HBPs by Difficulty – 2010

May 14th, 2010 by pbr

It might be a little early for looking at this, but I was reminded of it this week, so lets take an early look at who’s showing the most plunk finding skills by getting hit by pitchers who don’t throw many plunks.  If you don’t remember last year’s work on the subject, the idea is that it’s easier to get hit by a pitch when you’re facing a pitcher who hits a lot of batters than it is to get hit by pitchers who don’t throw many plunks.  So, if we take each batters plunks, and give them a difficulty score, an add them up we can get a total difficulty rank.  For the difficult score, we use each pitcher’s season total of batters faced per plunk.  As an added wrinkle this year, we can divide the total difficulty score by the league average plunk rate and get a number that represents the equivalent difficulty against average pitching.  For example, Travis Hafner has 6 plunks, but they’ve come largely against pitchers who hit a lot of batters, so his 6 plunks have the equivalent difficulty of about 3.05 plunks against average pitching.  Make sense?  Yes?  Well then I’ll need to make it more confusing so I can sell it to MLB GM’s so they can use it to assemble their team and convince there fanbase that their elaborate new statistic that’s impossible to understand is going to make them a winner even though the casual fan may think 17 of the 25 guys appear to be terrible.

Anyway, here are this years leaders in HBP Difficulty, through May 13th 2010:

Batter HBP
Total HBP Difficulty
Avg HBP Difficulty
ED-hbp
ED minus Actual
Kevin Youkilis (BOS) 5 531 106.1 4.3 -0.7
Prince Fielder (MIL) 7 462 66 3.7 -3.3
Travis Hafner (CLE) 6 378 62.9 3 -3
Derek Jeter (NYY) 3 342 113.9 2.8 -0.2
Brett Carroll (FLA) 4 340 84.9 2.7 -1.3
Jack Wilson (SEA) 2 339 169.5 2.7 0.7
Jayson Werth (PHI) 2 330 165 2.7 0.7
Xavier Nady (CHC) 4 321 80.3 2.6 -1.4
Nyjer Morgan (WSH) 3 319 106.3 2.6 -0.4
Ty Wigginton (BAL) 4 305 76.1 2.5 -1.5

As you can see, most of this year’s top HBP getters have been doing it against pitchers who have hit batters at a high rate. There haven’t really been any overachievers out there getting hit by pitchers who don’t hand out very many plunks, but these numbers will change over the course of the season, as we know more about how often the pitchers really hit batters.  Jack Wilson cracks the list despite only 2 plunks because he got the only plunk thrown this year by Kevin Millwood, among 223 batters faced.  Jeter’s 3 plunks are highlighted by Justin Verlander’s lone plunk thrown among 203 batters faced – however, Verlander’s history suggest this plunk will look less difficult later in the season when his plunk rate returns to expectations (then again, maybe he’s settled down).

Since we’re here, we can use the same method to look at a couple of other stats.  Actually this was brought to mind because of Wednesday’s episode of ESPN’s Baseball Today podcast.  They were talking with ESPN Researcher Mark Simon, and someone asked whether their was a measure for which pitchers are good at striking out batters that don’t strike out often, and if somehow it could be possible to give each strikeout a difficulty score and add them all up or something.  That sounded really familiar…  I think I know exactly how that could be done. So, here’s what it looks like if we do pitchers strikeouts by difficulty.  Difficulty here is rated by the batters rates of plate appearances per strikeout.

By total K difficulty:

Pitcher K
Total K Difficulty
Avg K Difficulty
EKD
EKD minus Actual
Tim Lincecum (SF) 64 354 5.5 65.1 1.1
Dan Haren (ARI) 60 346 5.8 63.7 3.7
Jered Weaver (LAA) 59 343 5.8 63.1 4.1
Josh Johnson (FLA) 54 334 6.2 61.4 7.4
Roy Halladay (PHI) 52 300 5.8 55.2 3.2
Jon Lester (BOS) 44 288 6.6 53 9
Yovani Gallardo (MIL) 56 284 5.1 52.2 -3.8
James Shields (TB) 49 281 5.7 51.6 2.6
Chris Carpenter (STL) 52 281 5.4 51.6 -0.4
Felix Hernandez (SEA) 46 274 6 50.4 4.4

No surprise at the top, with Tim Lincecum striking out 64 batters, who as a group have struck out at about the league average rate. Josh Johnson and Jon Lester are the overachievers of that group, earning their strikeouts against more difficult batters. On the other end, Chris Carpenter and Yovani Gallardo have gotten a little help from facing free swinging batters, or maybe it’s just a case of them making sure to strike out the guys they really should strike out.

Here are the leagues top overachievers – the ones who have gotten there strikeouts against batters who are, as a group, harder to strikeout than the league average:
(20 K minimum)

Pitcher K
Total K Difficulty
Avg K Difficulty
EKD
EKD minus Actual
Todd Wellemeyer (SF) 22 185 8.4 34 12
Jon Lester (BOS) 44 288 6.6 53 9
Luke Hochevar (KC) 23 173 7.5 31.9 8.9
Josh Johnson (FLA) 54 334 6.2 61.4 7.4
Justin Masterson (CLE) 39 249 6.4 45.7 6.7
Kevin Gregg (TOR) 21 146 7 26.9 5.9
Johnny Cueto (CIN) 33 211 6.4 38.8 5.8
C.J. Wilson (TEX) 34 216 6.4 39.7 5.7
Carl Pavano (MIN) 34 210 6.2 38.6 4.6
Felix Hernandez (SEA) 46 274 6 50.4 4.4

Todd Wellemeyer tops the list largely because he’s one of only two pitchers to strike out David Eckstein this year, in 126 plate appearances. Josh Johnson is the other. But Wellemeyer has also struck out Placido Polanco, and Chase Utley twice.

Here are the guys who have either padded their strikeout totals the most by feasting on high-strikeout batters, or the pitchers who have maximized their efficiency by being sure to strike out those players who should be easiest to strike out – depending on how you want to look at it:

Pitcher K
Total K Difficulty
Avg K Difficulty
EKD
EKD minus Actual
Roy Oswalt (HOU) 45 193 4.3 35.5 -9.5
Felipe Paulino (HOU) 34 152 4.5 27.9 -6.1
Jonathan Sanchez (SF) 45 212 4.7 39 -6
John Danks (CWS) 37 170 4.6 31.2 -5.8
Matt Thornton (CWS) 26 110 4.2 20.3 -5.7
Aaron Cook (COL) 21 84 4 15.4 -5.6
Kevin Correia (SD) 30 133 4.4 24.4 -5.6
Tom Gorzelanny (CHC) 36 167 4.6 30.7 -5.3
Brett Myers (HOU) 32 145 4.5 26.7 -5.3
A.J. Burnett (NYY) 32 148 4.6 27.2 -4.8

You can see there that the 45 batters that Roy Oswalt has K’d this year have been about equivalent in difficulty to 35.5 average batters.

Finally, since people like home runs, here are the homer difficulty leaders:

Batter
HR
Total HR Difficulty
Avg HR Difficulty
ED-hr
ED minus Actual
Paul Konerko (CWS) 13 547 42 13.1 0.1
Shane Victorino (PHI) 7 404 57.7 9.7 2.7
Ty Wigginton (BAL) 10 399 39.9 9.6 -0.4
Kendry Morales (LAA) 7 387 55.3 9.3 2.3
Scott Rolen (CIN) 6 379 63.2 9.1 3.1
Jose Guillen (KC) 8 370 46.3 8.9 0.9
Kelly Johnson (ARI) 10 355 35.5 8.5 -1.5
Joey Votto (CIN) 8 345 43.1 8.3 0.3
Andre Ethier (LAD) 11 337 30.7 8.1 -2.9
Ryan Zimmerman (WSH) 8 335 41.9 8 0

You can see there that Paul Konerko’s league leading HR total was achieved off pitchers who are just a little bit better than average, so he’s certainly not running up the stats against weak mop-up pitchers or anything like that. Scott Rolen is the overachiever of that group, with 6 real home runs at a difficulty equivalent to 9.1 homers against league average home run rates.

Here are the top over-achievers in home run difficulty:

Batter
HR
Total HR Difficulty
Avg HR Difficulty
ED-hr
ED minus Actual
Orlando Cabrera (CIN) 3 290 96.7 7 4
Hideki Matsui (LAA) 4 309 77.2 7.4 3.4
Scott Rolen (CIN) 6 379 63.2 9.1 3.1
Carlos Guillen (DET) 1 167 167 4 3
Placido Polanco (PHI) 5 322 64.4 7.7 2.7
Shane Victorino (PHI) 7 404 57.7 9.7 2.7
Kendry Morales (LAA) 7 387 55.3 9.3 2.3
Chris Snyder (ARI) 5 275 55.1 6.6 1.6
Drew Stubbs (CIN) 3 191 63.5 4.6 1.6
Omar Infante (ATL) 1 104 104 2.5 1.5

Carlos Guillen’s homer is the only home run level mistake made by Luke Hochevar this year, among 167 batters faced.

And, here are the guys who have been hitting a disproportionate number of homers off pitchers who just give up a lot of homers:

Batter
HR
Total HR Difficulty
Avg HR Difficulty
ED-hr
ED minus Actual
Alex Gonzalez (TOR) 10 265 26.5 6.3 -3.7
Miguel Cabrera (DET) 8 191 23.9 4.6 -3.4
Alfonso Soriano (CHC) 7 157 22.5 3.8 -3.2
Rod Barajas (NYM) 9 249 27.7 6 -3
Andre Ethier (LAD) 11 337 30.7 8.1 -2.9
Matt Kemp (LAD) 7 176 25.1 4.2 -2.8
Vladimir Guerrero (TEX) 7 180 25.8 4.3 -2.7
Evan Longoria (TB) 8 223 27.9 5.4 -2.6
Dustin Pedroia (BOS) 7 190 27.1 4.5 -2.5
Casey McGehee (MIL) 7 199 28.5 4.8 -2.2

So, you can pencil Alex Gonzalez in for 45 homers this year if you want to, since that’s his current pace, but 9 of those 10 homers have gone deep off of pitchers who are worse than average at preventing homers. 2 are off league leader Kevin Millwood.

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