Nobody Actually Hits Good Pitching

John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

During Game 3 of the ALCS, Jeff Francoeur famous that 10 of the 12 pitchers who had surrendered postseason dwelling runs to Alex Bregman had been All-Stars, eliciting a remark about how Bregman hits properly in opposition to good pitching. That’s undoubtedly a enjoyable reality, however the notion has been rattling round my mind for the final couple of weeks. I’ve positively heard tales about gamers who hit good pitching, however I’ve by no means heard of anybody splits primarily based on the standard of the pitcher on the mound.

The predominant downside with that concept is a logical one. Break down any batter’s efficiency into its constituent components, and you have entered a zero sum sport. If you are at your finest in opposition to nice pitchers, which means you are hitting worse in opposition to everybody else. It’s laborious for me to think about that there are numerous gamers who fare higher in opposition to Justin Verlander than they do in opposition to, properly, anybody on the Nationals.

There may very well be gamers who’re much less dangerous than common, but when I had my alternative of superpowers, I’m unsure that is the one I’d decide. It would positively assist out within the playoffs, however over the course of the season, batters see much more common and poor arms than they do nice ones. I’d reasonably carry out properly nearly all of the time.

To get altogether too cute with issues, if there are gamers who hit higher in opposition to the very best pitching, then that is a bizarre reverse break up and we must always benefit from it. We can platoon them with gamers who do higher in opposition to poor pitching. Player A performs in opposition to frontline starters, and Player B begins in opposition to the again of the rotation, then sits again down when the high-leverage relievers are available in.

Like I mentioned, this has been rattling round my mind for some time. So to be able to dislodge it, I did some analysis. I recognized the very best pitchers within the league by FIP for every of the final two years, minimal 40 innings. Our prime 50 represents the highest 6% of all pitchers and the highest 12% of pitchers who threw a minimum of 40 innings. In 2021 and earlier, these percentages are barely decrease, because the variety of pitchers utilized in a season has been climbing.

I went to Baseball Savant and pulled the wOBA of each batter within the league when dealing with that yr’s prime 50. For the remainder of this text, I’ll be speaking about that quantity, in addition to a participant’s wOBA in opposition to all pitchers, and the distinction between the 2. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll name them prime 50 wOBA, total wOBA, and wOBA distinction. I’m about to sort wOBA so many instances; please put together your self for some critical semantic satiation.

Here is a graph of the 59 gamers who had a minimum of 40 plate appearances in opposition to prime 50 pitching in each 2021 and ’22:

There wasn’t a single participant with a constructive wOBA distinction two years in a row, though JP Crawford is oh so shut over there within the higher proper nook of the blob. The 2021 and ’22 wOBA variations have a correlation coefficient of -.20. In different phrases, in case you have a excessive wOBA distinction one yr, it does not imply you may do it once more subsequent yr; it means you are more likely to get a go to from the regression monster.

I pulled the identical numbers for the 2018 and ’19 seasons, and for the ’17 and ’18 seasons, and made two extra scatterplot blobs. They had constructive however tiny correlation coefficients of .1 and .06. At this level, I used to be able to say that operating a greater wOBA in opposition to prime pitchers wasn’t a repeatable ability.

I wasn’t thrilled, nonetheless, with the small pattern of gamers and the small quantity of plate appearances it took to qualify, so I went again to Baseball Savant and pulled prime 50 wOBA for each batter within the final 10 years (I set a 20-inning minimal in 2020). It took some time.

In the final 10 years, 550 gamers made a minimum of 100 plate appearances in opposition to top-50 pitching. That’s our pattern. Before we actually dig into the numbers, listed here are the very best hitters of the previous 10 years in opposition to top-50 pitching:

Best Hitters Against Top 50 Pitching – 2013-22

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Well, we have a number of the finest hitters of the previous 10 years. We’ve additionally bought another dudes. Most telling, I feel, is that the superstars are all at or under their total wOBA, whereas the surprises are over-performing theirs.

Now that we have had an opportunity to admire Juan Soto, we will dig into the maths. As you’d anticipate, batters typically did a lot worse when dealing with the very best pitching within the league: 95.1% of gamers had been worse, 4.2% had been higher, and 0.5%, or three gamers, had been precisely the identical.

Against top-50 pitching, wOBA dropped by a median of .057, or 17.9%. The median change was nearly similar. To put that in perspective, in 2022, 57 factors of wOBA was the distinction between Marcus Semien and Victor Robles. Here’s a fast graph to provide the form of the distribution. Each quantity alongside the x-axis represents wOBA adjustments inside 20 factors. (For instance, the bucket for +20 consists of will increase of 11–30 factors of wOBA.)

As you possibly can see, the distribution is centered round our common lack of 57 factors, and it is extraordinarily symmetrical. Just in time for the vacation season, you possibly can flip this graph the wrong way up to make a stunning, barely outsized menorah.

Here are the gamers with the most important wOBA will increase:

wOBA Difference – 2013-22

Player P.A Top 50 wOBA Overall wOBA Difference % Difference
Rafael Ortega 110 .344 .300 .044 15%
James Loney 164 .341 .317 .024 8%
Devin Mesoraco 167 .342 .318 .024 7%
Josh Willingham 100 .348 .326 .022 7%
Brian Peña 117 .312 .293 .019 7%

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Suffice it to say that this listing now not incorporates a Juan Soto or a Mookie Betts. More importantly, no one has a wOBA distinction sufficiently big that it makes an excessive amount of of a distinction. There goes our bizarre platoon plan.

Next, I needed to examine whether or not good hitters fare higher in opposition to good pitching. Here’s a scatterplot of total wOBA and wOBA distinction:

What you are is a blob with a really slight slope. That’s as a result of there is a small destructive correlation between a participant’s total wOBA and their wOBA distinction (-.24 going by precise wOBA change, and -.09 going by proportion wOBA change). In different phrases, the higher the hitter, the steeper the drop-off once they face an ace.

Before we run too far with that conclusion, understand that there’s doubtless some regression of the imply baked in right here. More importantly, higher gamers are inclined to hit extra usually, in order that they’re much less more likely to be outliers. Here’s what occurs after we begin tightening up our pattern measurement:

Top 50 Sample Size

Minimum PA Players Top 50 wOBA Overall wOBA Difference % Difference
100 550 .263 .320 -.057 -18%
200 303 .271 .328 -.058 -18%
300 171 .274 .334 -.060 -18%
400 73 .279 .341 -.060 -18%
500 26 .290 .354 -.063 -18%

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

That’s a fairly clear pattern. The gamers get higher each time we enhance the plate look requirement, however the wOBA distinction holds quick at -18%. The listing of gamers with a minimum of 500 plate appearances consists of gamers like Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, Mike Trout, and Bryce Harper, and even they fare no higher in opposition to top-50 pitching.

If our speculation was that the very best hitters discover a greater gear once they’re dealing with nice pitching, then we will formally put it out to pasture. Of the 100 gamers with essentially the most top-50 plate appearances, just one had a constructive wOBA distinction. Elvis Andrus, please declare your prize.

The final issue is one which I speculated upon earlier. Players simply do not face elite pitching usually sufficient for it to have an outsized impact on their total efficiency. This yr, Shohei Ohtani put up an atrocious .229 top-50 wOBA, however as a result of solely 57 of his 666 plate appearances got here in opposition to prime 50 pitching, he nonetheless put up a .370 total wOBA, placing him within the 96th percentile.

Comparing total wOBA to prime 50 wOBA is admittedly a crude strategy. I’d be all for taking one other look if and when I’ve the means to investigate the information in a extra nuanced approach. I do not need to rule out this line of pondering utterly, even when it is solely good for bringing to gentle the occasional enjoyable reality.

We have all types of splits nowadays. We break down hitters in opposition to handedness, pitch sort, velocity, and vertical strategy angle. The listing is for certain to maintain on rising. For now a minimum of, “he hits good pitching” is unlikely to change into certainly one of our go-to metrics.

Oh, and what about Bregman, the man who bought all this began? Well, he is positively not higher in opposition to top-50 pitching, however he is only a tiny bit much less dangerous than common. His wOBA distinction is -.047, or -13%, which places him proper the place you need to be: on the great fringe of the blob.

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