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September 18, 2010

One-Hoppers

Even More Fun with Opponent Quality

by Ben Lindbergh

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):

NAME

TEAM

PA

OPP_QUAL_OPS

Adam LaRoche

ARI

560

0.687

Mark Reynolds

ARI

563

0.688

Chris Young

ARI

609

0.691

Stephen Drew

ARI

573

0.691

Kelly Johnson

ARI

613

0.694

Aubrey Huff

SFN

606

0.695

Pablo Sandoval

SFN

578

0.695

Andres Torres

SFN

540

0.696

Justin Upton

ARI

571

0.696

Juan Uribe

SFN

519

0.697

 
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:

NAME

TEAM

PA

OPP_QUAL_OPS

Joe Mauer

MIN

565

0.699

Ty Wigginton

BAL

585

0.705

Jose Lopez

SEA

576

0.705

Adam Jones

BAL

558

0.706

Torii Hunter

ANA

575

0.706

Franklin Gutierrez

SEA

574

0.706

Erick Aybar

ANA

572

0.706

Nick Markakis

BAL

639

0.707

Yuniesky Betancourt

KCA

522

0.707

Adrian Beltre

BOS

590

0.707

Chone Figgins

SEA

632

0.707

David Ortiz

BOS

549

0.707

Marco Scutaro

BOS

649

0.707

 
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:
 

NAME

TEAM

PA

OPP_QUAL_OPS

Jeff Keppinger

HOU

516

0.720

Yadier Molina

SLN

504

0.718

Albert Pujols

SLN

635

0.718

Marlon Byrd

CHN

582

0.718

Ryan Braun

MIL

620

0.717

Placido Polanco

PHI

549

0.716

Corey Hart

MIL

535

0.716

Casey McGehee

MIL

594

0.716

Michael Bourn

HOU

594

0.716

Ryan Howard

PHI

560

0.715

Raul Ibanez

PHI

576

0.715

Alcides Escobar

MIL

512

0.715

Rickie Weeks

MIL

678

0.715

Matt Holliday

SLN

607

0.715

That Pujols guy is totally a product of weak opposing pitchers. Time for the AL:

NAME

TEAM

PA

OPP_QUAL_OPS

Brett Gardner

NYA

513

0.727

Miguel Cabrera

DET

603

0.724

Brandon Inge

DET

516

0.723

Juan Pierre

CHA

666

0.721

Mark Teixeira

NYA

644

0.721

Johnny Damon

DET

555

0.72

Adam Lind

TOR

570

0.72

Austin Jackson

DET

606

0.719

Elvis Andrus

TEX

614

0.719

Robinson Cano

NYA

623

0.719

Derek Jeter

NYA

665

0.718

 
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.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

Related Content:  Ops,  OPS+

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