What happens when pitchers yield more or fewer grounders?
In this series, we’re investigating the outcomes when baseball players made what appear to have been New Year’s resolutions to do something differently. But unlike the rest of us, who try to be nicer to our siblings or drink less on weekends, we’re looking here at specific baseball outcomes.
In the first article I considered batters who hit markedly more (or less) to the opposite field in 2016 than in 2015. (Spoiler: It didn’t seem to help much.) In the second one I looked at batters who hit more or fewer balls on the ground. (Second spoiler: While in general batters who hit more in the air and less on the ground improved themselves, the evidence for the players who changed the most—who stuck to their resolutions—shows very limited offensive improvement.)
A weak position gets weaker, and a bleak outlook gets bleaker.
We, at Baseball Prospectus, have been talking about catchers for a while now (three days and change to be exact, depending on when you are reading this) and the party continues to rage on. Yet before we rage, we shall calibrate—since rankings aren’t useful without knowing what you’re reading. The list you are about to read here presupposes a 16-team standard (read: 5x5 roto) dynasty format, in which there are no contracts/salaries, players can be kept forever, and owners have minor-league farm systems in which to hoard prospects. So feel free to adjust this as necessary for your individual league, whether it’s moving non-elite prospects without 2016 ETAs down if you don’t have separate farm teams or moving lower-risk, lower-reward players up in deeper mixed or -only formats. And if this list doesn't go deep enough for you (god bless your soul), Wilson Karaman has you covered with his Ocean's Floor column as well. We leave no stone unturned here.
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Ben talks to former major league pitcher (and newly hired Diamondbacks Pitching Strategist) Dan Haren about his new job, how players handle the media, his struggles and success against Hall of Fame-caliber hitters, his own hitting skills, PEDs, trades and free agency, baseball's salary structure, and more.
Does the grind of the regular season cause fielders to get worse on ground balls?
Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer seem so far away. It’s been more than two months since the end of the baseball season and the most interesting thing to talk about in January is Hall of Fame voting. Pitchers and catchers don’t report for another month. We have reached the hungry season where even rumors of what some utility infielder might do next year counts as news. Baseball fandom is a cycle of saturation and deprivation.
Jay Bruce is still on the block, Brian Dozier may be staying up, and the Braves want more starting pitching.
Mets’ outfield remains a little too full
The Mets still have more corner outfielders than they need, and it’s reportedly holding them back from making other moves. According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the club is under a mandate not to go after more relief pitching until they can unload some payroll—presumably in the form of trading away the contract of Jay Bruce or, if not him, Curtis Granderson.
Brandon Phillips nixes a trade to the Braves, Trevor Plouffe rumors abound, and C.J. Wilson prepares for an upcoming showcase.
Phillips vetoes trade to Atlanta
Brandon Phillips exercised his 10-and-5 rights to block a deal that would have sent him to the Braves this past November, according to a report by Ken Rosenthal. It’s the third time Phillips has utilized his 10-and-5 rights in the past two years, including two vetoed trades to the Diamondbacks and Nationals during the 2015 offseason, and it appears he’s not ready to leave Cincinnati just yet.
Have we been underrating the value catchers add via blocking skills?
About this same time last year, I was in the midst of a trial in West Virginia when I got to thinking about wild pitches, as one does. In doing so, I realized that modeling passed balls and wild pitches as simple binomials—as we had been doing—did not fit the data as well as it should. To address the problem (or so I thought), I tweaked the parameters, recognized that a Poisson distribution seemed to be a better fit, and remodeled them accordingly.
However, in reviewing those revised numbers after this season, Harry Pavlidis and I came to the same conclusion: our predicted numbers were still not quite right. Specifically, they are too low. In raw numbers, catchers tend to be worth anywhere from plus or minus five runs a season when it comes to blocking, but our models were giving them credit for only about one or two runs above or below average.
Why were our models still underestimating the value of pitch blocking? The answer is that wild pitches follow an even more complex distribution than I had thought. Specifically, what I had decided to be a simple Poisson distribution was in fact a mixture distribution. Mixture distributions, in turn, require a more sophisticated approach.
To understand mixture distributions, we need to start with non-mixture distributions and work our way up. The most famous probability distribution, typically described as the normal distribution, or “bell curve”, looks like this:
What happens when batters hit more or fewer grounders?
In this series, we’re investigating the outcomes when baseball players made what appear to have been New Year’s resolutions to do something differently in 2016. But unlike the rest of us, who try to clean up the basement or drop weight, we’re looking here at specific baseball outcomes. In the first article we considered batters who hit markedly more (or less) to the opposite field in 2016 than in 2015. (Spoiler: It didn’t seem to help much.)
This time we’re going to look at whether batters who hit a lot more balls on the ground or in the air gain a benefit. The relationship between ground balls and balls hit in the air is well-established. Here’s the breakdown when batters hit ground balls, fly balls, and line drives in 2016 (I’ve excluded the 1,769 plate appearances that resulted in bunts):