Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pitchers' hitting-Can you hit better than a utility guy?

The previous post discussed my view that baseball should keep the DH.

In looking up the batting stats of two pitchers who are well-known as guys who can swing the stick, I noticed that Mike Hampton and Dontrelle Willis have career OPS+ of 67. So I wondered-how do even the best-hitting pitchers hit compared with notoriously weak-hitting position players?

Let's use the Mendoza Line man himself, Mario Mendoza, as our baseline, and another couple notorious all-glove, no-hit types, then some renowned good-hitting pitchers. I'll list the player or pitcher, his career OPS+, and other notable hitting stats for that guy.

M. Mendoza: 41 OPS+; 4 HR in nine seasons.

B. Wine:  55 OPS+; he hit 30 HR in his 12 year career, which amazes me.

M. Belanger: 68 OPS+; Mark had one (exactly) 100 OPS+ season, 1976, whn he hit .270 with 51 BB. He wasn't a utility guy, of course, but the best SS of his generation.

To the pitchers:

I've already mentioned Willis and Hampton, who had career OPS+ of 67.

D. Drysdale: 45 OPS+; he did hit .300, with 7 HR and 19 RBI in 1965. He also had 7 HR in 66 AB in 1958.

R. Rhoden:  59 OPS+; he had several impressive hitting years, including 1984, when he hit .333 in 84 AB. The Pirates always seemed to have a lot of pitchers who could hit in that period.

S. Carlton:  33 OPS+; surprisingly low, but then again, Lefty never put any more effort into hitting or baserunning than absolutely necessary. He saved his energy for the mound. He did hit a memorable playoff HR against the Dodgers in 1978.

D. Newcombe:  85 OPS+; Newk is probably the first guy that comes to mind when you think of pitchers who can rip, and he lives up to his rep. Unlike some other pitchers who can handle the bat, he was mostly a singles hitter, except for 1955 (that magical year for the Dodgers), when he hit seven HR. Newk is still alive, one of the last of The Boys of Summer still with us-Duke Snider, Don Zimmer, and Sandy Koufax (who did make 12 appearances with the '55 club) among the few others. And Vin Scully, of course!

This is just a quicky look at the subject, but it is interesting to note that even someone like Don Newcombe was a below-average hitter, compared with all batters. Most teams are like the '09 Phillies, where most of the pitchers actually have negative OPS+'s. Who wants to watch that?

Keep the DH!

I don't think that the designated hitter is in any danger of being eliminated, as much antipathy as it (still) gets. But I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts on my changed views on the subject.

First of all, if the DH was good enough for Philadelphia baseball legend Connie Mack, it's good enough for me.

Second, as the above-referenced piece noted, with the consolidation of the umpiring crews and the elimination of the league offices, the DH is one of the few remaining differences between the leagues. This is especially true now that turf fields are on the way out-the NL, a few decades back, had the bulk of turf parks. Now, with Target Field, the new grass park in Minnesota, there are only two "non-grass" parks left-and they're both in the AL (Toronto and Tampa Bay).

I'm very much of the opinion that differences between the leagues that fan can talk about-and argue about-are good for the game. Now, it's true that sometimes the distinctions people assume are there, aren't-the AL may have the reputation as the "sluggers' league", but in 2009 the NL actually had fewer stolen bases than the AL-(1541-1429)-and that's with two more teams in the NL. Still, there are real differences between the circuits, otherwise the AL wouldn't be dominating interleague play, as it has in the last few years.

Putting all of that aside, I like the idea that AL pitchers have to face lineups with nine real hitters. It's a cliche', but nevertheless it's true, for me at least-watching a typically inept pitcher hit isn't much fun. Sure, I do enjoy those who can-Dontrelle Willis, say, or Mike Hampton.  But pitching is so demanding that few pitchers can maintain the hitting skills they likely had in high school and even college ball.

And the idea that there is "more strategy in the NL" is mostly untrue. Today, pitchers are pulled due to pitch counts (for the most part, a good idea, at least for younger pitchers, and for those with injury histories, which is pretty much everybody) or to get a setup man or closer into the game. It isn't due to needing to hit for the pitchers, for the most part. Note that each league had exactly 76 CG last year. And it's not as if the double-switch, when needed, should tax a capable manager's brain, though Charlie (I used to need a freakin') Manuel did struggle with it for a while.

All in all, I like the higher scoring game we see today. There is so much talent today (due to the money baseball can offer prospects who would otherwise play other sports professionally) that there is a nice balance of pitching, hitting, and fielding. We  haven't reached the excesses of scoring seen in the 30's, but happily we're a long way from the neo-deadball style of the late Sixties.

And a return to that level of scoring would be disastrous for the game's popularity.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Yet another lazy reporter

Here's a story about by Adam Rubin in The New York Daily News about the Mets deciding to lower their CF wall from 16 feet to eight to increase homers (no other walls or dimensions will be changed, apparently.) The Mets only hit 95 HR io 2009, nearly a deadball-era (or Whitey Herzog with the Cardinals in the 80's) sort of total.

Rubin says:

...David Wright may not be as inclined to frustratingly fling his Great Gazoo helmet, or whatever protective wear he uses, during the upcoming season.

It really wouldn't have taken much research for Rubin to have seen that Wright's power outage in '09 (he hit only ten, after averaging 29 in the previous four years) had nothing to do with Citi Field. He hit five at home, five on the road. Rubin need only have gone to Baseball-Reference for this info. Lordy.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Batting and pitching leaders in the 2000's

After playing around with David Pinto's Day by Day Database a bit, here's a look at the 2000's leaders (the aughts?) in a  few categories. Of course, guys who came up early in the decade or were active even before 2000, have an edge here.

Hits-Ichiro (2030); Jeter (1940); Tejada (1860); Helton (1756); Vlad (1751).

HR-A Rod (435);  Thome (368); Pujols (366); Manny (348); Delgado (324).

BA (min. 2000 PA)-Pujols (.334); Ichiro (.333); Helton (.331);  Mauer (.327); Vlad (.323).

And for pitchers:

Wins-Pettite (148); Unit (143); Moyer (140); Hallday (139); Oswalt (137).

Innings-L. Hernandez-(2201  1/3);  Vasquez ( 2163); Buerhle (2061); Zito (1999); Moyer (1980 1/3).

I had no idea Javier Vasquez would be on this list, though I'd known he was an innings eater. He might be a real coup for the Yankees as their fifth starter, as most teams really struggle to find adequate guys at 4 and 5-and some with 1,2, and three.

There's not much talk about Carlos Delgado's HOF chances, but you have to say his overall numbers impress (473 HR, 138 OPS+). He'd have to have a shot, you'd think, though he's certainly been under the radar. His problem will be that he's almost never led the league in anything-doubles once, RBI once, TB once, OPS+ once-and, possibly for this reason, has only two All Star selections. I'd vote for him, myself.