Sandoval is buried at the bottom of a group containing many aging, everyday switch-hitters, and he's more than 160 points below the league average. Another way of putting it: From the right side over the past two years and change, Sandoval has been a far weaker version of Ben Revere, who has a .665 OPS and two total home runs in a six-year career. That's quite a turnaround from Sandoval's pre-2013 numbers, when he had a combined .763 OPS as a right-handed hitter dating back to his debut in the majors. What's behind the dip in production?
I created a series of binary logistic regressions, predicting whether the at-bat would end in a strikeout (or some other outcome). I inserted the control variable first. If that variable—and only that variable—were significant, then it means that the outcome of the at-bat is just a function of the relative skills of the batter and pitcher. But also entering the ring was the leverage value of the event (perhaps some events are just more common when the leverage is higher?), the name of the manager (categorical), and the interaction of manager and leverage. The really important variable here is that interaction term. If that one is significant (and for the initiated, I looked at the overall Wald value for the variable), then it means that for certain managers, there are differences in the likelihood of outcomes as leverage changes, over and above just the guys who are standing on the mound and in the batter's box. It wouldn't necessarily mean that particular manager is amazing when it comes to inspiring his players to (cliché) in a pressure situation, but it also doesn't mean that he's a (animal) (orifice) either.
The result? A complete shutout. The control variable came up strongly significant (it always does), but nothing else reached significance. At all.
Okay, well, maybe managers can't get their hitters to perform when the game is on the line, but what about the pitchers? Is there some magic that managers can weave to help them rise to the occasion? I ran the same analyses, only this time coding for the pitcher's manager as the guy of interest.
Same results. Nothing to see.
Of the last 15 prospects to debut first in each class, 13 have been pitchers, six left-handers and seven right-handers. So, statistically speaking, if (recent) history is any indication it’s highly likely that another pitcher will likely become the first debuting player again.
Mike Scioscia, Angels manager: “I grew up in the National League where we never had the DH and thought we didn’t need a DH. But as I’ve managed, I’ve warmed to the idea. It doesn’t just add the offense you get from another hitter in your lineup, it also gives you more little-ball opportunities with the bottom of your lineup. In the National League, it’s tough to move a runner up with the pitcher’s spot coming up. With regular hitters all the way through the lineup, you might move runners up with your eight-hitter and try to score a run with an out. In the National League, that strategy just doesn’t play.
“I would like it to be uniform, but I don’t think we’re ever going to get rid of the DH. It’s working with it different in the two leagues, but I would love for it to someday just be baseball, the same baseball in both leagues.”
Basically no relationship! If anything, patience is more highly correlated with batting success in 2015. I don't know what that means. Probably nothing. The total rate of pitches thrown in the strike zone in 2014: 44.9 percent. In 2015: 46.0 percent. Make of that what you will.
The strike zone is definitely getting bigger. That is not in doubt. Whether that results in changes in approach is much, much harder to determine, and I didn't come anywhere close. I don't think a slightly larger strike zone has turned Mike Napoli into a sub-replacement player. Baseball is still basically baseball. For a really smart community, I think we do a very bad job of acknowledging and embracing randomness as the frequent reason behind changes in performance. I tried to do so in this article, and I think the result is not very satisfying, so there are perhaps good reasons why. That said, I think stating what we don't know is better than pretending we know everything.
After looking at Capps’s stats, it might be hard to believe that perceived velocity isn’t baseball’s next big idea, but Capps is one of a kind. His command doesn’t seem to have suffered since he took flight, but it’s possible that for many pitchers, an attempt to increase extension would lead to an elevated walk rate, which has always been an issue for Walden. More importantly, for most players, the radar matches the drapes. About 40 percent of pitchers in this sample have perceived velocities within 0.5 mph of their actual velocities. And among all pitchers, the correlation between actual and perceived four-seamer velocity is 0.95, which means that pitchers who rate highly in one category usually rate highly in the other.
In the majority of cases, perceived velocity simply doesn’t tell a dramatically different story from the one we know. As a result, it might make a major difference only for the small set of edge cases that significantly deviate from the norm, like Capps, Petit, and Ventura. And it doesn’t take a sophisticated tracking system to prove that Capps and Walden are doing things differently.
The pitch Correa hit against Kendrick belongs in that first column. It’s the group with the lowest average batted-ball speed. Everything here is intuitive — the closer you get to the middle of the plate, the better the quality of contact. Batters don’t hit those inside pitches hard. They’re very difficult to turn around, which is why the inside fastball is such a treasured weapon.
Some more thoughts:
There's a huge difference in the batted-ball types between four-seam and two-seam fastballs. Part of that surely is related to the locations those pitches are thrown to, but it's a big gap.
Fastballs, both two-seam and four-seam, get hit fairly hard and aren't whiffed on very often. Part of that is probably because of their relatively frequent usage, and also because of what counts they tend to be thrown in.
Splitters are very good at getting swings, and very good at getting whiffs on those swings. They're also the best at inducing grounders and have the second-lowest slugging percentage allowed. A well-executed splitter is a weapon unlike any other.
Slow curves are unique in that they don't get many whiffs but they do appear to get very poor contact.
So what about the 2010 Giants and 2003 Marlins? They weren’t big spenders, and they actually are the two biggest violators of the rule. Basically, if a team violates The Thome Corollary to such a degree, they must do two things in order to also win:
1. Be active at the Trade Deadline. The Marlins paid the eventually hefty price of Adrian Gonzalez to receive Ugueth Urbina at the deadline, and they also acquired Jeff Conine. The 2010 Giants only traded for one excellent player at that deadline — Javier Lopez, who is still with the team — but were generally active, also adding Chris Ray, Mike Fontenot, Jose Guillen. But this is probably not as important as:
2. Have a historically awesome rookie class. The Marlins had a 23-and-under nucleus of Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis, and Miguel Cabrera. Giants 23-and-unders included Madison Bumgarner, Pablo Sandoval, and Buster Posey. Uh, pretty good.
Of the seven teams who had one player violating The Thome Corollary, only one of them had two players who were receiving over 15% of the team payroll. And, as you can see below, this is also a team with a historically awesome rookie class…