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Angels Win via Plunk-Off April 12, 2014

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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Let’s just get this out in the open. The Angels won last night when Jeurys Familia hit Hank Conger with a pitch, forcing DH Raul Ibanez in. It’s a shame, since it unfairly reflects on Jeurys – the bases were loaded because he allowed Ibanez to single and followed up with a wild pitch, sure, but Familia tossed a groundout that was unfortunately productive when David Freese moved Ibanez over to third. The two walks that followed were Terry Collins managing from the Joe Maddon book, intentionally loading the bases to keep a double play available with a force at any base. (I’m surprised he didn’t bust out a five-man infield to guard against grounders.) It was also Familia’s longest career relief outing and his longest outing in the majors since he started on October 1, 2012, and went four innings.

The Mets have benefited from the occasional plunk-off in the past; current Dodgers utilityman Justin Turner led the Mets in HBP in 2011 with ten savage beanings, including a walk-off plunk from Oakland’s Brad Zeigler on June 22.

There were some odd moves made in the dugout. Kyle Farnsworth, who Collins is treating as a reliable veteran, pitched only a third of an inning. Jose Valverde was of course left in the bullpen in order to keep him fresh him for a save situation, although the utility of that going into extra innings is debatable. Valverde and Farnsworth had each pitched a full inning the previous night in Atlanta. Long man Carlos Torres was used early in the game. That meant that the only arms left in the bullpen were Familia and John Lannan, who last pitched to a single batter on April 9th, before Collins would have to go to a position player or starter. It’s up in the air whether Collins made the right decision, but it’s questionable to me why Terry is using Lannan in a left-handed-specialist role; Lannan’s splits are worse against lefties than righties. Lannan is a career starter and should be treated as a long-relief man. To my mind, Familia hasn’t shown he’s ready for long outings, because he’s still a young pitcher, and Lannan would have been a better choice to start the eleventh inning.


Take Your Base July 7, 2011

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball, Economics.
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As usual, Kevin Youkilis is getting hit at an alarming rate this year. A quick check of his stats from Baseball Reference shows that from 2004 to 2010, he got hit at about a 2% clip and was intentionally walked about .5% of the time. This year, he’s been hit nine times in 340 plate appearances, for about 2.6% of plate appearances ending in the phrase “Take your base.” He’s only been intentionally walked once, which isn’t out of line from his three IBBs last year. In contrast, he was “only” hit ten times last year, so he’s one away from eclipsing that mark and six away from tying his record 15 times hit (in 2007). Interestingly, Kevin has never been hit in the postseason.

It would be oversimplistic to say that guys who get hit a lot get hit because they’re jerks. There’s a plausible argument that Youkilis’ unorthodox batting stance is responsible for his high rate, and some guys just get hit more often. Crashburn Alley makes the point that getting hit is a legitimate skill, and Plunk Everyone has a truly dizzying array of information about players getting hit. My question, though, is whether it could be the case that Youkilis is hit less often in the postseason because pitchers are more careful.

In 2007, 2008, and 2009, Youkilis made a total of 123 postseason plate appearances. During that time, he was never hit, nor was he intentionally walked. His OBP was .376, compared with a .397 regular-season OBP over those years. It’s possible that he was simply slumping and not seen as a threat.

It’s also possible that Youk’s failure to get hit at a respectable 2% rate (we’d have expected about 2 1/2 plunks) was simply chance. As a quick check, assume that his regular season stats during 2007, 2008, and 2009 represent “true” information, and that the 123 plate appearances he made in the postseasons were all random draws from the same distribution. Since he was hit 43 times in 1834 plate appearances across 2007-09, his true rate would be 2.3% (closer to 2.34, but I rounded down – note that this cuts Youk a little extra slack). Then, 95% of 123-appearance distributions should have hit-by-pitch rates that fall within the window

.023 \pm 2*se

where se is the standard error, calculated as

\sqrt{\frac{p(1-p)}{n-1}} = \sqrt{\frac{.023(.977)}{122}} \approx .0135

Thus, 95 out of 100 123-appearance runs should fall within the window

(.023 - 2*.0135, .023 + 2*.0135) = (-.004, .05)

Obviously, since there can’t be a negative number of hit batsmen, zero is included in that interval. Youkilis isn’t necessarily being pitched around more effectively in the postseason – he’s just unlucky enough not to get plunked.

Hit Batsman Roundup, 2010 December 26, 2010

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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There’s very little more subtle and involved than the quiet elegance of a batter getting beaned. In fact, that particular strategy was invoked 1549 times in 2010, with 419 batters getting plunked at least one.

The absolute leader this season was not Kevin Youkilis or Brett Carroll but Rickie Weeks, who led with 25 HBP in 754 plate appearances. Put another way, Weeks got hit in 3.32% of his plate appearances.  That’s almost once every 30 plate appearances, or nearly four times the MLB-wide rate of 0.83% of the time. (Incidentally, that’s total HBP divided by total plate appearances. The more skewed mean percentage is 0.58%.) What leads to such a high number of plunkings?

I would assume that a few things would go into the decision to hit a batter intentionally:

  • Pitchers are less likely to be hit by other pitchers.
  • If a hitter is likely to get on base anyway, he’s more likely to be hit – you don’t lose anything by putting him on base, and you control the damage by limiting him to one base.
  • If a batter is likely to hit for extra bases, he’s more likely to be hit.
  • If a batter is likely to steal a base, he’s less likely to be hit, but there is an offsetting effect for caught stealing.
  • American League batters are more likely to be hit because of the moral hazard effect of pitchers not having to bat.

With that in mind, I set up a regression in R using every player who had at least one plate appearance in 2010. I added binary variables for Pitcher (1 if the player’s primary position is pitcher, 0 otherwise) and Lg (1 if the player played the entire season in the American League, 0 otherwise), then regressed HBP/PA on Pitcher, Lg, BB, HR, OBP, SLG, SB, and CS. The results were somewhat surprising:

lm(formula = hbppa ~ Pitcher + Lg + BB + HR + OBP + SLG + SB + 
       Min         1Q     Median         3Q        Max 
-0.0154027 -0.0059081 -0.0018096  0.0001845  0.1397065 
              Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)    
(Intercept)  6.847e-03  9.815e-04   6.975 5.77e-12 ***
Pitcher     -5.399e-03  9.136e-04  -5.909 4.81e-09 ***
Lg          -1.614e-03  7.054e-04  -2.289   0.0223 *  
BB          -1.412e-05  3.257e-05  -0.434   0.6647    
HR           1.122e-04  7.956e-05   1.411   0.1587    
OBP          8.570e-03  3.477e-03   2.465   0.0139 *  
SLG         -3.451e-03  2.468e-03  -1.398   0.1624    
SB          -6.749e-05  8.693e-05  -0.776   0.4377    
CS           1.770e-04  2.646e-04   0.669   0.5036    
Signif. codes:  0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05 ‘.’ 0.1 ‘ ’ 1 
Residual standard error: 0.01042 on 935 degrees of freedom
Multiple R-squared: 0.08839,    Adjusted R-squared: 0.08059 
F-statistic: 11.33 on 8 and 935 DF,  p-value: 2.07e-15

Created by Pretty R at inside-R.org

That’s right – only Pitcher, Lg, HR, and SLG are even marginally significant (80% level). BB, SB, and CS aren’t even close. Why not?

Well, for one, the number of stolen bases and times caught stealing are relatively small no matter what. There probably isn’t enough data. For another, there simply probably isn’t as much intent to hit batters as we’d like to pretend.

Second, American Leaguers are less likely to be hit. This baffles me a little bit.

Also, keep in mind that this model shouldn’t be expected to, and cannot, explain all or even most of the variation in hit batsman. The R-squared is about .09, meaning that it explains about 9% of the variation. It ignores probably the most important factor, physics, entirely. (That is, the model doesn’t have any way to account for accidental plunkings.) As a side note, other regressions show there might be an effect for plate appearances, meaning you’re more likely to get hit by chance alone if you take enough pitches.

Finally, there are some guys who manage to do the opposite of Weeks’ feat. Houston outfielder Hunter Pence went 156 games and 658 plate appearances without getting plunked at all. Honorable mentions go to Raul Ibanez, Scott Podsednik, Victor Martinez, and Omar Infante, all of whom went over 500 plate appearances without a beaning. Now THAT’S plate discipline.

Mariano’s Walk-Off Beanball September 12, 2010

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Mariano Rivera did something strange tonight: He plunked in the winning run. He hit Jeff Francoeur of the Texas Rangers to force in Nelson Cruz for the winning run in extra innings. It was his fourth hit batsman of the year and only his third loss.

A walk-off beaning requires an extraordinary set of circumstances. First of all, like all walk-off plays, it requires the home team to be at bat in the bottom of the inning. In this case, it was in extra innings rather than the bottom of the 9th. It additionally requires a tied game in the bottom of said inning. Finally, it requires the bases to be loaded when the plunking occurs.

This is all magnified by the face that Rivera does not ordinarily load the bases. Assuming his 2010 OBP against (.214) held, the probability the bases being loaded with two outs or fewer is:

p(bases loaded, 0 outs) + p(bases loaded, 1 out) + p(bases  loaded, 2 outs) = (.214^3) + (.214^3 \times .786) + (.214^3 \times  .706^2) = .0098 + .0077 + .0061 = .0236

Then, if that situation occurs, we still have to deal with the unlikely event of Mariano hitting a player with a pitch. Before this evening, Mo had hit three batters in 196 plate appearances, for a rate of about .0153. Thus, the probability of Mariano Rivera hitting a batter with a pitch after having loaded the bases is

.0236 \times .0153 \approx .0004

That means that in 10,000 innings, we would expect that to occur about 4 times, assuming that Mariano wasn’t removed after having walked the bases (which would obviously introduce some bias).

Oddly, the last walk-off hit by pitch also involved the Yankees, albeit on the other side, way back on July 19 of 2008. That night, the A’s’ Lenny DiNardo hit Jose Molina with a pitch to force in Derek Jeter, again in extra innings. David Robertson grabbed the win that night.