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May 29, 2014

Pebble Hunting

Pitchers at the Plate: Even Worse Than We Thought?

by Sam Miller


You can see what Buck Showalter was going for on Tuesday night. Mark Reynolds is a hitter. Not always a great hitter, but one of the couple hundred best in the world, and very capable of ending the game with one swing. The guy behind him was a pitcher. Not a terrible hitter, pitcher-wise, but a pitcher. In the categories our brain creates, pitchers are non-threats. Given the choice between a threat and a non-threat, the decision to intentionally walk the threat to face the non-threat feels obvious, if you don't do the math. But you should do the math:

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11 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

therealn0d

I think it would be fair to question how "high" high leverage really is. After all, when was the last time you actually saw a pitcher hit for himself in a meaningful situation after, say, the fifth inning of a close game? Also, I think something that could be looked at regarding pitchers hitting is how effectively they're pitching that day. Managers will often let them hit if they think the guy's going so well that he won't need the runs he might miss out on by letting his hurler stand in. I know this article doesn't intend to go this far, but pitcher hitting (or lack thereof) is a fascinating topic.

May 29, 2014 04:30 AM
rating: 0
 
Paul Clarke

On the sacrifice hit thing: using Fangraphs' definitions I get the following for PAs by pitchers, 2012-2014:

overall 1357 SH/13250 PAs = 10.2%
high leverage 230/948 = 24.3%
all men-on 1357/6051 = 22.4%

High leverage situations aren't much different from general men-on PAs, so maybe it makes more sense to use men-on as the baseline rather than all PAs. If I do that I get an OPS of .301 with men-on versus .281 in high-leverage. I'm not sure that's significant, so let's try a larger sample: 2001-2013.

Men-on OPS (33116 PAs) .341
High-leverage OPS (4919 PAs) .330

Not sure that helped :)

May 29, 2014 07:07 AM
rating: 0
 
Biesterfield

Nitpicking:

When doing the math, ideally you should regress Gallardo HR rate (less so) and XBH rate (more so) to some mean - perhaps the mean of pitchers-as-batters.

MGL is mentioning on Tango's blog that you need to consider the impact on the next inning since Gallardo will lead off if pitch to Reynolds and get him out.

May 29, 2014 08:01 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

Oooh, I didn't consider the *next* inning.

May 29, 2014 08:57 AM
 
TangoTiger

Yeah, I hadn't considered it either, and it's a huge thing.

You can check my blog for more comments...

May 29, 2014 11:07 AM
rating: 0
 
MGL

As far as the decision to IBB or not, it was very clearly the wrong decision because of the lost WE in the next inning by not having a pinch hitting pitcher lead off and instead leading off with the #1 batter. So even if the WE in the 9th inning was a tossup between walking Reynolds or not, you are going to lose at least 1.5% in WE when the game is extended to the next inning (which happens around 2/3 of the time).

As well, as in all marginal IBB situations, or situations here you should not issue the IBB but you do, it is always correct to wait until the count is in the batter's favor. Always.

May 29, 2014 08:16 AM
rating: 1
 
BrianGunn
(439)

As a Cardinals fan I was shouting at the screen as they put Reynolds on: "there's no scenario where the O's win without going through Gallardo at the plate! You want him leading off!!!"

Oh well...

Fascinating stuff, Sam. I have a couple quibbles with the 8.3% vs. 12.5% (i.e., Reynolds' odds of an XBH not factored in on the left side, a non-run-scoring XBH by Gallardo on the right side), but overall great work. Thanks.

May 29, 2014 14:21 PM
rating: 1
 
bline24

Your main premise is that pitchers on the mound pitch differently in different situations to pitchers in the batter's box. The five ABs between Gallardo and Kennedy don't prove it, but it's a good anecdote that holds up well under the eye test. I wonder if it's also true with respect to non-pitcher batters. In other words, is situational pitching real? Announcers talk about it a lot on air, but that of course doesn't make it real. I seem to recall someone shooting holes in the idea of "pitching to the score" in connection with Jack Morris's HOF candidacy, but that doesn't necessarily mean Morris (or anyone else) doesn't throw more sliders or reach back for a couple of extra MPH when, say, there's a runner on second base in a close game. Conventional wisdom certainly supports the idea, but I've never seen the gory math.

May 29, 2014 09:37 AM
rating: 0
 
MGL

Obviously pitchers pitch everyone differently depending on the situation. For example, if you have a 5 run lead late in the game, you thrown many more strikes and fastballs to all hitters. If a HR ties or wins the game in the late innings, you pitch mainly down and away. If in a critical situation, a walk doesn't hurt you, but a hit does, you throw to the corners. Etc.

I would like to see the difference in OPS for light hitting position players. There should be no reason that a pitcher would pitch much differently to a decent hitting pitcher than a light hitting position player. A pitcher at bat is just a poor hitters - nothing more or less than that. And some are better hitters than the worst hitting position players.

There also may be something about the game situation when pitchers bat in high leverage situations that causes a lower OPS. Maybe. Certainly those situations are not necessarily the same as situations where position player hit in high leverage situations. For example with position players, most of those high leverage situations occur late in the game. For pitchers, I would think that few high leverage pitcher AB are late in the game.

May 29, 2014 09:49 AM
rating: 0
 
DetroitDale

Time to bring the DH to the National League. There's too much interleague play to justify both Leagues having different rules and there's too many dead spots in the game as it is without adding an automatic out by letting the pitcher hit.

May 29, 2014 12:17 PM
rating: 0
 
MGL

"reach back for a couple of extra MPH when, say, there's a runner on second base in a close game."

Funny how we almost always overvalue and overestimate things when it comes to human behavior.

Yes, pitchers do throw harder in tougher situations - about .1 or .2 mph harder. So maybe on the order of 20 times less than you might think.

May 29, 2014 15:51 PM
rating: 0
 
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