who isn’t? And though his speed may have declined some that was never what made Andruw Jones so good. I have never seen any player take routes to balls as well as he does. His defensive gift is less about his legs and more about his ability to know where any ball is going faster than anyone else. It is almost as if he folds space as he runs, because he consistently gets to balls that I expect to be hits.

I was happy that Dewan’s system confirmed my thinking, and I would have been prepared to admit that my eyes had been deceiving me if it had shown otherwise. Quantifying defense is difficult and only now are we coming close to understanding how to evaluate fielders. Zone rating has its heart in the right place, but it has little value. I would rather judge a hitter solely by his batting average than judge a fielder by his zone rating.

So, is Jones overrated? Well, I think it’s pretty clear that he is a good-hitting center fielder who is one of the top defenders in the league. That is how I have him pegged, and I suspect the perception of the public is not much different.

Andruw versus Frenchy

We haven’t played a game in a while. I’m really getting sick of Joe “Other Way” Simpson bashing Andruw Jones for his slump. It’s like he hasn’t been watching the team he’s been calling for a decade. Andruw Jones has never hit to the opposite field, even when he was going good. You’d think he’d be an expert on slumps since his career was nothing but one (I acknowledge that Joe’s career was a lot better than mine). Anyway, I don’t like the fact that Other Way never gave Frenchy a hard time last year when he was just as deserving of criticism. Now he won’t stop gushing about the kid (hey, Francoeur does deserve praise).

So, here is the game. Who will finish with a higher OPS, Andruw or Frenchy? I’m on the road so I won’t be monitoring the comments as frequently as I normally do. If your prediction doesn’t appear immediately, have patience.

I’ll start: Andruw, by more than 50 points. My guess is that Joe would take Frenchy if he read this site.

Is Jeff Francoeur For Real?

The season has started well for Jeff Francoeur, who is batting .304/.358/.493. This is much better than his 2006 line of .260/.293/.449. While unexpected batting averages are quick to revert to the mean, the real change in Francoeur’s game has been his propensity to walk. This season he has walked 11 times for a walk rate of 6.79%—not good, but much better than his 3.35% of 2005. He’s also added a foot-tap to his swing to help with timing. Could he finally be getting it?

My perception from watching him at the plate is that he has improved as a hitter, or at least he has demonstrated that he is capable of improving. In the past, I could almost always predict where to pitch Francoeur to make an out—chasing balls up-and-in and low-and-away would normally do the trick. This year, I have noticed him laying off of these pitches to get into good counts so that he forces the pitcher to throw him a strike.

Sure enough, the data backs up my perception. He’s swinging at the first pitch in 44% of his plate appearances, compared to 52% last year. 14% of his trips to the plate go to a 2-0 count, compared to 11% in 2006. He’s also swinging at 56% of first pitches, compared to 61% the year prior. And he’s seeing 3.54 pitches per plate appearance compared to 3.32 in 2006. Granted, he could be doing better, but it is encouraging improvement. (This sweet data is now available at Baseball-Reference by clicking on Pitch Data Summary.) He deserves more than a pat on the back, because he was forced to learn this at the major league level. Let’s hope these changes are the beginning of something more.

Now for the bad news. First, the batting average: he’s not going to bat .300 for the year. At his best, I see him as a .275 hitter. His career numbers (minor and major league) are below this, and his current batting average on balls in play is .351—about 50-points above his career average. Next, his power has not changed: his isolated-power of .189 is identical to his 2006 performance. When you take this into account, and assuming he keeps his current walk rate, he’s about an .800 OPS player, which would translate to an OPS+ of 108. Again, this is an improvement from his OPS+ of 89 in 2006. It’s respectable, but not All-Star caliber play.

The good news is that Francoeur is 23, so we should expect the improvement to continue. And who knows, maybe the improvement is more than what we see here. He’s still young and learning. His personality is such that I think there is a reason to be optimistic. I do wish that the Braves hadn’t rushed Francoeur to the big leagues. You can work on things in the minors without consequences; there is no time for experimenting in the big leagues. Even if he never blossoms to meet the unreasonable expectations placed upon him, he will be a ballplayer that any major league team would be happy to have on its roster.

Is he for real? It depends of your definition of “for real.”

Don’t Worry About Andruw Jones

Once again, Andruw Jones has gotten off to a slow start (.241/.379/.457) by his standards. Now, I don’t think it’s necessarily a pattern that means something. If fact, his career March/April line (.266/.356/.501) is nearly identical to his overall line (.266/.345/.504) (B-R PI splits). His batting average and power are down a bit, but it’s down league-wide. His OPS+ 126, which isn’t much off what he’s done during the past two seasons: 133 (2005) and 129 (2006).

So, I wonder why Joe Simpson won’t quit riding the guy for not “going the other way” during Braves broadcasts. Andruw responded in the press yesterday.

“I’m not a right-field-ball hitter,” Jones said. “I’m a pull hitter. That’s the way it is.”

The Braves haven’t hit a home run in six games, but Jones said he wasn’t worried about that or his own sluggish start.

“This road trip coming up, we might hit 50 homers,” he said. Of his skid, he said, “A slump’s a slump. It’s a long season. I think I had an 0-for-40 once. I’m not worried. At the end of the year, I’m going be where I want to be.”

As I’ve shown before, Andruw succeeds when pulls the ball (also see here), and his slumps are the product of poor plate discipline. Of course, last night and the night before Andruw had hits to “right” field—meaning to the right of second base, but they were more towards center—and Simpson attributed these hits to his working with Terry Pendleton and his “go the other way” approach. Well, one thing we know is that Andruw ignores Terry Pendleton’s advice on this. He said as much in the quote referenced above, and he’s said so before. He hasn’t changed his approach in terms of where he hits the ball, and after examining those recent hits on the Tivo I believe he was trying to pull the ball but was just late in both cases. But, that’s not important.

The reason Andruw Jones is struggling has nothing to do with him turning outside pitches into weak grounders to the left side. Andruw is striking out more: 23% this year versus 19% last year. Might he be striking out because he’s trying to pull pitches and ends up missing and getting in bad counts? That is possible, but Andruw seems to have improved his plate discipline. He’s walking more—16.55% in 2007 versus 12.25% in 2006—and he’s seeing more pitches–4.1 compared to 3.9. In fact, while Andruw is about 25 points below his career batting average his on-base percentage is about 35 points above his career mean. His isolated power is down, but there is more to the story here. First, his iso-power of .216 isn’t bad—he’s third on the team behind Chipper Jones (.341, wow!) and Kelly Johnson (.222). Second, he’s on a pace to hit nearly 50 doubles, well over his career best of 36 (2000). I expect some of those doubles will turn into home runs will turn into home runs, especially as summer temperatures arrive.

When I look at the big picture, I am optimistic about Jones. He started the year with the plan, telling the AJC that he intended to up his walk total quite a bit this year. So far, he’s on a pace to walk 117 times—well above his career hight of 83 (2002). I give him a lot of credit for staying the course and not paying attention something that is probably the result of a random run in the data. His plate discipline will pay off, and I expect that Andruw will finish the season with an OPS over .900.

Marcus Giles Returns

Marcus Giles returns to Atlanta tonight, and he seems to have shaken off his 2006 slump. His OPS of .828 is right on target with his 2004 and 2005 performances. The problem is, Marcus is once again overperforming his PrOPS (predicted OPS) of .744—80 points below his actual OPS.

PrOPS predicts OPS based on the way players hit the ball and does not focus on outcomes. As I have argued before, Marcus is someone who has been lucky throughout his career. Now, maybe Giles is an example of a player that casts doubt on PrOPS’s usefulness; however, I’m confident in it. If I owned him on my fantasy team, I would attempt to dump him now. But hey, that’s just me. Use at your own risk. :-)

Aging in Baseball

Fellow economist Steve Walters pinch hits for Dave Berri at Wages of Wins Journal, where he discusses aging in baseball. You may remember Steve from his Statscape column in Sporting News.

Steve discusses how our perceptions about aging in baseball may be incorrect. In the early-1980s, Bill James found that players peak around age 27. But statistician Jim Albert, co-author of the excellent Curve Ball, finds that players tend to peak closer to 29. This reminded me of some work I have done.

A few years back, I ran a series of posts to measuring aging in baseball for hitters (part 1, part 2 , part 3) and pitchers using slightly different methods. What did I find? Like Albert, I find players peaking at around age 29—worse players tend to peak earlier, and better players peak later.

Now, this was three years ago, and I need to follow up on my findings (and I plan to this summer), but I think it is interesting that both Albert and I reach similar conclusions.

I’m not sure if Steve will be writing more for WoW this week, but I will. Look for a post from me there tomorrow or Wednesday.

PrOPS Questions

Over the weekend, Rich Lederer of The Baseball Analysts pointed me to an ESPN story by David Srinivasan (Insider $) about a statistic I developed a few years ago, PrOPS. This led to few comments on the site that I wanted to address. I’ve had numerous conversations about PrOPS since its invention, so I wanted to write a post to bring people up to speed on its development.

First, let me offer a brief introduction. PrOPS (which stands for predicted OPS) is a measure that generates an OPS—on-base percentage(OBP) plus slugging percentage(SLG):mdash;for a player based one a few things that players do. Rather than focus on outcomes on balls in play (hits, outs, etc.) that generate OBP and SLG, PrOPS uses batted-ball types (line drive rate, groundball-to-flyball ratio) and a few other things to generate the typical outcome for a player who hits the ball in this manner.

Now, PrOPS has its origins in my wanting to use batted ball types recently made available by The Hardball Times. In the introductory article on the subject, I used PrOPS to predict which slumping and hot hitters were due for a rise and fall in the 2005 season. The initial numbers were based on one season of data. A few people responded that many of the under-performers were speedy while the over-performers tended to be big and slow. So, I made a minor adjustment to the formula to account for speed. However, the adjustment did very little.

At the end of the season, I wrote a chapter for The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006, refining PrOPS using several seasons of data. When including several seasons, I found no relationship between any existing measure of speed and over/under-performance. This doesn’t mean that speed has no impact, but it doesn’t seem to be very important. A few months ago, I posted a summary of the findings.

———

There is a highly statistically significant relationship…between a player’s over/under performance and his decline/improvement. And the greater the the deviation between PrOPS and OPS, the larger the reversion is the following season. For every 0.01 increase/decrease in a player’s over/under performance, his OPS is likely to fall/rise by 0.008 the following season. For example, a player with an OPS 10 “points” above his PrOPS, can expect his OPS to fall by eight points in the following season. That is quite a reversion.

I also generated lists of the top-25 over and under performing season from 2002-2004. And what happened to them?

Of the top 25 over performers, 20 players had lower OPS in the following season.

Of the top 25 under performers, 21 improved their OPS in the following season.

The article also lists the top-25 over and under performers for 2005. What happened to those players in 2006?

Of the over performers, 12 players declined, 7 improved, and 6 did not deviate more than 20 OPS-points from the previous season. Of the under performers, 11 players improved, 7 declined, 3 had no change, and 5 didn’t garner serious playing time. It’s not an air-tight projection system, but there seems to be some information there.

OPS explained approximately 43% of the variance in OPS in the following year, while PrOPS explained about 46%.

PrOPS is not a stand-alone projection tool. You should not look only at a player’s PrOPS and assume it’s exactly what the player should be doing. When I look at it, I also consider the player’s recent hitting history, injuries, aging, and all that other stuff we sometimes use to evaluate hitters. But when I see a player have a career year, and his PrOPS don’t show it, I start to get suspicious.

If you’re curious about the over/under performers of 2006, see The Hardball Times.

NL over performers
NL under performers
AL over performers
AL under performers
——–

Over the weekend I also ran across a new system for measuring luck by Protrade (also see here). It looks promising.