MASTER NOTES: Other seasons

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
- Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Shakespeare was right about this. And maybe about baseball. After all, that which we call “a season” by any other six-month period would still be 162 games.

When April ended, I gathered performance and skills data for all the players from May 1st of last season through April 30th of this season. That’s still 183 days of regular-season baseball, but those days just happened to cross the arbitrary boundary between 2015 and 2016.

Once I had the data, I looked through for interesting findings—and even invented a new metric for batters in the process.

To make the study, Batters needed 200 plate appearances (PA) in the period, and 349 batters qualified. Only the 205 starting pitchers with 10 starts qualified for the pitcher side, which is next week’s topic.

I found nine items I thought were interesting enough to report to you. Since there were nine of them, I was tempted to call them “innings,” but was persuaded that was too cute by half. So instead, let’s call the findings “findings.”

Finding #1: Ultra-high reliability: Corner infielders.

Out of the 349 qualifying batters, 75 played at least 150 games, and the distribution was 22 CI, 21 MI, 30 OF and couple of DHs. No catchers.

But if we look at just the top of the list, 160 or more games, there are only 22 batters. And 16 of those 22 were CIs (10 1Bs, six 3Bs). Five were OFs, including the seemingly indestructible Mike Trout, and just one—Elvis Andrus—was a MI.

It might seem that this info only matters before draft, and indeed it is worth remembering, but reliability also matters in-season and surely worth factoring into trade calibration, when GP are the currency and the more recent record seems more useful than previous full seasons.

Finding #2: 40-HR guys are hard to find.

No surprise here. Just eight batters had 40 or more taters: Chris Davis of the O’s and Nolan Arenado of the Rockies led the way with 49 each, then Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Carlos Gonzalez, Mike Trout and Jose Bautista. If you’re keeping score at home, you’ll know that was only seven names. The eighth came as something of a surprise: Albert Pujols is around 64 years old, has achy feet and a bum knee. But he also had 160 GP since last May 1st, and 43 swats. (Weirdly, Pujols also has the second-lowest Hit Rate in the game over the period; see below.)

Finding #3: 30-SB guys are even harder to find than 40-HR guys.

Only seven batters have 30 or more bags since last May 1st, and only six if you count the now-departed Dee Gordon. And only 19 bag larcenists managed totals in the 20s. More than one-third of all qualifying batters had a measly one SB—or none at all.

Finding #4: There are a few surprises in the (newly invented) category of CRAP.

As a kind of omnibus or overall check, I summed up each batter’s counting stats—HR, RBI, Runs and SB—and added hits as a proxy for BA. The result is a new metric I had planned to call Category Roto Aggregate Production, but the acronym was regrettable, so I added the word “Scoring” at the start and made it SCRAP.

An average SCRAP score for batters at or over 200 PA is just under 300. The SCRAP elite—the top 10% of all qualifying batters—are pretty consistently at or above 370 over the last few years. The poorest hitters peak out at 100 SCRAP points, and some are as low as 50.

The elite list looks like the top two or three rounds of most drafts, with names like Donaldson, Arenado, Harper and Goldschmidt.

There were a few modest surprises. Yoenis Cespedes was fifth on the list, ahead of Goldschmidt and well ahead of Trout (14th). Eric Hosmer was just outside the top 20, and Adam Eaton’s 20 SB helped him past leadfooted sluggers like Robinson Cano, Prince Fielder, Nelson Cruz and David Ortiz.

Excluding hits from the calculation changes six names, all at the low end of the list. Out go Ian Kinsler, Eaton, Adrian Beltre, Xander Bogaerts (the only 200-hit batter), Dee Gordon and Matt Duffy; in come Brian Dozier, Matt Carpenter, Curtis Granderson, Lorenzo Cain, Kyle Seager and Dexter Fowler.

If you’re curious about the bottom 10 RoSCaP batters, they were whom you might expect. Andrelton Simmons, Marcell Ozuna, J.J. Hardy, Cesar Hernandez, Billy Butler, Jace Peterson, Chris Owings and Anthony Gose were exceptionally unproductive, whether we count hits or not.

Finding #5: Surprise! Billy Butler is not the leader in GIDP.

Though the lumbering and GB-prone Butler has long been the poster boy for GIDP, his 22 twin-killings over the last season’s worth of action barely made the Top-10, tying for ninth on the list with two catchers, Russell Martin and A.J. Pierzynski, and a third catcher miscast as a first baseman, Joe Mauer. The GIDP leader is Twins 3B Trevor Plouffe, with 28. Two surprising names on this list: line-drive hitter Cano and fleetfooted OF Adam Jones. That’s what hitting hot grounders will do for you sometimes.

Among batters with 500+ PAs, four—Granderson, Didi Gregorius, Ben Revere and Delino DeShields—grounded into three or fewer double plays.

Finding #6: Hitters with more walks than strikeouts are a vanishing breed.

Back in 2000, 51 qualifying hitters had more walks than whiffs. The aggregate Eye (bb/K) Ratio was 0.65, and only four hitters had 100+ more strikeouts than walks.

Zip ahead to 2010, those figures were 13 with more passes than punchouts, 0.50 Eye, and eight hitters with 100+ more Ks than walks.

In this last calendar season, we’re down to just eight hitters with more walks than Ks: Ben Zobrist, Jose Bautista, Denard Span, Bryce Harper, Michael Brantley, Buster Posey, Nori Aoki and Joey Votto. Aggregate Eye Ratio was down to 0.40, and 23 hitters (!) had at least 100 more Ks than walks.

Finding #7: On a related matter, bigtime walk artists are vanishingly rare.

We sometimes rely too much on walk rates as a marker of useful plate discipline for BA purposes. BHQ research has shown walk rates are actually fairly useful for projecting power, but not so much for BA.

Oddly, then, given the focus on power hitting, only 11 hitters (3% of all qualifiers) had walk rates at or over 15%, led by Joey Votto at 20%. The others are Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Bautista, Miguel Sano, Yasmani Grandal, Carlos Santana, Joc Pederson, Andrew McCutchen, David Wright and A.J. Ellis. Of this group, only Bautista also had a ct% over 80%, and Sano was a game-worst 57% (!) on the ct% list.

Meanwhile, 284 batters (81%) were at or under a 10% walk rate, including 66 (18%) at or under 5%. And KC OF Paulo Orlando is in a category all his own: He’s the only batter who has not taken a single walk in the last calendar season.

Finding #8: 21 hitters had singles rates over 80%.

It’s useful for a batter to amass base hits, but if a lot of them are singles, his RBI and Runs potential is limited. Over this last calendar season, 21 hitters had singles rates (Singles/Hits) of 80% or more. Ichiro Suzuki was atop the list at 87%, closely trailed by Jose Iglesias (86%) and Michael Bourn (85%). The awful Alcides Escobar is on the list, with a bunch of MIs and second catchers. If there’s a surprise here, it is that Howie Kendrick, who has a bit of a rep as a gap doubles guy, scored an 82%.

At the bottom of this list, 15 hitters had singles rates of 50% or lower, led by Chris Carter at just 39%. The interesting name on this list is Jackie Bradley Jr., who had just 77 hits (in 344 PA), but 45 of them were for extra bases. The kid is figuring it out, I’m tellin’ ya.

Finding #9: Some names on the extremes of the Hit Rate list will surprise you.

Hit Rate (H%) is the BHQ version of BABIP, just expressed in percentage terms instead of a decimal like a Batting Average. The elite (top 10%) batters were at or above 35%, and most of them will again come as no surprise. We expect to see such smokers as Miguel Sano, Paul Goldschmidt, Kris Bryant, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, George Springer, Nelson Cruz and Starling Marte. We also might expect groundball-legs guys like Christian Yelich, David Peralta, Dee Gordon, Adam Eaton, and Ben Revere.

What you might not expect to see are such names as Joey Butler, Stephen Piscotty, Kelby Tomlinson, Francisco Cervelli, Blake Swihart, Gregor Blanco and Jung-ho Kang.

The bottom 10% of the list comprises the usual suspects, especially catchers like Chris Iannetta, Caleb Joseph, Carlos Ruiz, Dioner Navarro, Mike Zunino, Brian McCann, and Rene Rivera.

But I was surprised to see the low end also including Jayson Werth, Brian Dozier, Jose Bautista, and the aforementioned Albert Pujols, whose 21% H% is less than a point ahead of banjo batter Stephen Drew. Depending on how you feel about adding an 88-year-old player, this might be a buy-low opportunity.

* * *

Caveat: Many of these measures stabilize only after a minimum number of AB, PA or balls-in-play. Batter H%, for example, stabilizes only after 800 PA, or a season plus 20% for full-time batters, and before that is more subject to small-sample variability. On the other end of that spectrum, HR/FB rate stabilizes at just 50 flyballs. So be careful about imputing too much into all of this, especially for younger players who lack sufficient track records.

Next week: pitchers.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.