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Angels Win via Plunk-Off April 12, 2014

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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

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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.

Justin Turner Takes One For The Team June 23, 2011

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The Mets’ Justin Turner quite literally took one for the team last night when he wasn’t trying to get hit, but, oops, managed to get plunked in the bottom of the 13th inning with the bases loaded. Brad Ziegler was the losing pitcher for Oakland. It was the first game-ending hit by pitch since last year, when Mariano Rivera nailed Jeff Francoeur for the loss in a September game.

In 185 plate appearances this year, Turner has been hit three times. The other two were both by Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton, eleven days apart; Morton is not especially known for hitting batters, since he, too, has only been involved in three hit batsmen this year. (The third plunking was Dane Sardinha.) It was the Mets’ only go-ahead HBP this year, and the only one of this year’s six go-ahead hit batsmen to occur in extra innings.

Turner has a way about him. He’s hit ten go-ahead RBIs this year (and yes, a hit by pitch that forces in a run is an RBI), which accounts for a little over ten percent of the Mets’ 95 go-ahead RBIs. Only Carlos Beltran, with 13, has more. It’s also the Mets’ only game-ending RBI this year. I guess Turner will take what he can get.

Hit Batsman Roundup, 2010 December 26, 2010

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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:

Call:
lm(formula = hbppa ~ Pitcher + Lg + BB + HR + OBP + SLG + SB + 
    CS)
 
Residuals:
       Min         1Q     Median         3Q        Max 
-0.0154027 -0.0059081 -0.0018096  0.0001845  0.1397065 
 
Coefficients:
              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.

Pitchers Hit This Year (or, Two Guys Named Buchholz) December 23, 2010

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Okay, I admit it. This post was originally conceived as a way to talk about the supremely weird line put up by Gustavo Chacin, who in his only plate appearance for Houston hit a home run to leave him with the maximum season OPS of 5.0. Unfortunately, Raphy at Baseball Reference beat me to it. Instead, I noticed while I was browsing the NL’s home run log to prepare to run some diagnostics on it that Kenley Jansen had two plate appearances comprising one hit and one walk. (Seriously, is there anything this kid can’t do?)

In Kenley’s case, that’s not entirely surprising, since he was a catcher until this season. His numbers weren’t great, but he was competent. What surprised me was that 75 pitchers since 2000 have finished the season with a perfect batting average. 9 were from this year, including Clay Buchholz and his distant cousing Taylor Buchholz. Evan Meek and Bruce Chen matched Jansen’s two plate appearances without an out. None of the perfect batting average crowd had an extra-base hit except for Chacin.

Since 2000, the most plate appearances by a pitcher to keep the perfect batting average was 4 by Manny Aybar in 2000.

At the other end of the spectrum, this year only three pitchers managed a perfect 1.000 on-base percentage without getting any hits at all. George Sherrill and Matt Reynolds both walked in their only plate appearances; Jack Taschner went them one better by recording a sacrifice hit in a second plate appearance.

Finally, to round things out, this year saw Joe Blanton and Heureusement, ici, c’est le Blog‘s favorite pitcher, Yovani Gallardo, each get hit by two pitches. Gallardo had clearly angered other pitchers by being so much more awesome than they were.

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.

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

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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…)

Welcome to the Majors, Jay June 22, 2010

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Jay Sborz had a rough debut in relief of Justin Verlander during tonight’s Tigers at Mets game when there was a rain delay in the top of the 3rd. He faced seven batters in two-thirds of an inning, plunking the first two – Rod Barajas and Jeff Francoeur – and giving up hits to the last three. As Sborz, who was obviously struggling with nerves, tried to pitch his way out of the inning, Mets commentator Gary Cohen was mocking him mercilessly. “That’s got to be some kind of record,” for one.

Though Gary said it, that pinged my “Stuff Keith Hernandez Says” meter, and I trotted off to Baseball-Reference.com to look it up. Since 1973, six other pitchers who debuted in relief have two hit batsman. Were any of them as bad as Sborz?

We don’t have to go back too far to find someone who was. In 2002, Justin Miller of the Blue Jays made his debut against the Devil Rays and hit Chris Gomez, then Jason Tyner. Miller deserves special recognition – after that beautiful start, he held on to pitch 2 2/3 and got the win!

Honorable mention goes to Mitch Stetter of the Brewers. In a 2007 game against the Pirates, Stetter debuted in the last inning of a 12-2 blowout. He was on the winning side, though it ended up 12-3. Stetter hit Jack Wilson. He threw a wild pitch in the process of walking Nyjer Morgan, then iced the cake by plunking Nate McLouth. That was followed up with a groundout that scored Wilson and a merciful game-ending double play.

Does the DH Rule Cause Batters to be Hit? June 2, 2010

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In an earlier post, I crunched some numbers on the Designated Hitter rule and came to the conclusion that the DH adds about .3 extra trips to first base per game after accounting for trend. I’m going to play around with another stat that a lot of people seem to think should be affected indirectly by the DH rule.

The Conventional Wisdom™ is that the DH should increase hit batsman. The argument is that pitchers don’t bear the costs of hitting a batter with a pitch because they don’t bat, so they’ll be less careful to avoid hitting a batter or more likely to plunk a batter out of malice. Do the numbers bear that out?

(more…)