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.
The Royals may be the most famous prediction PECOTA has gotten wrong recently, but the Reds have seen the opposite issue.
On Tuesday, Baseball Prospectus released PECOTA's preseason projections. In keeping with tradition, the algorithm has again seeminglyundersold the champion Royals, who have nudged aside the White Sox to become the symbol for outpacing expectations. That status is well-earned: over the past three seasons, the Royals have won a majors-leading 44 games more than PECOTA figured they would. Along the way, the Royals have birthed countless thinkpieces and arguments about every facet of their success: whether it's by design; whether it's sustainable; whether it's duplicable; and so on.
At the soul of it is the truth that everyone wants to be the Royals (the postseason version, at least). The transitive property, then, suggests that nobody wants to be the anti-Royals, a role filled in recent years by the Reds. No team has underperformed its PECOTA projections over the last three seasons by more games than the Reds: they won two fewer games than expected in 2013, seven fewer in 2014, and 15 fewer in 2015. Add those failures together, and the Reds have lost 24 games more than PECOTA believed they would—or six more than any other team over the same stretch:
How the Reds have underperformed their projections more than any other team.
On Tuesday, Baseball Prospectus released PECOTA's preseason projections. In keeping with tradition, the algorithm has again seeminglyundersold the champion Royals, who have nudged aside the White Sox to become the symbol for outpacing expectations. That status is well earned: Over the past three seasons, the Royals have won a majors-leading 44 games more than PECOTA figured they would. Along the way, the Royals have birthed countless thinkpieces and arguments about every facet of their success: whether it's by design; whether it's sustainable; whether it's duplicable; and so on.
The Padres and Ian Desmond fit nicely together, while Bronson Arroyo has unfinished business in Cincinnati.
Padres at least keeping tabs on Ian Desmond
Ian Desmond played shortstop last year. The Padres’ projected starting shortstop is Alexi Amarista, producer of a .205 TAv in 357 plate appearances last season. Ian Desmond is available. Which also means that, despite the obviousness of the match, he’s not yet donning San Diego’s new (old) colors.
Everything has a price, including personal shortcomings, in the game of baseball.
This piece isn’t really about domestic violence. Nor is it ultimately about Aroldis Chapman, although the erstwhile Red is one of its central characters. When the Reds traded Chapman to the Yankees for prospects and the privilege of not having to deal with his domestic violence investigation any further, it became clear that the edges of baseball’s free market were brushing up against baseball’s humanity in a way as interesting as it was alarming. So this piece is about the opportunities baseball seeks, and the prices we pay for them.