September 18, 2010
Even More Fun with Opponent Quality
Way back on Wednesday, before Derek Jeter casually robbed America’s youth of its honor, integrity, and faith in fair play*, I took a look at our “Pitcher’s Quality of Opponents” report, identifying a few hurlers who’ve benefited from facing an inordinate number of strong or weak hitters this season. I promised to provide the same treatment for batters in my next post, and rather than erode my credibility by choosing a different topic (since I know how closely everyone’s keeping track), I’ll stick to the plan. Let’s check out what the “Batter’s Quality of Pitchers Faced” report has to offer.
Here are the top-ranking NL batters with a minimum of 500 plate appearances, when sorted by ascending OPP_QUAL_OPS (or, translated from underscore, the overall OPS allowed by the pitchers whom they’ve faced this season):
Notice a pattern here? Every batter on this list plays in the NL West, specifically for the Diamondbacks or Giants. Why should that be? Keep in mind that the numbers appearing in this report aren’t park-adjusted. The NL West features something of a ballpark potpourri: baseball’s most extreme hitter’s park (Coors Field) shares a division with its most favorable pitcher’s environment (Petco Park), while hitter-friendly Chase Field and pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium balance each other out, leaving only neutral AT&T Park without a strong partisan slant.
Arizona's hitters play nearly a quarter of their games against pitchers who spend roughly half of their seasons in San Diego and Los Angeles, which could play a role here. However, it should be noted that the NL West is a run-prevention-first division: after adjusting for park, it becomes clear that not one of its five teams features an above-average offense. However, the Padres, Giants, and Rockies boast imposing collections of moundsmen, while only Arizona suffers from a significantly below-average staff. We already reflexively inflate the numbers of batters who call Petco home, but maybe it’s time that we started mentally extending the same courtesy to other NL Westerners, to a lesser degree.
As for the AL's least fortunate:
Mauer hasn’t managed to replicate his 2009 MVP performance at the plate, but he hasn’t been helped by a tougher opponent pool; the pitchers who cowered in fear of him last season managed only a .731 OPS against the league. Moving on to the NL batters who've benefited from facing the weakest pitcher pools in 2010:
That Pujols guy is totally a product of weak opposing pitchers. Time for the AL:
Despite his recent wrist problems, Gardner has been an asset on offense for the Yankees; in light of his prodigious talents in the field and on the bases, an above-average performance with the stick makes him one of the most valuable players in baseball. However, the league-leading OPS racked up against the pitchers whom he’s faced suggests that he’s had it somewhat easy in terms of the composition of his opposing pitcher pool. Oh, and Miguel Cabrera? Nothing more than a mirage, much like that Pujols character.
For batters with at least 500 PA, the range of OPP_QUAL_OPS is only 40 points of OPS. If we lower the playing-time cutoff to 200 PA, the range rises, but only to 56 points. These aren’t enormous differences, and if we replaced OPS with a more accurate, park-adjusted metric, they’d likely be even further reduced. Still, they’re worth at least a cursory examination, and when combined with actual production, can give us a clearer idea of who’s succeeded despite adverse circumstances, or triumphed, in part, as a result of the luck of the draw.
*Kidding! Oh Captain, my Captain, and all that.