Modern baseball is smarter, which isn't always as fun.
At this year’s Saberseminar, I was out for dinner and one of the people in our group asked what contemporary player we think we could tell our grandchildren, “I saw him play.” Mike Trout was a gimme, but we had a hard time coming up with someone else. My thought was that Billy Hamilton would be such a player, but he was born about 30 years too late.
I know, Billy Hamilton is not a great player. He’s having his best season, and his career on-base percentage is still below .300. And it’s not like he compensates with power: Of the 172 players with 1,200 or more plate appearances from 2014-2016, his .088 ISO ranks 164th. He does play a good center field, but he’s got a .236 career TAv. That’s a lot of bad bat to carry with a glove.
But he can run. Man, can he run. Through games of August 16, when he was sidelined by a knee contusion, he has 29 stolen bases. Since the All-Star break. The only players, other than Hamilton, with that more swipes all year to that point were Jonathan Villar, Starling Marte, and Rajai Davis. And that doesn’t include plays like this:
The last piece of the Cueto deal to make the bigs might end up being the real prize.
The Situation:When Alfredo Simon pitching every five days is Plan A, virtually any other pitcher is an upgrade. Simon lost his rotation spot, Daniel Wright stepped in and now the Reds will summon Reed to pitch Saturday after the latter was optioned to Triple-A Louisville. Reed had to play the waiting game to avoid reaching Super Two status and should be in Cincinnati for the long haul now that the deadline has passed.
Background:Drafted out of Northwest Mississippi Community College with the Royals’ second-round pick in 2013, Reed stalled in his first two pro seasons as he fought his command. But after finding a more repeatable delivery, he was able to reverse his control issues and pound the strike zone. The Reds flipped Johnny Cueto for Reed, Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb at the trade deadline last summer; coincidentally, all three will start for Cincinnati against Houston this weekend. Reed put up gaudy numbers in the Southern League, capping a breakout season with a career-best 10.87 K/9 in eight starts for Double-A Pensacola. He kept a similarly impressive pace in five spring training games, joining the Louisville rotation after the Reds’ last round of cuts and averaging just under a strikeout per inning.
When runners are in scoring position, home runs go down, while everything else--including doubles and triples--goes up. Why?
In this article, I looked for evidence that some hitters perform better with runners in scoring position (RISP) than in other situations. (I didn’t find much.) To help me define perform, I calculated run expectancies with RISP and discovered that of common batting metrics (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS), slugging percentage correlates best to driving in runs. So I looked for hitters who slugged higher with RISP than in other plate appearances.
A couple commenters suggested that this is a low bar. After all, they reasoned, hitters should have a higher slugging percentage with RISP than without, for a number of reasons:
· Pitchers have to pitch from the stretch (though the perception that pitchers give up velocity by pitching from the stretch doesn’t appear to be true)
· Infielders must position themselves to hold runners on, opening up lanes for basehits that wouldn’t exist with the bases empty
· Similarly, with fewer than two outs and a runner on third, infielders may move up to prevent a run, creating additional opportunities for singles
Batters increase the "swing zone" as the season goes on. To try to understand why, we need to know how.
In my article here two weeks ago, I introduced the idea of a “swing zone,” complementary to the strike zone, for helping to identify batters’ plate discipline habits in the PITCHf/x era as the strike zone has changed. In doing so, I showed annual trends, the effect of batter handedness, and the effect of the count. I also showed that the swing zone increases by about 40 square inches over the course of the season, despite no corresponding change in strike zone size. I included it almost as an aside at the end of the piece, as a reason to discount the dramatic drop in zone size for 2016. It turns out, though, that I may have buried the lede a bit—that last bit, about the average swing zone increasing from about 725 square inches in April to about 760 in October (all playoff data included, November being lumped in with October) generated by far the most reader questions. Now, I don’t want to get pigeon-holed as just “the guy who writes about this swing zone thing he made up,” so next time out I’ll be branching out to something else, but for now I do think a follow-up is more than warranted.
To remind everyone, in the original research I found that hitters were indeed responding to the increasing size of the strike zone by being willing to swing at pitches in a broader area. The trend was visible when looking across all the data, but got overwhelmed by the effect of the number of strikes in the count. I further found that, much like the expansion of the strike zone, the effect was largely constrained to the area below 19” (i.e., the average bottom of the current rulebook strike zone).
There is no ideal way to reach first base. It's time, if it ever wasn't, to strip judgment from our stats.
I have a friend who I like to hand things to. Every so often, I’ll hold out a blank sheet of paper, or a random object I picked up off a table, and she will inevitably take it from me, study it, then frown as she tries to figure out why she’s holding it. It works nearly every time. It’s not that she’s a particularly gullible person (although maybe she is, as well); it’s that she works on a contextual level. Patrick is handing me this, her brain decides, and therefore it must be important. She doesn’t actually think this, because then her brain would also remind her that I’m kind of a jerk. By the time that thought kicks in, it’s too late.
Is Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati turning into a turf war, on a global scale? We'd rather hear both sides of the tale.
Wednesday night, while Max Scherzer was striking out 20 Tigers, the Reds and Pirates were striking each other. There were six hit batters in the game, four Pirates and two Reds. Reds’ reliever Ross Ohlendorf was ejected after the last of them, when he hit David Freese with a runner on second after the Pirates had taken a 5-4 lead.
This is not something new for these teams. Since the start of the 2012 season, there have been 94 players hit in 56 games between the Reds and Pirates. (Across the majors, there are, on average, .66 batters hit per game—.33 per side.) The six hit batters Wednesday represents an apex, but the teams combined for five hit batters on June 2, 2013, four on April 8 this year, and three on seven other occasions. In fairness, some of this is probably personnel-related. When you employ batters for whom getting hit by pitches is part of their on-base toolkit, like Shin-Soo Choo (hit seven times in Reds-Pirates games in 2013 alone) and Starling Marte (hit 14 times in Reds-Pirates games dating back to August 2012), it’s reasonable to expect things to get plunky. And Pirates games, in particular, feature a lot of HBPs in the box score. Since the start of the 2012 season, Pirates batters have been hit 328 times, the most in the majors and 15 percent more than the second-place Cardinals. Pirates pitchers have hit 293 batters, also the most in the majors, and 9 percent more than the second place White Sox. (The Reds are third at hitting batters and 14th at getting hit.) But six in one game is an awful lot, as is 94 since the start of the 2012.
This has led to discussion of what might be done about this sort of thing. A hard ball, thrown at high speeds, can cause damage to the human body. Per Brooks Baseball, the pitches that hit the six batters on Wednesday night were thrown at 91.7 (Alfredo Simon in the fourth), 94.8 (Juan Nicasio in the fourth), 80.9 (Simon in the sixth), 86.4 (Steve Delabar in the seventh), 92.5 (Jared Hughes in the seventh), and 95.0 (Ohlendorf in the ninth) miles per hour. Nobody appeared to get hurt in the game, but of course, batters aren’t always that lucky. So what can be done?
Willard Hershberger was a backup catcher for the Cincinnati Reds from 1938 to 1940. He played 160 games, mostly as a defensive caddy for Ernie Lombardi, but he also hit well—.312/.351/.381 for his brief career. Hershberger is a historical footnote; from an on-field perspective he’s no more notable than, say, Mitch Meluskey, and nobody expects casual baseball fans 75 years from now to remember Mitch Meluskey.