Antonio Bastardo Is No BABIP Fluke

In this post from September 2, you may have learned that opponents are hitting .112 off of Antonio Bastardo. That, of course, would be the lowest BAA in baseball history among pitchers with at least 50 innings of work. Saber-minded people wonder, though, if that .142 BABIP of his is sustainable. Pitcher BABIP tends regress to .300 over larger sample sizes, so we would expect the same of Bastardo going forward, right?

Not so fast. While Bastardo is certainly the benefactor of some good batted ball fortune, that doesn’t explain all of it. Bastardo’s batted ball splits are enlightening: 59 percent fly balls, 27 percent ground balls, and 14 percent line drives. So, a fly ball specialist. But wait, there’s more! Of those fly balls, 22 percent stay in the infield.

For a pitcher, infield flies are extremely useful. Very rarely can runners advance and they never become home runs. And, as Rich Lederer found, they are converted into outs 99 percent of the time. Among pitchers with 50+ innings, Bastardo has the best infield fly ball rate in baseball.

Pitcher IFFB%
Antonio Bastardo

21.9%

Jonathan Papelbon

21.1%

Mitchell Boggs

20.4%

Louis Coleman

20.3%

Jorge de la Rosa

20.0%

Tyler Clippard

20.0%

Glen Perkins

19.0%

Jeff Niemann

18.9%

Mariano Rivera

18.8%

It is true that, compared to the league, Bastardo has been fortunate on ground balls and line drives. Bastardo’s ground ball BABIP is .133 lower than the league average; his line drive BABIP is .238 lower. However, he has allowed only 29 and 19 of each, respectively. The difference accounts for an extra 8-9 hits, which would have brought his BAA up to .162.

Meanwhile, Bastardo has allowed 60 fly balls, 22 percent of which (13) are infield fly balls. His overall fly ball BABIP is .067 below the league average. Adjusting only his outfield flies (assuming all infield flies should have been outs), he hasn’t prevented fewer hits than expected (6).

So, when we account for Bastardo’s excellent propensity to induce weak fly balls, his BABIP doesn’t rise too much over what it is now. The real question, though, is if Bastardo can maintain the infield fly ball rate. As the league becomes more familiar with him and his tendencies are revealed, it may be harder for him to have as much success. But as of right now, Bastardo is doing a fine job of making Major League hitters look foolish.

Braves Series Preview with Peter Hjort

Would that this series actually mean anything, but as the Playoff Odds Report on Baseball Prospectus indicates, both teams are near-locks for the post-season. Alas, this series is rote for both teams. Still, it is a potential NLCS preview, so there is opportunity for meaningful reconnaissance. I grabbed ESPN Sweet Spot Braves blogger Peter Hjort to speak about the current state of the Braves as they look towards October. Over at Capitol Avenue, you can read my take on the Phillies.

. . .

1. Both the Phillies and Braves are virtual playoff locks. Since division rivals can’t play each other in the NLDS, which team do you fear more, the Brewers or D-Backs?

The Brewers and it’s not even close. Milwaukee’s team xFIP is right behind that of Philadelphia and Atlanta and their offense is one of the best in the league. Arizona’s offense and pitching staff aren’t in the same category as that of Milwaukee. I consider Arizona to be the weakest of the contenders.

2. The Braves have been bitten in the injury bug, particular with regard to Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. Recently, though, I saw you tweet that that didn’t worry you. How come?

Depth. If Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson don’t throw another pitch this season Atlanta can take Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor to the postseason with Randall Delgado in the bullpen as the long man and Julio Teheran waiting around in case a starter gets injured. I feel really good about that group. I’d rather have Hanson in the rotation, but I’d probably rather have Minor than Jurrjens, to be honest.

3. How is former Phillie Michael Bourn working out for you?

Very well. He hasn’t been an automatic out at the plate and has been a plus defender in center field. You couldn’t say the same thing about any of the other center fielders Atlanta has employed since Andruw Jones left. He’s been a good addition.

4. Dan Uggla was abysmal all season, but went on that lengthy hitting streak and he’s continued to hit since it ended. What was Uggla doing wrong earlier, and what did he change (if anything) to improve?

I think initially it was an approach thing, where he was trying to trade quality contact for quantity contact. He’s been striking out more since his hitting streak started, which is a good thing for a hitter like him. The key for Uggla is hitting the ball hard and far, not making tons of contact. While the approach thing was primarily responsible, after awhile the slump probably got in his head and the problem became a three-headed monster: approach, mechanics, and confidence.

5. While the rest of September is mostly meaningless, what or who are you going to be keeping an eye in in the remaining four weeks?

Because of the amount of pitching depth the Braves have, it seems like there are only four or five pitchers with a guaranteed postseason roster spot: Tim Hudson, Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, and possibly Derek Lowe. The other 6-7 spots are still TBD, and they’ll be decided by health and performance down the stretch. In short, I’m watching all of the pitchers.

6. Do you consider this series a must-win, or important at all?

Completely meaningless.

7. The pitching match-ups will be Lowe/Lee, Hudson/Worley, and Beachy/Oswalt. How do you see the series playing out?

You can’t predict baseball!

. . .

Thanks, as always, to Peter for taking some time to speak about his team for us. Be sure to drop by Capitol Avenue Club to see what I had to say about the Phillies, as well as for Braves-related news and analysis as the series — and the season — moves on. If you’re on Twitter, I highly recommend following Peter (@CapitolAvenue) as his mix of intelligent analysis and humor will keep you informed and entertained.

Searching for True Power

In the ceaseless quest to identify players with the most raw pop, isolated power, or ISO, is a frequently cited metric, as you’ve probably seen. It’s simply a player’s slugging percentage minus his batting average. The idea is that, by removing single base hits, and measuring just a player’s extra bases per at bat, we can approach a pure measure of a power. I’ve referred to it quite a bit in the past. Like OPS, it’s simple, easy to explain, and easy to calculate in a pinch.

Recently I came across this article by Lewie Pollis from Beyond the Boxscore, wherein he resurrects a metric that had been floating around stat-minded circles in the past — power factor. Power factor is isolated power with one basic change: the denominator is a player’s hits instead of at bats. It can be expressed as isolated power divided by batting average, but what it boils down to is extra bases earned per hit. When you phrase it that way, I think the advantage is obvious, but Pollis provided a helpful mental exercise to illustrate how it more effectively approaches a player’s power:

Let’s take two hypothetical players: Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne. Stark hits .350 with a .550 SLG. Wayne hits .200 with a .400 SLG. Both weigh in at a .200 ISO, suggesting their raw power is roughly equal.

But that’s not right. If Wayne somehow managed to bring his average up 150 points, would all the extra hits be singles? Stark is clearly a better hitter, and they both produced the same amount of extra bases. But if the two players had similar contact skills, Wayne would undoubtedly be a bigger slugger.

Simply put, a player’s isolated power is still influenced by his batted ball fortune and contact skill, which are not things we want to factor in to our evaluation of power. Measuring extra bases per hit, instead of per at bat, negates these influences. Take the 2011 performances of Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino as an example. Their ISOs are .236 and .234 respectively, suggesting that their power hitting is roughly equivalent this year. But Howard gets .952 extra bases per hit (his power factor), while Victorino only manages .767. Clearly, if their batted ball luck and contact skills were equal, and Howard were getting as many hits as Victorino, his power as measured by ISO would be superior. That’s what power factor attempts to get at.

Put that aside for a second, and let’s look at another attempt to tweak isolated power for the better. At Fangraphs, Steve Slowinski recently developed a metric he calls Weighted Extra Bases. Instead of using the extra base count of each extra base hit (1 for doubles, 2 for triples, 3 for home runs), Weighted Extra Bases uses their linear weights values (the same ones that go into the calculation of wOBA) in an attempt to represent each hit type’s true value in a power metric. As Slowinski writes, the formula goes:

wXB/AB = [ (1.268 * 2B) + (1.610 * 3B) + (2.086 * HR) ] / AB
ISO = [ (1 * 2B) + (2 * 3B) + (3 * HR) ] / AB

When you actually weigh extra base hits in proportion to their value, it turns out that ISO is undervaluing doubles, while overvaluing both triples and home runs. This is why a player like Matt Holliday (33 doubles, 19 home runs) can have the 9th highest wXB/AB in the majors, yet only the 20th highest ISO and 17th highest SLG.

As you can see, doubles have more value than we usually consider, and more than ISO credits them for. The second extra base gained on a triple, on the other hand, is not quite as valuable as ISO calculates it to be. Home runs are similarly overvalued. Using Slowinski’s twist, we can measure a player’s power with a more accurate accounting of the contribution to run scoring that it provides.

So we have two separate variations on isolated power, each resolving a separate issue: Pollis’ use of Power Factor eliminates the influence of contact skills and batted ball luck in measuring a player’s power, and Slowinski’s Weighted Extra Bases paints a clearer picture of the value that each extra base hit type provides, and therefore a clearer picture of the player’s power contribution. Now why not combine them, harvesting the advantages of each? Specifically, let’s take Weighted Extra Bases as our numerator, and hits (rather than at bats) as our denominator. This would allow us to see the true power value that a hitter provides with each hit he collects. Now, Holliday’s doubles are not undervalued, and Victorino’s contact ability and BABIP are not unduly represented. Two birds with one Randy Johnson fastball. The new formula is:

Weighted Extra Bases per Hit = [ (1.268 * 2B) + (1.610 * 3B) + (2.086 * HR) ] / Hits

Before continuing, let me just point out that this is entirely derivative of Pollis and Slowinski; I’ve contributed nothing new, besides smashing together their separate, clever ideas.

That being said, let’s look at some of the things this metric tells us. For starters, here are the top 15 wXB/H seasons in the history of baseball, minimum 300 At Bats:

Season Player wXB/H
2001 Barry Bonds 1.257
1998 Mark McGwire 1.136
1999 Mark McGwire 1.13
1995 Mark McGwire 1.125
2010 Jose Bautista 1.094
2009 Carlos Pena 1.087
1999 Barry Bonds 1.07
1973 Dave Kingman 1.038
1996 Mark McGwire 1.023
2003 Jim Edmonds 1.017
1920 Babe Ruth 1.005
1921 Babe Ruth 1.003
1995 Albert Belle 0.993
2004 Barry Bonds 0.985
1969 Reggie Jackson 0.984

The names aren’t surprising, but this looks quite a bit different from the best 15 ISO seasons using the same criteria. McGwire appears with the same frequency, but players held up by high contact skills, such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, are bumped down a bit. And players who did a lot with the ball when they did hit it, like Jose Bautista and Carlos Pena, are given their proper due. Players who appear on the Power Factor leaderboard for the same criteria but are boosted by overvalued hit types, like Adam Dunn, Harmon Killebrew, and Sammy Sosa, are also bumped down in the wXB/H metric.

Now for the career leaders. Who, according to wXB/H, provided the most value with their power every time they logged a hit? Unsurprisingly, it turns out to be McGwire, and by a wide margin at that (minimum: 3000 At Bats):

Player wXB/H
Mark McGwire .950
Adam Dunn .876
Barry Bonds .843
Ryan Howard .837
Carlos Pena .837
Jim Thome .818
Babe Ruth .818
Gorman Thomas .808
Rob Deer .807
Dave Kingman .804
David Ortiz .801
Carlos Delgado .799
Hank Greenberg .790
Mike Schmidt .786
Steve Balboni .779
Darryl Strawberry .774
Richie Sexson .774
Greg Vaughn .771
Harmon Killebrew .768
Troy Glaus .767

I know what you’re thinking now: Gorman Thomas? Steve Balboni? The former spent 13 years in the majors, from 1973-1986, hitting decently above average (114 OPS+), which was not bad for a guy who was a full time centerfielder for most of his career. But he’s not exactly the stuff of legends, and he certainly doesn’t come to mind if you were asked to rattle off some of the great power hitters in history. His slugging percentage only cracked .500 twice. This is mostly because he didn’t have very good contact skills — his career batting average was just .225. But when he did get a hit, it turned out to be an extra-base hit 47% of the time. The league average for that figure is 29%, and only a handful of other players have sustained a better rate than him for the amount of time he did. The same can be said for Steve Balboni. He was a league average hitter (101 OPS+) for 11 seasons, batting only .229 for his career, but 45% of his hits went for extra bases. Our all-time leader McGwire, by the way, turned 52% of his hits into extra base knocks.

How about the Phillies? Here are the top 20 wXB/H seasons in franchise history:

Season Player wXB/H
1979 Mike Schmidt .964
2007 Ryan Howard .923
1980 Mike Schmidt .922
2003 Jim Thome .915
2008 Ryan Howard .912
1975 Mike Schmidt .909
2004 Jim Thome .897
1977 Mike Schmidt .880
2008 Pat Burrell .862
2009 Ryan Howard .856
2009 Raul Ibanez .855
2006 Ryan Howard .848
1956 Stan Lopata .838
1949 Andy Seminick .830
2003 Pat Burrell .822
1981 Mike Schmidt .821
1976 Mike Schmidt .817
1978 Greg Luzinski .816
1983 Mike Schmidt .810
1999 Scott Rolen .808

Nothing groundbreaking. Mike Schmidt appears seven times. His top ranking season, 1979, was only his 6th best by OPS+, but he posted a .564 slugging percentage while hitting just .253. He homered in 6.7% of his plate appearances (league average that year was 2.1%), and his hits went for extra bases 54% of the time. Almost all of Ryan Howard’s career is represented. It’s interesting, though, that Howard’s best offensive season, 2006, ranks the lowest of his other seasons on this list. Both his SLG and ISO that year were, by far, the highest of his career thus far. But again, we’re seeing the effect of eliminating contact factors; Howard’s batting average and BABIP were much higher in 2006 than in subsequent years, and when he connected with the ball from 2007-2009, it went for extra bases more frequently.

Finally, the top 20 Phillie careers, minimum 2000 at-bats:

Player wXB/H
Ryan Howard .837
Mike Schmidt .786
Pat Burrell .744
Dick Allen .689
Scott Rolen .689
Stan Lopata .655
Chase Utley .653
Darren Daulton .648
Greg Luzinski .631
Bobby Abreu .621
Gavvy Cravath .609
Chuck Klein .608
Johnny Callison .596
Juan Samuel .593
Andy Seminick .586
Mike Lieberthal .574
Del Ennis .573
Jimmy Rollins .550
Don Hurst .543
Cy Williams .536

There are perhaps some surprising names (hello Cy Williams), and you could quibble about the order, but the top dogs are as you might expect. For all the intra-fanbase battles about Howard’s value, his power is undeniable, and will be his legacy as a Phillie. There is a wide gap separating him, Schmidt, and Burrell from the rest. By wXB/H, at least, they represent the top tier of raw pop in Phillies history.

It’s an interesting metric to play around with, and I think it gets at some aspects of a player’s hitting that might not necessarily be represented by slugging percentage or isolated power. I certainly would not go bandying it about in overall player evaluations, but raw power is one of those fundamental things that draw us to baseball, and that make it fun to watch, and it’s not as easy to quantify as it might seem on its face. As a postscript, here are the values for the 2011 qualified Phillies:

Phillies Are Good Trivia

I tweeted these after the game, but I thought they were interesting enough to share with the rest of you who aren’t yet on the Twitters.

  • If the Phillies go 14-15 over the rest of season, the Braves would need to go 22-5 to win the NL East.
  • Isn’t it amazing the Phillies can play sub-.500 baseball the rest of the way and still finish with over 100 wins?
  • The Phillies’ best record through 133 games was 83-49-1, set in 1899. Obviously, at 87-46, the 2011 Phillies beat that quite easily.
  • The 433 runs the Phillies have allowed through 133 games is the fourth-fewest in franchise history, behind 1908, 1915, and 1916.
  • The lowest runs allowed total through 133 games, among live ball-era Phillies teams, was the 1976 team that allowed 468.

Other trivia (h/t @magelb)

  • Opponents are hitting .112 against Antonio Bastardo in 2011. That would be the lowest ever in baseball history for a pitcher w/50 IP.
  • Phillies are 41 games over .500, tying the franchise’s highest mark. That’s in 129 years of baseball.
  • The Phillies have swept a four-game series in Cincinnati for the first time since May 1916.
  • The Phillies are 109-53 in their last 162 regular-season games. (Random endpoints, of course.)