I thought we were all professionals here

This is the story of my search for professional hitters.† You know the type.† He’s a .260-.270 (read: average) hitter, but a “guy who does the little things with the bat that don’t show up in the box score.”† He makes “productive outs” (there’s an oxymoron!)† He’s “good with the bat.”† He “moves runners along.” (Run along now children!)† I bet he has†a great personality too.†
Despite the fact that the point of the game (at least on offense) is not to make outs, some hitters apparently make outs like nervous eighth graders at†their first co-ed party… but that’s OK, because they make the good kind of outs.† I suppose that in the game of “let’s make the best of a bad situation,” there are some plays that produce outs that are preferable to others.† A sacrifice fly is an out, but it does score a run.† A grounder to the right side with a runner at second and less than two outs is better than a grounder to the left side, because the grounder to the right side probably advances the runner.† But, are there really guys who excel in making “productive outs”?
Well, let’s look at situations in which a batter has a chance to make a “productive out.”† There have to be less than two outs, because a batter who makes an out when there are two outs… do I really need to explain what happens next?† Also, there need to be runners on base.† A batter who makes an out with no one on base has just gotten himself out, and there’s really nothing else left to happen.† He also needs to, ummm… make an out.† But not just any out.† Productive outs are usually attributed to some sort of ability to place the ball on the field.† So, let’s look at all at-bats where the batter made his out on a ball in play (i.e., not a strikeout).† I found all the situations from 2003-2006 that met these criteria.
I figured out how much win probability each of these events added (actually, it’s usually more like subtracted).† Now, when dealing with WPA, we need to remember the WPA is affected by leverage in a given situation, so I divided the WPA for each event by the leverage of that event.† This gives us context-neutral wins added.† I then found the mean context neutral wins added (within this subset of plate appearances), for a batted ball of the type hit to the fielder who fielded it.† (e.g., the average ground ball to the third baseman usually added -.03 context neutral wins).† Then, I looked at whether the batter outperformed (by being less of a drag on his team’s chances than expected) or underperformed (perhaps by hitting into a double play rather than just a fielder’s choice) this expectation.† Sum up a player’s total and see what happens.
(If there’s a StatSpeak drinking game… and there should be… two shots should be required every time I do an intra-class correlation.† Pour yourself a double.)† Over the four years in the dataset, among those batters with at least 25 at-bats in the season under consideration, there was an ICC of .16 for the total sum of WPA over expectation in making these outs.† I divided by number of plate appearances and got an ICC of .14.
To put that in some perspective, I did a similar examination of clutch hitting and found an ICC of .074.† An intra-class correlation (a measure of year-to-year consistency over multiple years for the uninitiated)†of .16 is about 5 times as†strong (using r-squared), but that’s not saying much.† That’s around the range of year-to-year consistency of BABIP for pitchers.† So, professional hitting†seems kinda like clutch hitting.† There are certainly clutch hits, in the same way that there are professional hits.† There are guys who in one year might have several professional hits to their names.† It’s just that year-to-year, it’s not consistent, which we would expect if it was an inherent skill.† “Professional hitter” is a nice thing that people say about average hitters whom they like for some reason.† It’s based mostly on a few isolated incidents that someone remembered, but something that doesn’t shake out when you look at all the data.
But, for what it’s worth, in 2006, the league leaders in context neutral wins above expectation on outs hit in play per relevant plate appearance†(or, if you prefer it Baseball Prospectus style, CNWAEOHIP/RPA)… just call it the professional hitting index, were:

  1. Jody Gathright – who actually†fell just short of a†full win above expectation in this stat
  2. Jeremy Hermedia
  3. Dave Ross
  4. So Taguchi
  5. Craig Wilson

The most un-professional hitters were

  1. Chris Duncan
  2. Tim Salmon
  3. Jason Kubel
  4. Gary Sheffield
  5. Willy Aybar

UPDATE: Tango Tiger requested that I put up the entire list.††The 2006 list is†available here in Excel format.† Players are listed by their Retrosheet ID,†and they’re sorted by CNWAEOHIP/RPA.† Enjoy.† (The reason it’s the 2006 list and not the 2007 list is that the 2007 Retrosheet event file is still being compiled.† When that comes out, I’ll check out who did what in 2007 using some of my home-cooked stats.)

10 Responses to I thought we were all professionals here

  1. dan says:

    “But, for what itís worth, in 2006, the league leaders in context neutral wins above expectation on outs hit in play per relevant plate appearance (or, if you prefer it Baseball Prospectus style, CNWAEOHIP/RPA)Ö just call it the professional hitting index, were:”
    I just laughed out loud while reading that

  2. MGL says:

    Pizza, before anyone gets all giddy about there being SOME skill at moving runners over, don’t you want to control for handedness, K rate, handedness, and perhaps GB/FB ratio to see if there is any “productive out” skill AFTER accounting for these things?
    For example, if the “skill” is completely (or mostly) a result of a player’s K rate (IOW, players who K a lot have a low index and players who don’t have a high index, which they obviously do) then I would be quite reticent to call that a “skill” with respect to making productive outs. That is semantic though. However, if someone says, “So-and-so is good at moving runners over,” I would want them to know, “Well, sure, but that is just because he hardly ever strikes out.”
    I used to include “moving runners over” in my Superlwts numbers, but I found that a rigorous batting lwts formual already takes care of that, by using different out rates for K, fly ball outs, and ground out rates by handedness (a ground out by a left-hander is worth more because of moving runners up). IOW, I don’t think there is ANY “productive out” skill to speak of, once you account for the above variables.

  3. Pizza Cutter says:

    As far as strikeouts go, I eliminated them from consideration. The “out” had to be something that was hit into play. Now, could it be that guys who make more contact (and strike out less) are more likely to be the ones who get the hit and run sign, thus improving their chances of moving someone over? I could see that.
    Let me tap in a few more numbers.

  4. BJ says:

    Not sure if this is accounted for already. but wouldn’t it also be productivefor a batter to have a longer at bat and take more pitches in order to tax the pitcher as opposed to hitting the first pitsh and getting out? I am not claiming it would be better than the average outcome of an at bat, just that it is better than simply getting out. Also MGL, why isn’t hardly ever striking out an attribute, especially if the outs produced are not worse than a stirkeout (I guess it is possible if it led to a lot of double plays.)

  5. Matt Souders says:

    You missed the point. The logic train ran right by you and you were staring at the clouds and admiring the pretty birdies.
    People call Willie Bloomquist and such professional hitters because they don’t strike out too often with people on base. And you threw out all the strikeouts. That’s what we call a SELECTION BIAS in statistical vernacular. :) But I’m sure you knew that.

  6. Pizza Cutter says:

    But they’re such pretty birdies!
    The thing about strikeouts is that they would be irrelevant to what I’m trying to show. A strikeout doesn’t have much of a chance to advance the runners. A ball in play does. I’m guessing (and only guessing) that strikeout rate is roughly the same with or without runners on base. In this case, I was looking more for “productive outs” than a full-spectrum look at “professional hitting.”
    I’d agree that the ability to not strike out/contact rate is often used in discussions of professional hitting as well. But that’s been done before.

  7. Anonymous says:

    [...] outs a few years ago? Well, here’s the same thing, but done with a win-expectancy framework: context neutral wins above expectation on outs hit in play per relevant plate appearance. Who were the best players at creating runs with their outs in 2007? Jody Gathright, Jeremy [...]

  8. skyking162 says:

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  9. [...] outs a few years ago? Well, here’s the same thing, but done with a win-expectancy framework: context neutral wins above expectation on outs hit in play per relevant plate appearance. Who were the best players at creating runs with their outs in 2007? Jody Gathright, Jeremy [...]

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