Archive for Hitting

Second-Half Surges

I’ve been tooling around with the PrOPS data over at The Hardball Times in hopes of predicting which teams can expect to improve/decline offensively in the second half. Unfortunately, I’ve had little time to think about what I’m doing, so I’ll just throw these predictions out here without much justification or explaining the methods. Here are three groups of the unlucky, about right, and lucky. I predict that the first group will improve in run production, the last will decline, and the middle group is uncertain. The order does matter. Teams at the top (bottom) are more likely to improve (decline).

Unlucky (relief is on the way)
Athletics
Devil Rays
Reds
Phillies
Orioles

Just about right (more of the same)
Astros
Nationals
Angels
Brewers
Giants
Braves
Cubs
Red Sox
Twins
Diamondbacks
Padres
Mariners
Mets
Cardinals
Pirates
White Sox
Royals
Rockies
Indians
Yankees

Lucky (waiting for the fall)
Marlins
Dodgers
Blue Jays
Tigers
Rangers

Astros Goof

So yesterday, in an attempt give the Astros a second-half lift, Houston GM Tom Purpura fired hitting coach Gary Gaetti and acquired Aubrey Huff. Gaetti may be a terrible coach and Huff isn’t a horrible pick-up. What was horrible is Purpura’s public explanation. In particular, he called out Morgan Ensberg and Jason Lane for their “poor” hitting. As consequence Lane was sent to Triple-A and Ensberg will share some playing time with Huff.

Lane’s demotion was not a surprise. The 29-year-old outfielder was hitting .205 (46-for-224) with 11 home runs, 30 RBIs and 40 walks. When reached Wednesday, Lane declined to comment on his demotion.

Lane’s job wasn’t the only one threatened by Huff’s acquisition.

“Obviously, it’s going to cut into (Ensberg’s) playing time,” Purpura said of the trade. “And the thing with Morgan is, I know he hasn’t admitted to having (right) shoulder problems, but he did hurt his shoulder. I don’t know if that’s still affecting him, but I think we’ll have a good, frank conversation tomorrow. Unfortunately, we’re in a position where we have to start moving forward.

“We can’t give at-bats to players because they’ve been in that spot before. We’re at a point that the potential that players have has to now translate into production and performance. We have to get production and performance out of our hitters.”

Well, while Lane and Ensberg are putting up paltry batting averages of .205 and .236, and you would expect them to do better, neither has played that badly. First, both are getting on base in other ways. Lane has an OBP of .330 and Ensberg has an OBP of .390 to go along with a SLG of .500. Lane could still do better in the power department, and Ensberg had a horrible June, but there’s another reason Lane and Ensberg shouldn’t be the scape goats. Both have been unlucky. Here are their PrOPS lines.

Ensberg: .283/.427 /.560/.987
Lane: .254/.367/.468/.836

If Purpura doesn’t like the way the team is hitting, why doesn’t he bench the Willy Taveras out-machine extravaganza and his .615 OPS (.636 PrOPS). No one forced him to build a lineup with Brad Ausmus, Preston Wilson, and Adam Everett.

So, here’s what’s going to happen. Ensberg’s average will rise in the second half, Lane will tear up Triple-A for a month then return to the big leagues hitting much better (see the 2005 Austin Kearns), and Purpura will be praised for his bold moves. What we won’t see are two players losing at-bats that the Astros need for the second-half run.

The 2006 PrOPS-Star Team

With the All-Star game tonight, I thought I’d check in on the league’s hitters using PrOPS. Bryan Donovan has done a fantastic job with the THT Stats section, and he’s made it easy to sort players by position for PrOPS. I’ve named my PrOPS-Star team based on the top-3 qualified hitters at the position. For NL catchers I had to lift the “qualified” requirement, since only Paul Lo Duca qualified, and counted catchers with at least 200 ABs.

Here are the players and their PrOPS.

Pos.	AL			NL
C	Jorge Posada	.888	Mike Piazza	.882	
C	Ramon Hernandez	.874	Michael Barrett	.868
C	Joe Mauer	.867	Brian McCann	.867

1B	Tavis Hafner	1.134	Albert Pujols	1.193
1B	Jason Giambi	1.130	Lance Berkman	1.025
1B	Jim Thome	1.109	Nick Johnson	1.000

2B	Ty Wigginton	.810	Ray Durham	.861
2B	Tadahito Iguchi	.761	Chase Utley	.850
2B	Ronnie Belliard	.757	Dan Uggla	.810

3B	Troy Glaus	.939	Morgan Ensberg	.987
3B	Alex Rodriguez	.915	Miguel Cabrera	.913
3B	Eric Chavez	.901	David Wright	.896

SS	Miguel Tejada	.900	Edgar Renteria	.841
SS	Derek Jeter	.836	Bill Hall	.806
SS	Carlos Guillen	.823	Khalil Greene	.806

LF	Manny Ramirez	1.099	Adam Dunn	1.059
LF	Nick Swisher	.950	Carlos Lee	1.001
LF	Raul Ibanez	.896	Pat Burrell	.969

CF	Vernon Wells	.920	Carlos Beltran	1.022
CF	Torii Hunter	.827	Andruw Jones	.909
CF	Grady Sizemore	.807	Jim Edmonds	.861

RF	Jermaine Dye	1.051	Bobby Abreu	.986
RF	Johnny Gomes	.915	Brad Hawpe	.877
RF	Alex Rios	.890	Austin Kearns	.851

DH	Frank Thomas	1.045

Congratulations, PrOPS-Stars!

Francoeur Meter

I’ve been getting a lot of feedback on my post on Francoeur’s out-production this season. Out of curiosity, I’ve found myself calculating his progress nearly every morning, so I just said, “what the heck!” and made a tracker.

Chasing History
(Single-season out record)

Player		Outs
Horace Clarke	514
Jeff Francoeur	499*

*projected for 2006

I do hope Jeff turns it around. He’s got to become better than a .250 hitter or learn to walk. And let me put this in perspective. I understand that Jeff is an extremely gifted athlete who is only 22; we shouldn’t be expecting a lot from him. In fact, he should be proud of what he has accomplished. I think the Braves are stunting his development by allowing, if not encouraging, his “aggressive” approach at the plate.

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that the out record is a little more formal than I thought, and that Horace Clarke does not hold that record. I used the simple At-bats – Hits formula for hitting outs. I did not include caught stealing, double-plays, or sacrifices, but the “official” record does. So, the actual out champion is Omar Mareno, who in 1980 had 560 outs. Clarke’s 1970 season comes in second at 542. Updating Jeff Francoeur’s projected outs to include the additional categories puts him on a pace for 528 outs, good enough for seventh place, all-time. Although, some of these stats were not tracked going all the way back. I’ll continue to monitor the AB-H record, just because it’s simpler. I don’t like counting sacrifices or GIDP either. So, just be aware.

Putting Francoeur in Perspective

It’s hard to get mad at Jeff Francoeur. He’s flashy young player with speed and power. The stat-heads of the Braves community have been criticizing Francoeur for his plate discipline. This of course drives most baseball fans crazy. “He’s on a pace to hit over 30 home runs and 100 RBI! How can you complain about that?” Well, it’s true that Jeff has done some things well. But the thing he’s been most exceptional at is not knocking in runs but making outs.

While we’re talking about outs let’s see how many outs Francoeur projects to produce compared to the entire history of baseball.

Rank	Player			Team	YEAR	OPS	Outs
1	Horace Clarke		NYA	1970	0.595	514
2	Juan Samuel		PHI	1984	0.749	510
2	Tom Brown		LOU	1892	NA	510
2	Sandy Alomar		CAL	1971	0.621	510
5	Omar Moreno		PIT	1980	0.631	508
6	Jose Reyes		NYN	2005	0.687	506
7	Frankie Crosetti	NYA	1939	NA	503
7	Sandy Alomar		CAL	1970	0.596	503
9	Bobby Richardson	NYA	1965	0.609	500
10	Omar Moreno		PIT	1979	0.714	499
10	Woody Jensen		PIT	1936	NA	499
10	Roger Metzger		HOU	1972	0.547	499
10	Bill Virdon		PIT	1962	0.631	499
10	Jeff Francoeur* 	ATL	2006	0.710	499

*Projected for 2006 through 6/26/2006

Francoeur is on a pace to produce nearly 500 outs this season, which would be one of the top-10 out-making seasons of all time. And Horace Clark’s record is within reach.

In terms of home runs and RBIs, Francoeur’s numbers do look good; however, that’s only because people who put up those types of numbers don’t make as many outs as Francoeur does. If all you had was his projected traditional batting line of .250/ 32/116, you’d be right to guess that the player was having a good season. Of players who hit more than 30 but less than 35 home runs in a season, they average an OPS of .893 and produce 389 outs. That’s a HUGE difference: an OPS of 180 points higher and 110 fewer outs.

All of this reminds me of a quote by 19th century French economist Frederic Bastiat in his essay That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen.

In the department of economy, an act, a habit, an institution, a law, gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause – it is seen. The others unfold in succession – they are not seen: it is well for us, if they are foreseen. Between a good and a bad economist this constitutes the whole difference – the one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen, and also of those which it is necessary to foresee. Now this difference is enormous, for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favourable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse.

As fans, we see the home runs and runs batted in. They are visible good events that we recall fondly, because they directly produce runs. In a game where an out is the most common outcome, outs do not have the same visible impact on run production and they don’t stick in our memories. Furthermore, players who tend to do the good things Jeff does don’t normally do the bad things. In fact no player who has ever hit between 30 and 35 home runs in a season has posted as many outs as Francoeur projects to produce this season— the highest out total was 479 (Leon Wagner, 1964), and the lowest OPS was .728 (Tony Batista, 2004).

I don’t mean to pick on Francoeur, but he has a serious deficiency that needs to be addressed. I understand that he’s young, but I would like to see some signs than the Braves are working with him to solve the problem. I understand developing plate discipline isn’t easy, but it’s something that has got to happen.

TP Is At It Again

Last night, after watching the Braves blow a late lead in spectacular fashion, I left the television on for the post-game show. It turns out that they had a feature with Terry Pendleton on how to be a hitting coach. And during the course of the interview, TP discussed how Andruw Jones needs to hit the ball “the other way.” Fortunately, Andruw continues to ignore this terrible advice, but TP just doesn’t get it. As I’ve demonstrated before, when AJ goes the other way, he makes outs. When he pulls the ball he gets hits. And his slumps are a product of plate discipline, not where he hits the ball. The same is true in 2006—the hit-chart is for Turner Field only. The red g and f markers are groundouts and flyouts. The black s, d, and t are singles, doubles, and triples, with the blue h representing home runs.


Andruw Jones, 2006

It boggles my mind that Pendleton tries to get Andruw to hit like he did, as I wrote earlier.

TP was a hacker, a good hacker, who never really liked to walk. TP had to hit to all fields because if he didn’t he wasn’t going to get on base swinging at every pitch. Jones has the makings of a patient power-hitter, and needs to be trained as such. Yes, he shouldn’t try to pull outside sliders. But, don’t give in and slap it to right. Foul it off and wait for your pitch. If it stays over the plate crush it to left, right, or center…I don’t care. Risk taking a strike if you have less than two strikes.

I really hate this “other way” crap that color commentators always try to pull-over on the viewer. It’s a device they sometimes use to say, “I’m smarter than you, because while power is fun to watch, it’s the Fundamentals that make a good player.” So, I guess Ted Williams was just some streaky power hitter who would never hit for average. TP ought to know better. He’s not getting paid to talk fluff.

Interestingly, I recently received some advance material relating to Jeff Angus’s new book, Management by Baseball. In it he tells the following story.

Jeff Burroughs, a massively muscled, barely motile Mariner slugger, was on first base. He took off, trying to steal. What happened next unfolded like an auto accident you’re involved in—in slow motion so you get to savor every ugly detail. Burroughs started lugging. Then, at the speed of a tectonic plate, the lug went into the least graceful slide I’d seen since Little League. Finally, to add injury to insult, he crashed into the infielder tagging him out. He had to be scraped off the field like some ignominious road-kill—existential humor at its most unsightly. Burroughs missed a big chunk of the season, thereby weakening an already anemic offense.

Was the slug-like Burroughs afflicted with a sudden dementia? Nope. After the game, Mariner manager Maury Wills explained that the signal to steal had come from the skipper himself. Wills had once been the premier basestealer in the majors, a compact, efficient speed merchant with an unerring ability to read pitchers and their moves, an exceptional talent that made him famous. Like most people, he came to believe that the talent most important to his career was the talent most important for winning ballgames. It’s a classic management blunder.

Andruw and TP seem to be friends, and I know they are neighbors. But TP has to realize that if this is his advice for Andruw, and it’s the same advice he’s giving to all hitters, it has to stop. While many hitters are successful hitting the ball to all fields, some of the games very best players are pure pull hitters. And it’s these hitters that Andruw ought to emulate, not slap-hitting speedsters.

PrOPS at Sports Illustrated

Jacob Luft at SI.com uses PrOPS to break down the luckiest and unluckiest players this season. If you’re unfamiliar with PrOPS you can read further here and here. Players who have been lucky, and putting up numbers better than they way they have hit the ball are likely to decline over the rest of the season, while unlucky players ought to improve. Luft explains:

Because breaks tend to even out as the sample size of data grows, PrOPS is a powerful tool in figuring out which players will benefit and which ones will suffer as their statistics regress to the mean. For example, Reds outfielder Austin Kearns posted a real OPS of .785 last season, but his PrOPS was .840, indicating that he was a better hitter than his statistics were giving him credit for. This season, Kearns’ real OPS is almost identical to his PrOPS from last season: .852. If you look back at the top 25 underperformers for 2005 as calculated by PrOPS, you’ll find others who have improved this season, including last year’s leader, Jason Giambi, and Mike Lowell.

Jacob indicated to me that PrOPS influenced him to pick up Austin Kearns for his fantasy team this year—thankfully that’s worked out well, so far. I’m not a fantasy player, but I’m curious how many people find PrOPS helpful or unhelpful. Drop me a line if you have a comment. Thanks to Jacob for furthering awareness of the statistic. Also, thanks the The Hardball Times for keeping track of it.

Calling Me Out

Two weeks ago, Lang Whitaker called me out for my post on Jeff Francoeur in SLAM magazine.

In the larger picture, this book apparently mirrors the trend in all sports of putting more of an emphasis on numerical evidence and drawing conclusions based on numbers, like Linkstigator John Hollinger does or like they do at 82games.com. I understand the movement and in some ways I appreciate the way numbers make everything so cut and dried. But at the same time, I find it impossible to rely solely on numbers. For instance, a couple of weeks ago Sam sent me an article from sabernomics.com about Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur. Francoeur started the season slumping, and this article went back and analyzed all sorts of numbers and determined that “There is a real problem,” that the Braves were “going to have to gut this one out.” The author also called for everyone to stop pretending that Francoeur is an All-Star.

Since then, Francoeur warmed up, and he’s now up to 10 home runs and 36 RBIs (good for 6th in the National League).

So what happened? Well, Francoeur made adjustments. He figured out what he was doing wrong and fixed it.

And I guess that’s illustrative of my main beef with the reliance of numbers in evaluation. I loved Moneyball and thought it was a great read. Given the circumstances on Oakland — no money to spend, etc. — it’s worked really well.

But at some point, don’t we have to just look a guy and watch him play and say whether or not he’s going to be good or bad or a good fit for our team?

Since then—refering to the time since Whitaker posted the article— Frenchy has posted a .200/.213/.267/.479 line in 47 PAs. For the season, he’s put up an ugly .247/.260/.426/.686 .

As to the insinuation that I only looked at numbers, I’ve watched nearly every at-bat of Francoeur’s this season. I know that if you throw it high and inside, he can’t hit it; and I haven’t seen any stats on his hitting zone this season. You don’t need to: Frenchy looks bad up there. He is talented and can hit the ball a long way when he connects, but he is an out-machine right now. My eyes tell me this, and the stats confirm it. I suspect hit OPS will not stay below .700 for the entire season, but he’s not an All-Star yet. If you think otherwise, play The Jeff Francoeur Game.

The Incredible Shrinking Marcus Giles

With all of the talk of Braves fans focused on the struggles of Adam LaRoche, Jeff Francoeur, and the bullpen, one very bad season is flying under the radar. Marcus Giles has gone from being one of the best offensive second basemen baseball to Keith Lockhart, putting up a .235/.326/.324/.650 line for the year. While Giles has been a little unlucky, his PrOPS for the year is .687, which isn’t so hot. What happened?

Well, what talk I have seen about Giles often mentions steroids, and the suggestion is understandable given the burden of proof for these things these days. Giles is playing about 180 OPS-points below his career. And since his breakout season in 2003, his isolated-power has dropped from .216 to .132 and .170 in 2004 and 2005. This year, it’s under .100. Given the stiffer testing policies people are wondering if that’s the cause.

But the thing is, although Marcus is playing below some of his past numbers, there is a very good explanation for his drop-off: it’s a mirage, his early power was a fluke. It turns out that Giles has been one of the luckiest hitters in baseball over the past four seasons. In my article on PrOPS in the The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006, I list the 25-luckiest PrOPS seasons—meaning OPS exceeded PrOPS—over the pas four years. Giles appears twice: his 2003 is number 11 (overperformance of 0.086) and his 2005 is number 19 (overperformance of 0.081). Additionally, based on Giles past PrOPS performance, I projected he’d have an OPS of 0.776 this year. He’s still hitting below that, but I don’t expect his OPS to stay where it is for the rest of the season.

Giles is not a bad player, in fact, he’s a good player with excellent defense and on-base skills. However, those flashes of a potential MVP that everyone saw—including me—were largely a product of luck, not steroids. The only juice Giles might have been on is Felix Felicis.

The Francoeur Game: 2006

It’s simple. Predict the end-of-year stats for Jeff Francoeur. Three categories: AVG, OBP, SLG. Leave your entries in the comments.

I’ll start: .260/.275/.465 ==> .740 OPS