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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.

How often should Youk take his base? June 30, 2010

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball, Economics.
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Kevin Youkilis is sometimes called “The Greek God of Walks.” I prefer to think of him as “The Greek God of Take Your Base,” since he seems to get hit by pitches at an alarming rate. In fact, this year, he’s been hit 7 times in 313 plate appearances. (Rickie Weeks, however, is leading the pack with 13 in 362 plate appearances. We’ll look at him, too.) There are three explanations for this:

  1. There’s something about Youk’s batting or his hitting stance that causes him to be hit. This is my preferred explanation. Youkilis has an unusual batting grip that thrusts his lead elbow over the plate, and as he swings, he lunges forward, which exposes him to being plunked more often.
  2. Youkilis is such a hitting machine that the gets hit often in order to keep him from swinging for the fences. This doesn’t hold water, to me. A pitcher could just as easily put him on base safely with an intentional walk, so unless there’s some other incentive to hit him, there’s no reason to risk ejection by throwing at Youkilis. This leads directly to…
  3. Youk is a jerk. This is pretty self-explanatory, and is probably a factor.

First of all, we need to figure out whether it’s likely that Kevin is being hit by chance. To figure that out, we need to make some assumptions about hit batsmen and evaluate them using the binomial distribution. I’m also excited to point out that Youk has been overtaken as the Greek God of Take Your Base by someone new: Brett Carroll. (more…)