Shane Victorino’s Ridiculous Season

Notice anything interesting about the line graph above? It’s Shane Victorino‘s weighted on-base average (wOBA) from 2006 through 2011. That sharp spike from 2010-11 marks some significant offensive improvement for the switch-hitter. His .405 wOBA ranks tenth among all qualified hitters in Major League Baseball, just behind Joey Votto in ninth place. Along with his outstanding offense, Victorino has played stellar defense (+17.3 UZR/150; small sample size caveat) and been a threat on the bases (3.4 base running runs also ranks tenth in all of MLB). Overall, he has been worth 5.4 Wins Above Replacement per FanGraphs (fWAR), tied with Matt Holliday for seventh-best in baseball.

The big change has been his production from the right side against left-handed pitchers. Victorino has always been better against lefties, but not quite this good. Overall, Victorino has a .382 wOBA against lefties over his career, but this year, it is an eye-popping .517. By comparison, Jose Bautista — a favorite to win the American League Most Valuable Player award — has a .505 wOBA against southpaws.

Needless to say, Victorino is hitting for significantly more power against lefties (.364 ISO in 2011; .211 career), but he is also walking significantly more (14% 2011; 8% career) and striking out slightly less (10% in 2011; 11% career). The improved plate discipline has allowed him to significantly alter the quality of contact he makes when he swings the bat. This year, he is hitting fly balls 59% of the time compared to his career average 44% and down from 41% last year. More fly balls means more home runs, but Shane is even converting much more on that front as well: 17.5% of fly balls have gone beyond the outfield fence this year, way up from his 10% career average and his 10% showing last year. All of this against left-handed pitching. Victorino’s splits against right-handed pitching have barely changed.

At first glance, it appears Victorino is getting lucky. His .325 BABIP is above his career average .303, and breaking it down by batted ball type shows some more disparity:

  • Ground balls: .266 BABIP in 2011; .269 career
  • Fly balls: .159 BABIP in 2011; .106 career
  • Line drives: .854 in 2011; .753 career

While he has had a lot of success on line drives, his line drive rate against lefties (16%) is at a career low and is among the lowest in baseball (20th-lowest, in fact). He has hit only 49 line drives total, so based on his career average, we would expect 37 hits as opposed to 42. We can chalk this up to a combination of randomness and some legitimate skill, as we have seen evidence that Victorino is making much better contact.

The fly balls follow a similar path. He has hit 117 fly balls, so based on his career average BABIP on fly balls, we would expect 12 hits rather than 17 (subtracting out his 10 home runs). And, obviously, there isn’t any difference at all with the ground balls. So, Victorino may have ten extra hits than expected, which would account for about 16 points of batting average over 600 at-bats. Overall, though, it doesn’t explain the improved plate discipline and power against left-handed pitching.

The only part that could be fluky in any meaningful way is the HR/FB rate. If his HR/FB rate against lefties regresses from 17.5% to, say, 12.5% next year, it could make the difference of six home runs given 117 fly balls. If we took away six home runs from Victorino right now and gave him credit for one more double (-22 total bases), his slugging percentage drops from .532 to .465.

Sustaining that HR/FB rate against lefties will be the biggest key for Victorino moving forward. If he can, he officially joins the ranks as one of the best hitters in baseball. If not, he is still a well above-average hitter and still quite useful in the Phillies lineup. That is a key consideration, as Victorino can file for free agency after the 2012 season.

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18 comments

  1. Phil

    August 08, 2011 08:54 AM

    Watching how well Victorino has swung the bat righty this year got me thinking. Is his success dictated by his swing, or by how well he sees the ball coming out of LH pitchers hands? Like you mentioned Victorino has always been a better hitter from the right side.

    It makes me wonder how he would perform if he just batted right-handed all the time. It’s not to say he’s a slouch left-handed (and far be it for me to suggest an improvement to a major league hitter), but I wonder if he’s shortchanging himself sometimes.

    It seems rather unlikely he’d change his approach this far into his career… but I’m curious if anyone has any knowledge on swing analysis, or if it’s just a case by case type of thing, and destined to be a mystery.

    Either way, It’s always exciting when the Phillies face a LHP (21-9 record), and Victorino is definitely a huge part of that (17-4 when Vic plays).

    Continued success indeed.

  2. KH

    August 08, 2011 11:05 AM

    Shane has always showed a lot of talent in spurts. Maybe he is just finally put it all together?

  3. Cutter McCool

    August 08, 2011 01:40 PM

    Pay Victorino. He’s the leadoff hitter when Rollins is gone after this season. Just give him whatever money Rollins will think he’s worth but a couple extra million (since he is better offensively).

  4. Ruben

    August 08, 2011 02:38 PM

    Wait, should we pay Victorino what Rollins thinks Victorino is worth or pay Victorino what Rollins thinks Rollins is worth?

  5. jaz

    August 08, 2011 05:21 PM

    I agree that Victorino might want to consider batting right-handed all the time…

  6. LTG

    August 08, 2011 05:22 PM

    Did I just read on ESPN that Victorino got the only suspension from the brawl on Friday night? How did Ramirez or Whiteside avoid getting suspended? I know no one here can answer that question, but this seemed the right venue for venting.

  7. jaz

    August 08, 2011 05:26 PM

    Ramirez, Whiteside, Polanco were fined

  8. Joe

    August 08, 2011 06:18 PM

    Hold on a minute. How does this work? You have 3 people involved in this brawl, and only one gets suspended?

    Ramirez – Intentionally hit Shane with a pitch = FINE
    Whiteside – Tackled Polanco and generally acted like a hopping jackass = FINE
    Victorino – Got hit by a pitch, took two steps toward the pitcher = 3 Game Suspension + FINE

    Does anyone else think that doesn’t make any sense? I get that you can’t prove Ramirez intentionally hit him, but you can suspend Whiteside for instigating a fight by jumping around and then tackling Polanco for no reason. He wasn’t defending his pitcher, because Polanco was coming in to contain Shane. He tackled him for no reason other than he was already jumping around looking for a fight.

  9. Chris

    August 08, 2011 06:53 PM

    Yeah I don’t get it either, really no justification for not suspending Ramirez or Whiteside.

  10. charles

    August 08, 2011 07:27 PM

    hey bill, just noticed something. the phils have 5 starters (if polanco plays) that walk just as often as they strike out:
    rollins, victorino, utley, polanco, and ruiz. not too bad these guys

  11. Rob

    August 08, 2011 08:24 PM

    Can’t explain why Whiteside was not suspended (thought he’d get as much time as Victorino since I really think his tackle turned this from a run of the mill baseball “fight” into almost a real fight). However, no one can argue that Victorino didn’t deserve the suspension – pushing the umpire sealed that.

    It really has been overlooked how well he is playing this year. Lost in the Pence-mania is that maybe just as important is how well the offense runs with Victorino in the 2 hole. That is based on my observation as opposed to stats, and yes I know that models have shown batting order is statistically not important.

  12. Joey

    August 08, 2011 09:32 PM

    No doubt Vic earned the 3-gamer. But Whiteside and Ramirez getting nothing really irks me..

    Can we get a GIF of Whiteside hopping like a fool to make it all better?

    (Huge fan by the way)

  13. Nick

    August 08, 2011 09:40 PM

    Yeah Victorino deserved his 3 game suspension because of his pushing of an Ump to get back into the fight, but the other two definitely also deserve the same (if not more) suspension. Whiteside turned the fight from more than a verbal scuffle post-pitch, and Ramirez intentionally hit him. Even the announcers could see that, Charlie could see it, it wasn’t exactly a well hidden fact.

  14. jauer

    August 08, 2011 11:22 PM

    Therefore, brushing the bill of your hat against the bill of Dana DeMuth’s hat is more egregious than picking up a third baseman and slamming him to the ground. Then again, this is a league where any given AL West team has the greatest chance of winning the World Series simply because there are 4 teams in the AL West. Bud Selig is awesome.

  15. Scott G

    August 09, 2011 06:17 AM

    Maybe Victorino took a page out of Scott Hartnell’s playbook and bit someone when he finally made it into the scrum.

    Does it make anyone else absolutely furious when an umpire (in this case), or referees in hockey, only hold back the Philadelphia athletes. If players can’t touch umpires, I’m not exactly sure why umpires can grab players. I didn’t like the Giants’ coach holding back Victorino near home plate either. Go prevent your own players from being jackasses, and don’t touch ours.

  16. Josh B

    August 11, 2011 01:22 PM

    Today according to Fangrgraphs Vic is the 4th most valuable Position Player with a WAR of 5.8, trailing only Bautista, Pedroia, and Tulo. I guess he went up .4 WAR in the past couple of games? The baseball reference WAR seems to have a much different leader board with Kemp, braun, bourn, mccutchen all ahead of Vic. Is the main difference between fwar and bwar the way each values defense?

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