July 25, 2014

Statistically Speaking: Batting Expectations

From an offensive standpoint, the first half of the Washington Nationals’ 2014 has been fair to middling. Ranking sixth, seventh, and tenth in weighted on base average, weighted runs created plus, and wins above replacement, respectively, in the National League, the team thus far as produced runs at a slightly disappointing level, given the level and depth of hitting and run producing talent the lineup carries. Despite this mildly disappointing aspect of the Nationals’ 2014 season, the team has remained within shouting distance of first place in the NL East, making the expected unfulfilled, at least, as of yet.

A statistic that can be used to gauge the variation between expected and observed tendencies in hitting and help discern whether a spike or a slump in production is a product of skill or some other variable is batting average on balls in play, otherwise known as BABIP. Simply put, it measures how often a ball put in play by a hitter ends up a hit by taking their batted ball profile into account. As a rule of thumb, BABIP sits around .300, but can vary greatly between players and even between individual player seasons. From BABIP, additional calculations can be performed to derive a hitter’s expected BABIP (xBABIP), which can further refine the ramifications of a batted ball profile. While there are a number a methods to calculate xBABIP, the following is felt to be the most accurate:

xBABIP = 0.392 + (LD% x 0.287709436) + ((GB% – (GB% * IFH%)) x -0.152 ) + ((FB% – (FB% x HR/FB%) – (FB% x IFFB%)) x -0.188) + ((IFFB% * FB%) x -0.835) + ((IFH% * GB%) x 0.500)

…where LD% is line drive rate, GB% is ground ball rate, IFH% is infield hit rate, FB% is fly ball rate, HR/FB% is home runs per fly ball rate, and IFFB% is infield fly ball rate.

With the combination of BABIP and xBABIP, some of the more finicky aspects of a player’s season can be parsed out and determined as something that is indicative of a player’s skill, or something outside of his control and is one way to take stock of player performance at the halfway point and determine whether a streak or a slump will carry on into the summer months. Below, I have provided the career (cBABIP), 2013 (BABIP 2013), and 2014 (2014 BABIP) BABIPs as well as the projected 2014 BABIP based on 2013 numbers and the expected BABIP for the rest of the season (xBABIP 2014) based on this year’s performance thus far for the eleven Nats hitters who have had at last 100 plate appearances this year. With these values, we can identify Nats hitters who might be due for an uptick or drop in production based on their batted ball rates thus far; this can also be compared to last year’s numbers as well as career values to find help determine whether the waxing or waning of their 2014 BABIP is something that could be indicative of skill, or perhaps other variables, such as an injury, a change in hitting approach, a change in pitcher approach, or how a defense plays a hitter in terms of alignment or shifting:

red=decrease greater than 5 points in BABIP; yellow=increase or decrease of 0-5 BABIP points; green= increase in BABIP greater than 5 points.

cBABIP = career BABIP; xBABIP_proj = xBABIP using 2013 end of season stats. Red = decrease greater than 5 points in BABIP; yellow = increase or decrease of 0-5 BABIP points; green = increase in BABIP greater than 5 points. Difference in BABIP points measured based on previous column.

With the help of the color coding, we see that Ryan Zimmerman’s BABIP is pretty resistant to change, with the respective BABIP values over his career, 2013, and throughout this year staying within a couple of points of one another. On the other hand, Jayson Werth’s fantastic start to this year hasn’t fulfilled expectations that were in place using his final 2013 batted ball values, but is still in line with his career BABIP, which is encouraging. However, using up-to-date values and calculating his 2014 xBABIP, it appears he will possibly suffer a light drop in productivity. Adam LaRoche’s season has been a positive across the board in comparison to both last year and his career averages and appears to have the potential to get even better. We can also hope to see a over-correction in Denard Span’s BABIP later this season, eclipsing both his current and career BABIP.

The calculations for BABIP/xBABIP are based on batted ball data and as such, the swings in these values across and within a season can be caused by changed in one or many of these stats. Research has found that while BABIP itself does not correlate strongly year to year, metrics like GB% and HR/FB% can, thus providing additional layers of complexity when looking at the above table. With that in mind, provided below are each player’s change in the batted ball rates inherent to xBABIP, to help identify what is truly at the root of any egregious disparities in BABIP or xBABIP. First, differences between 2014 and 2013 data:

 

Player dLD% dGB% dFB% dIFFB% dHR/FB% dIFH%
Adam LaRoche 3.20% -2.10% -1.10% 1.30% 2.80% -8.10%
Anthony Rendon -5.50% -1.30% 6.80% -2.20% 3.50% -0.70%
Jayson Werth -7.80% 3.80% 3.90% 1.00% -10.60% -11.20%
Ryan Zimmerman -2.30% 0.10% 2.20% -4.10% -10.90% -12.20%
Wilson Ramos 5.70% -5.40% -0.30% 0.80% -19.30% -23.80%
Ian Desmond -6.70% 4.80% 1.90% 4.40% 5.40% -4.70%
Bryce Harper 0.10% -1.00% 0.90% -2.10% -13.80% -11.70%
Denard Span 0.30% -10.80% 10.50% -1.40% -2.40% 2.20%
Danny Espinosa 12.00% -8.80% -3.20% 7.50% 5.40% -1.90%
Kevin Frandsen 2.40% -5.50% 3.00% 10.10% -6.00% -7.40%
Nate McLouth -17.00% 15.80% 1.20% 1.90% -4.50% -3.30%
Jose Lobaton -1.40% 3.30% -1.90% -7.20% -3.20% -5.70%

…and here, differences in 2014 data compared to career averages:

Player dcLD% dcGB% dcFB% dcIFFB% dcHR/FB% dcIFH%
Adam LaRoche 3.90% -3.00% -0.90% -1.50% 0.50% 1.50%
Anthony Rendon -2.80% -0.60% 3.40% -1.00% 1.60% 0.70%
Jayson Werth -2.60% 1.30% 1.30% 2.60% -6.80% -0.30%
Ryan Zimmerman 0.10% 0.60% -0.70% -2.80% -6.70% -2.60%
Wilson Ramos 7.90% -1.50% -6.30% -2.20% -7.40% -0.50%
Ian Desmond -2.20% -0.70% 2.90% 4.20% 5.90% 1.00%
Bryce Harper -1.20% 0.20% 1.00% -2.80% -11.70% 0.60%
Denard Span 2.20% -9.40% 7.30% 2.70% -2.80% -1.80%
Danny Espinosa 5.30% -3.20% -2.10% 1.50% -0.30% 0.10%
Kevin Frandsen 1.70% -2.70% 1.00% 6.40% -2.40% -3.30%
Nate McLouth -11.30% 14.90% -3.60% -0.50% -6.50% -2.50%
Jose Lobaton 0.80% 1.30% -2.10% -5.20% -0.30% -1.60%

 

With both of these tables, positive numbers indicate 2014 data being an improvement over either 2013 or career averages. Overall, we see the volatility in year-to-year BABIP values reflected in the batted ball data, consistent with the effects of injury and game-to-game changes in hitting approach and defensive alignments being played out over a small period of time. Looking at the 2014 compared to career averages, we do see some significant changes in Denard Span’s ground ball rates, as well as with Bryce Harper’s HR/FB%; however, given the comparative lack of games played by Harper due to both MLB service time and injury, these values can be expected to swing a wildly as his year-to-year values for the moment. Other changes of interest include the career decline reflected in Nate McLouth’s numbers and the change in line drive and homer run rates for Wilson Ramos, possibly a reflection of an injury-marred career more so than a change in hitting philosophy.

Converting expectations into actual results is a precarious endeavor and can take unexpected turns during the course of a season; slumps, injuries, even the fashion in which opposing defenses line up for a given hitter can all make the most obvious and conservative of projections worthless, or at the least, frivolous.  However, with xBABIP, we are provided a more refined and data-driven approach to prognosticating what’s in store for Nats hitter come the second half of the season.

***

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs; current as of July 7th.

Washington Nationals Game 87 Review: Zimmerman’s single in eighth delivers Nats 2-1 win

Since moving back to his more familiar third base, Ryan Zimmerman has coincidentally also been on a tear at the plate. The run continued Sunday, as his eighth inning single scored Denard Span, lifting the Washington Nationals to a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs before 32,941 at sun-drenched Nationals Park.

Zimmerman is now 11-for-21 with six RBIs since Bryce Harper returned to the lineup and Zimmerman re-took his spot at third base.

Span led off the eighth inning with a hustle double to right field. After Anthony Rendon lined out and Jayson Werth struck out against Cubs reliever Pedro Strop (L, 1-4, 3.03), Adam LaRoche was intentionally walked, bringing up Zimmerman. The Nats’ veteran laced a 1-1 slider to left field which easily scored Span. LaRoche drew the cutoff throw away from the plate and was tagged out between second and third for the final out of the inning.

Rafael Soriano pitched an eventless 1-2-3 inning in the ninth for his 21st save of the season.

Zimmerman’s heroics made a winner of Tyler Clippard, who put his first two runners on, then wiggled out of the jam to pitch a scoreless top of the eighth.

Jordan Zimmermann turned in another exemplary start for the Nats (48-39). The stoic righty gave up no runs on seven hits and one walk over six innings, striking out five.

The Cubs(38-48) managed their lone run off Drew Storen in the seventh, as the reliever gave up two hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning. Jerry Blevins struck out Luis Valbuena with runners on to keep the game tied at that point.

The Nats scored their first run in the first inning off Cubs starter Jake Arrieta. Span doubled, went to third on Rendon’s groundout and scored on Werth’s hard-hit grounder to third.

The Nats start a two-game series with the Baltimore Orioles on Monday. Stephen Strasburg (7-6, 3.53) hosts Chris Tillman (7-4, 4.21) at 7:05 pm.

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Washington Nationals Game 62 Review: Nats bats explode for extra bases in San Fran in 9-2 win

Stephen Strasburg kept up the string of stellar Washington Nationals starts, allowing just one run in six innings with no walks — and no Nats starter has issued a walk since June 3 — as the newly revitalized offense pounded three San Francisco Giants pitchers for nine runs on 12 hits in a 9-2 win at AA&T Park Monday night.

It’s the Nats eighth win in their last ten games (by a combined score of 62-18) and runs their record to 33-29 to pull into a tie with Atlanta for first place in the division.

Denard Span went 3 for 5 with two runs and Ian Desmond continued his extra-base bonanza, going 3 for 5 with a double, triple and five RBIs.

Strasburg was lifted after the Nats scored five runs in the top of the seventh after 88 pitches — 61 for strikes. He gave up just four hits and struck out seven in the efficient outing.

Span led off the game with a double, went to third on Kevin Frandsen’s ground out, and scored on Jayson Werth’s double off Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong. The Nats got back after it in the second, as Wilson Ramos singled and scored on Desmond’s triple.

The Giants got one back in the bottom of the second, as Tyler Colvin smacked a ground-rule double and came home on Brandon Crawford’s single. Crawford was cut down 9-3-6-4 on the play though.

In the third, Adam LaRoche doubled with two outs and after back-to-back walks to Ryan Zimmerman and Ramos, Desmond singled to left to plate LaRoche and Zimmerman.

Washington busted it open in the seventh.

Span led off with another double and went to third on Frandsen’s single. That was all for Vogelsong, but things weren’t any better for George Kontos. Werth singled to right to score Span. LaRoche walked to load the bases. Zimmerman’s grounder to short got Frandsen cut down at home, but the relay to first got away from Michael Morse and Zimmerman was safe and Werth trotted home with another run.

Ramos then clubbed a shot to right center that bounced off the warning track and over the fence for a ground-rule double and two more runs scored to make it 9-1.

After a scoreless seventh inning from Aaron Barrett, Ross Detwiler came on for the eighth and gave up a run on four singles.

Tuesday, Doug Fister (4-1, 3.19) faces Madison Bumgarner (8-3, 2.68) at 10:15 pm ET.

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WASMIA

After a forgetful 1-3 road trip to Pittsburgh to play the Pirates, the Washington Nationals now return home for a three-game stint against the Miami Marlins. Here’s your complete series preview. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 50 Review: Nats top Pirates 5-2 to end four-game skid

After losing the first three games of the series — and four in a row — to fall below .500, the Washington Nationals came into Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in desperate need of a win.

Behind 5 2/3 very strong innings by Doug Fister, the Nats topped the Pirates 5-2 on Sunday at PNC Park.

The Nats came out swinging in the first inning against Francisco Liriano (L, 0-5, 5.06). Denard Span led off with a double to right and Anthony Rendon drew a walk. After Jayson Werth struck out and Adam LaRoche grounded out — moving the runners up — Liriano uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Span to score. Ian Desmond followed with a single, bringing home Rendon.

They got back at it in the fifth. Span singled to start the inning and scored on Rendon’s triple. With one out, Liriano threw another wild pitch, and Rendon came home to make it 4-0.

Pittsburgh got one back in the bottom of the sixth. Josh Harrison homered on Doug Fister’s first pitch of the inning. Fister started to leave the ball up, though, and gave up singles to Neil Walker and Ike Davis, ending his day early. Craig Stammen came on to generate a ground ball double play to end the inning.

Fister (W, 2-1, 3.42) threw 5 1/3 innings and allowed the one earned run on six hits. He struck out four and did not walk a batter. In fact, in his four starts so far this season, he’s walked just one hitter.

The Nats pushed the lead back to four in the seventh. With one out, Werth singled off reliever Vin Mazzaro. He went to third on LaRoche’s single up the middle against the shift. Desmond then lined a shot down the right field line that Josh Harrison appeared to have caught and Werth scored. But after replay, it was clear Harrison did not make a clean catch, and Desmond was awarded a single.

The Pirates cut their deficit to three in the eighth against Craig Stammen. Josh Harrison and Neil Walker had back-to-back one-out singles, so Matt Williams called upon Aaron Barrett. Barrett struck out Andrew McCutchen on a wicked slider, but Ike Davis lined 1-1 fastball to center to bring in Harrison. Barrett then struck out Starling Marte to end the rally.

Rafael Soriano pitched a clean ninth inning to close the win.

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