Thursday, January 24, 2008

Getting Better as the Game Goes On

It's kind of intuitive that as a baseball game goes on, batters will hit the opposing starter better. This is a mixture of seeing the guy's arsenal on that night and perhaps being able to judge a little more accurately what he's going to throw you next, as well as the simple fact that after 80, 90, 100 pitches, a pitcher will be tired. This is borne out in league numbers:

National League, Times vs. Opposing Starter in a Game, 2007
  • 1st: .259/.323/.412, .735 OPS
  • 2nd: .270/.334/.433, .767 OPS
  • 3rd or greater: .293/.357/.480, .837 OPS
American League, Times vs. Opposing Starter in a Game, 2007
  • 1st: .269/.333/.421, .754 OPS
  • 2nd: .276/.337/.432, .769 OPS
  • 3rd or greater: .286/.346/.454, .800 OPS
Today I want to list the players who benefited most from seeing starters more and the players who were actually hurt by seeing pitchers a second and third time. Sample sizes will be pretty small (you can only face a starting pitcher for the first time in a game 162 times per year), but I'm making the minimum requirement 50 plate appearances in each situation. Still a drop in the bucket overall, but it's harder to get on base 40 out of 50 times than it is 8 out of 10 times.

Facing Opposing Starters In a Game
Largest Increase in OPS, 1st to 3rd (or greater) Time

RankName1st Time vs. SP2nd Time vs. SP3rd+ Time vs. SPOPS Increase
(1st to 3rd+)
1Ben Broussard59 PA, .390 OPS55 PA, .757 OPS50 PA, 1.337 OPS.947
2Jason Kubel115 PA, .567 OPS109 PA, .914 OPS92 PA, 1.233 OPS.666
Milton Bradley59 PA, .491 OPS56 PA, .924 OPS53 PA, 1.157 OPS.666
Gregg Zaun93 PA, .467 OPS86 PA, .741 OPS60 PA, 1.048 OPS.581
Joe Mauer106 PA, .529 OPS104 PA, .786 OPS112 PA, 1.048 OPS.519
Juan Encarnacion74 PA, .560 OPS71 PA, .861 OPS56 PA, 1.044 OPS.484
Carl Crawford140 PA, .639 OPS136 PA, .829 OPS146 PA, 1.114 OPS.475
Jeremy Hermida113 PA, .662 OPS110 PA, .920 OPS91 PA, 1.123 OPS.461
Nate McLouth83 PA, .594 OPS67 PA, 1.024 OPS67 PA, 1.055 OPS.461
Chase Utley131 PA, .706 OPS129 PA, .922 OPS118 PA, 1.151 OPS.445
Jose Lopez141 PA, .430 OPS137 PA, .742 OPS98 PA, .866 OPS.436
Jason Varitek122 PA, .493 OPS117 PA, .841 OPS81 PA, .901 OPS.408
Ronny Paulino121 PA, .556 OPS116 PA, .823 OPS72 PA, .962 OPS.406
A.J. Pierzynski117 PA, .536 OPS112 PA, .762 OPS95 PA, .941 OPS.404

I have a few things to note about that list. I stopped at fourteen because those were the only guys matching the criteria to see a 400 point increase in their OPS. A number of those low OPS's in the first column are due to a low Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP). If you're in a slump, it might be because bloop hits that were falling in last week are suddenly being caught more often or ground balls that used to sneak through the hole are finding their way into the shortstop's glove instead. This isn't really the batter's fault; it's just one of the vagaries of the game. BABIP is useful for quantifying those things.

I bring this up because Gregg Zaun's .467 OPS in the first column is affected by his very low .157 BABIP (the ML average last season was .305). Once his BABIP got to a more normal .279 in the second column, his numbers look more like his career numbers. It works the other way, as well. In the last column, Zaun's BABIP was .350; his OPS spiked upward as a result.

I find it interesting, however, that not everyone on the list saw their BABIP go up to such a degree across all the columns. Sure, Ben Broussard's BABIP jumped .276 from the first column to the last and subsequently he leads the list, but Sammy Sosa's BABIP only went from .317 to .338 to .323; for whatever reason the balls he did hit late in the game went for more bases, driving his OPS up.

Brad Wilkerson isn't one of the fourteen guys listed above, but he is another weird case. He had a .715 OPS when facing starters for the first time with a .357 BABIP. His second time up, those numbers changed to .826 and .217 -- by the third time, he was at 1.004 and .250, respectively. He managed to increase his OPS while getting hits to fall in less. Other players with a 200 (or more) point increase in OPS but an overall decrease in BABIP were Carlos Beltran (.278/-.051), Khalil Greene (.249/-.019), and Miguel Cabrera (.235/-.067).

Tomorrow I plan on looking at guys who bucked the trend and managed to hit worse as games wore on. A hint: of the four guys at the top (bottom?) of that list, one has been a mediocre hitter for most of his career, one was designated for assignment in the middle of the season, one was a big free agent signing, and the last was a big part of a trade last offseason.

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