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June 10, 2009

Prospectus Hit and Run

The Museum of Small-Sample Split Oddities

by Jay Jaffe

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We're just past a third of the way through the season, and it's no secret that the new Yankee Stadium has played as a hitter's park thus far. After 29 games played in the Bronx, teams are averaging an AL-high 5.7 runs and an MLB-high 1.8 homers per game, with batters hitting a robust .271/.354/.476. Alas, Nick Swisher's invitation to the party must have been lost in the mail. Through Monday, he was hitting just .190/.390/.354 at home, and that after a long ball in each of his last two games there, just his second and third round-trippers at home. Meanwhile, he's thrashing at a .313/.400/.708 clip on the road, where he's hit nine home runs and 19 of his 26 extra-base hits.

The 363-point OPS difference between Swisher's location splits constitutes the largest home-field disadvantage among hitters with at least 100 PA in both contexts, but it's hardly the only sizable split, even among those spending half of their time in hitter-friendly parks. Three Phillies-Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, and Ryan Howard-rank in the top 20 in that category. Werth's OPS is 308 points lower at home, "good" for fifth, while Victorino's 239-point deficit is eighth, and Howard's 149-point deficit is 18th. With the minimal sample sizes in play, such anomalies shouldn't be terribly surprising, nor should Werth's 2008 reverse split be (887 OPS on the road, 832 at home), since it takes years of regular at-bats before the sample sizes become large enough to yield reliably representative results.

Still, like bearded ladies and monkey boys, such early-season freak shows are fun to gawk at before the regression police shutter them for operating without a license. In that spirit, we present a handful of such oddities, few of which carry any guarantee of statistical validity.

Hitting well in a tough pitchers' park, but not elsewhere: Dolph... er, Land Shark Stadium is traditionally a pitchers' park, though in this young season, it's currently in the upper quartile of all parks in terms of runs per game. That may have something to do with the home performance of Dan Uggla, who's hitting for an OPS 464 points higher there-.257/.427/.594 with 10 homers at home, .189/.252/.305 with one homer on the road. Given those splits, the Marlins may wish to pack Uggla an extra pair of footie pajamas for their next road trip. Again confining the class to those with 100 PA in each context, honorable mentions go to the Twins' Justin Morneau (258 points of OPS better on the road) and Michael Cuddyer (253 points), and the Dodgers' Andre Ethier (245 points), while a bronze statue is in store for Russell Branyan, who's bashing for an OPS 186 points higher (.333/.462/.679 versus .312/.385/.570) in a park where teams are scoring just 3.7 runs per game.

Pitching well in a tough hitters' park, but not elsewhere: Among pitchers with at least 30 innings at home (roughly one per game, same as the ERA qualification requirement), the White Sox' Gavin Floyd is certainly having a strange year. Pitching half of the time in the traditionally hitter-friendly US Cellular Field, he's compiled a 3.00 ERA while allowing just one homer in 39 innings-a major surprise given his strong fly-ball tendency-while being torched for a 7.97 ERA with six homers in 35 innings pitched on the road. Then again, the Sox and their opponents are scraping out just 3.9 runs per game this year at the Cell, suggesting the South Side is in some kind of bizarro world. Honorable mentions to Cincinnati's Aaron Harang (2.84 home, 5.25 road) and Boston's Jon Lester (4.06, 6.14).

Homering in a lousy home run park: Among the parks in the bottom quartile for home runs per game this year-AT&T, Turner, PNC, Dodger, Kaufman, Citi Field, Petco, and Network Associates-the splits of Ethier's bombs (eight at home, one on the road) and Jack Cust (seven at home, three on the road) are the most noteworthy. Just missing that quartile cutoff is new Busch Stadium, home of 11 of Albert Pujols' 18 jacks. Considering the absence of a ballpark which can contain him, should that be much of a surprise?

Hitter confining himself to righty-on-righty violence: The Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman hit in 30 straight games earlier this year, but his streak came to an end against the Giants' Barry Zito and Pat Misch, both southpaws. That's par for the course for Zimmerman these days; he's hitting .358/.407/.600 versus righties, but just .217/.360/.350 against lefties, a reverse split of 297 points of OPS, the highest among righties with at least 100 PA against righties and 50 against lefties. It's not a habit for Zimmerman, whose career OPS against lefties is still 119 points higher. Honorable mentions to Jermaine Dye (292 points), Hanley Ramirez (249), and Nelson Cruz (230), the latter of whom has continued this tendency across parts of five partial seasons (.267 /.328/.499 vs. righties, .250/.314/.431 vs. lefties).

Hitter confining himself to lefty-on-lefty violence: Before Akinori Iwamura suffered a season-ending ACL tear, he was shredding southpaws one single at a time (.449/.509/.551) while struggling against righties (.245/.317/.340)-a difference of 404 points of OPS, the highest among lefties with 50 PA against left-handers and 100 against right-handers. He showed a similar trend in 2007 but not in 2008, and for his career he's got a 59-point reverse platoon split. Kelly Johnson is carrying a 13-point reverse split for his career; this year, it's an NL-high 314 points (.298/.355/.579 vs. lefties, .215/.282/.338 vs. righties). Meanwhile, Juan Pierre has a 264-point reverse platoon split that includes a .447 average against lefties, and Morneau, who while thumping righties (.292/.409/.585) has thumped lefties even harder (.380/.406/.663) in 96 PA, has the third-most of any lefty.

Righty who's relatively helpless against same: The world is full of right-handed pitchers who can't get righties out, but some can at least make their way in this cruel, cruel world by retiring the odd lefty. Andy Sonnanstine has seen his pitches scalded at a .418/.467/.782 clip by righties while throwing cold water on lefties (.240/.296/.386). His 572-point reverse platoon split is the major league high among right-handers with at least 100 PA against righties and 50 against lefties. Brett Myers (.333/.377/.790) has been similarly beaten by righties but not lefties (.220/.297/.355), a 516-point reversal. Before undergoing hip surgery last week, the ever-enigmatic Myers also allowed just six of his 17 homers at homer-friendly Citizens, compared to 11 on the road.

Southpaw who's relatively helpless against same: John Lannan's got a tough enough row to hoe pitching for the Nationals, who are eking out just 3.4 runs per game of offensive support for him. He's fought the good fight with a 3.68 ERA, but he'd help his cause if he could smother lefties, who are pummeling him at a .299/.363/.610 clip. Righties are hitting a comparatively meager .259/.335/.368 against him, furthering a career-long trend in which he has a 136-point reverse split. Zach Duke has a 244-point reverse platoon split against lefties, highlighted by a .359 batting average. Also worth noting is that lefties have slugged 176 points higher off of Lester, .566 to .390, while homering 3.4 times as frequently per plate appearance.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

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

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