Getting Ahead

For those of you that visit Fangraphs, wOBA has become a favorite stat of not only this website, but many other sabermetrically-inclined sites as well. The theory behind it is simple: assign value to individual offensive events via linear weights and then apply those numbers to a player’s performance. We go ahead and adjust the formula so that it looks like OBP, meaning that league average usually falls ~.333 and is properly distributed along the curve.

But there has recently been more research done into linear weights so that we can see the value of not only a single or a double, but of certain pitches. While this has been mostly popular in the domain of Pitchf/x, we can also use this information to further our understanding about hitters. For example, let’s say Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez come up to the plate consecutively. Miguel Cabrera works a 3-1 count and then lines a fastball into the right field gap for a stand up triple. Next, Magglio Ordonez hits a ball in the exact same spot on an 0-2 count and slides in safely at third. Back-to-back triples. For our purposes of wOBA, we would assign both Cabrera and Ordonez equally with ~1.56 runs, the linear weight value of a triple relative to an out.

But was that all we could gauge from those at-bats? With count-based linear weights, we can actually do more. Miguel Cabrera worked a 3-1 count before his triple; there’s value in knowing that information. Since we can say that a 3-1 count is worth somewhere around .14 runs, why not credit Cabrera in some capacity for getting into that count? Likewise, we know (based on the same run value charts linked last sentence) that an 0-2 count is worth roughly -.104 runs. Why not also take that into account? The moral here is that those triples were not made equally.

But we do have to be somewhat careful we don’t double count. A player is more likely to hit a triple (or for our purposes, get a higher run value) if he gets to a 3-1 count, and the oppposite is true for an 0-2 count. Those count-based linear weights are based on how many runs are likely to proceed from that count, so we would probably have to regress the run values somewhat so we don’t double credit a hitter. Maybe the most interesting experiment would be to just take a batter’s count-based linear weights for an entire season and compare players, or even apply their batted ball linear weights for if/when they put the ball in play to their count-based run total.

This is a thought experiment, so I’d like to see what people think. The next step may be crunching the numbers.




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Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at Patrick.Andriola@tufts.edu or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat


47 Responses to “Getting Ahead”

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  1. Ty says:

    Very interesting article. I agree, no particular triple (in this case) is the same. But, we also have to consider that the end result is the same. Runner on 3rd, same number of outs, same score, etc.

    Some things may be different that impact the next, or later, batters: more/fewer pitches thrown by the pitcher, for example.

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  2. Craig says:

    This is something I’ve been talking/thinking about for quite a while.

    There are two pretty simple ways to do this if you have a database set up with linear weights (which is what I’ve been too lazy to do but should really do)

    1) Take the non-count dependent linear weight value of each hit, sum them up and take the count dependent linear weight value of each hit, sum them up and subtract one from the other.

    2) Assign each pitch it’s linear weight value and sum up every pitch except for the last pitch of each at bat.

    They should give you almost identical numbers and represent how good the player is at getting into good counts before ending the at bat. I also think, since you are removing the results from the equation, that it will be more stable from year to year.

    I do always like the idea of using batted ball values as well, as we talked about. I think both could be very interesting.

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  3. Everett says:

    To me it seems that it really depends on what the goal of this new stat is. Is it to represent what a player has done? If so, then the current formula seems to be more useful, as it reflects the point that both hit a triple and ended up on third without causing an out. On the other hand, if the goal is to get a better judge of the type of player or the likelihood of that result being repeated, then some form of evaluating the counts the player gets into would be worthwhile. The tricky part here will be extricating the two separate parts. Currently, all different counts where a batter hits a triple are in the linear weight for a triple, and all triples are in the linear weights for different counts. You’d need to figure out a way to accurately combine this information so we aren’t double-counting everything, with the end goal of whatever you’re trying to actually measure.

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  4. Dan Hennessey says:

    Maybe I’m reading this wrong but I want to know exactly what you mean in the third paragraph. Are you suggesting that Cabrera would get an additional 0.14 runs credited to his triple because he worked into that count? And that Ordonez would be deducted 0.104 runs because he was in a pitcher’s count?

    I agree that the triples were not made equally, but they do have the same impact on the game. If anything, I think that your scenario would make Ordonez’s triple more valuable since he was able to do major damage from a pitcher’s count (thus digging himself out of a hole). On the other hand, Cabrera’s triple shouldn’t count less than Ordonez’s simply because he was able to put himself in a position to succeed; he still hit a triple!

    Lastly, I know that the sabermetrically-inclined try to consider only things that players can control, but it seems to me that the ability to hit a triple, regardless of the count, will be reflected in how often a hitter puts himself in position to do so. Therefore, measuring the number of triples should reflect the fact that the hitter saw more 3-1 counts or was able to do more with them. Perhaps the true study that should happen is to determine if there is a statistically-significant talent by a given hitter or amongst a group of hitters to perform better given advantageous (or disadvantageous) counts as compared to the league average.

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    • Louis says:

      I concur. In the above situation, it seems to me that the pitcher worked around Cabrera, throwing a lot of balls, and he managed to still score a triple. To me, that tells me that the pitcher had more respect for him, which should be (somehow) awarded statistically. By the above mentioned methodology, we are punishing him because of the respect from the pitcher.

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      • Pat Andriola says:

        No, you guys are looking at this from the wrong angle.

        Count-value linear weights demonstrate that players get value from getting into favorable hitting counts. This, in and of itself, has value, aside from the results. Why? Because these situations are likely to lead to better results. However, they don’t always do, as there is a huge amount of noise with the results.

        By looking just at the count, we would just say, “Okay, Miguel Cabrera gets x runs and Magglio gets -x runs.”

        Then, as I stated lastly, we could even just apply batted ball linear weights to the results if we’re worried about the obviously problematic classifications of things as “triples, doubles, etc.” Ideally we’d even apply hitf/x-like linear weights, such as x runs for a speed off bat of so-and-so.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        So basically the value of this stat would be relatively similar how BABIP is often used? Basically if a batter has a high count-run value, but a low actual-run value we can make the case that he has been unlucky or under-performing his expected value. The reverse might tell us that he is getting a bit lucky or over-performing his expected value.

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      • Pat Andriola says:

        Kind of; I think we would need a more holistic approach to see if someone is getting lucky or not aside from this tool, but it would give us a lot of interesting information to dissect and maybe make more granular analysis of individual players easier/more accurate. But it could potentially be used how you described it, and that is the general idea behind the concept.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        Well looking at a small sample of splits, it seems that BABIP is correlated to count favorability. BABIP increases from 1-0 to 2-0 to 3-0 and decreases from 0-1 to 0-2. So beyond ‘bat control’ and speed, getting ahead in the count could help explain BABIP fluctuations that are currently attributed to ‘luck’ (though fluctuations in the rate of ‘getting ahead’ still need to be explained).

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  5. I think Ty brings up a good point. Taking linear weights by pitch count may not be enough. You have to standardize the number of men on base, outs, the score, etc. all over again. Either that, or I’m not understanding this right.

    I’ll leave it up to the PITCHf/x experts to discuss the feasibility of looking at pitch_type, maybe even px, pz, pfx_x and pfx_z, assuming that count-based linear weights are successfully calculated (AND assuming MLB’s pitch_type values are one day very accurate).

    Then we can finally prove that batter-pitcher matchups are the most important stat in all of baseball after all!

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  6. bryan says:

    its a great thought, and being a nube to advanced metrics, i’m quite intrigued. however, i’d be more inclined to think that in the case presented, i think too much value would be put into how those seperate counts were achieved than the relative skill in actually putting the ball in play. hitters can have different hitting philosophy (patience/smarts vs raw pitch recognition/free swinging), and thus would approach their at-bats in a manner comfortable to them. in both cases, a runner ended up at 3rd, but i don’t necessarily see how cabrera’s theoretical skill in working the count should be worth more than taking two pitches and connecting on an 0-2 pitch (which could have been a breaking ball in the dirt from last year’s cy young winner, or a lazy fastball over the heart of the plate thrown by a AAAA pitcher).

    however, you could make the arguement that succeeding in a situation with a negative run total (in this case -0.104) in a 0-2 count is much more difficult than succeeding on a 3-1, where the odds are obviously in the hitter’s favor. i’d say that the ability to succeed more often in non-favorable situations might be a another interesting study.

    in short, i completely agree that the two triples are not created equally, and i think you’re on to something!

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  7. RonB says:

    I’m never really for any stats that go too in-depth.

    It’s commonly suggest that +10 runs = 1 win above replacement.

    In looking at a count you’re suggesting that a count is roughly equal to .1 runs meaning that a hitter would need to find 100 of these counts to equal one win (and that’s even more ridiculous to suggest that getting into a hitter’s count 100 times would make the difference between a win and a loss).

    Then, of course, you get into how often a batter is in a hitter’s count versus a pitcher’s count over the course of a season, etc., etc…

    A good bat is more likely to have a good hitter’s count. I think it would be more valuable to look at Pitchers per plate appearance and BB/K ratio.

    It’s never bad to have more information but you have to put the information in perspective – If I’m a GM where in the pecking order will I put the linear weighted value of a bat’s pitch count versus other things?

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  8. The Hit Dog says:

    The tool is interesting, but I don’t think you have a clearly defined goal. Like some commenters said above, you can’t award a player a greater or less linear value for an identical event – that is counterintuitive. Vlad is in 0-2 counts all the time but he still mashes, and in no way should that affect his wOBA (his wOBA already suffers for his poor patience). I think if you could display players’ wOBA by count, that would be useful, but we can already do that, can’t we?

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  9. garik16 says:

    I’m not really sure what you’re getting at here. I play with pitchfx data and individual run values myself (I write fanposts on amazin avenue and have one post written on beyond the box score), and we do measure values of pitches not hit in play for obvious reasons (to see how good a pitch is, we shouldn’t ignore a swinging strike).

    That said, when it comes to the weights of pitches put into play, their value in general is equivalent to Linear Weight of that event – the additional run value (or + for worse hitters). In essence this eliminates the double counting thing. But it does make what you’re suggesting seemingly pointless.

    If a player gets to a 3-1 count and hits a triple, the total run value of that at bat will be exactly EQUAL to a guy who gets to an 0-2 count and hits a triple. The values of a guy in working the count come in two ways: 1. Tiring out a pitcher (no offect on wOBA really) and 2. getting walks (and for the opposite type of batter, getting struck out). Walks and Strikeouts are INCLUDED in wOBA (though you might want to wait strikeouts differently from regular outs if you feel like it) so you get no additional value.

    PitchFX people seperate run values for each pitch because we’re interested in the value of each type of pitch, or pitches in a certain count. If you’re just interested in total batter performance, there’s 0 point to it, because it’ll just be the same as wOBA.

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    • Craig says:

      To me (for batters) the problem is that each triple ends up the same regardless of the pitches before it. This is washing away a bit of information which could potentially be useful to us. If we can measure a player’s skill at getting into good counts I’m thinking it will be more repeatable and perhaps a way to measure the batter’s maturity level (which could potentially help with projections)

      I’ve send you a couple of tweets about it as well but we should discuss more. I think it could be at the very least very interesting and perhaps quite useful.

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      • Bronnt says:

        It’s not something that I think needs be incorporated into wOBA. The fact is that most guys who get into good counts frequently have good wOBA’s, and guys who can’t get into good counts have wOBA’s like Jeff Francoeur.

        It’s definitely something that makes sense to incorporate for predictive purposes, as being able to work a count favorably should be seen as a repeatable skill (though I have no idea how large the sample would need to be for stable data) but it’s a peripheral number, like BABIP or xBABIP that has more to do with prediction than actually measuring results. It can have it’s uses, but the two triples will have exactly the same effect on the game and the season regardless of the count they came in.

        This is actually something that might be more easily and accurately incorporated into WPA. The home team’s chances of winning if they’re down a run with the tying run at the plate and 2 outs is very slim, and it’s even more slim if that batter falls into an 0-2 count. But there’s more that can be done with WPA anyway. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an in-game version of WPA that incorporates the performance of the players involved? If the Phillies are facing Billy Wagner in the 9th inning, down by a run, they have much better chances to win if the’ve got Utley, Howard, and Werth batting than if it’s Ibanez, Valdez, and Brown.

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    • Pat Andriola says:

      garik,

      First off, love your pitchf/x stuff. Second, Craig basically said what I want to. There is marginal information being left on the table.

      What if a guy pops up in three consecutive at-bats on 3-0, but in the three after gets doubles on 0-2? Sure, there’s count-situational hitting involved, but there’s luck too. The 3-0 pitch he swung at because it was a strike, but if it were 8 inches off the plate he’d be at first base with x runs for a walk, etc. We’re trying to eliminate noise as much as possible and pick up bits of value where we can.

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  10. I’m rethinking this whole thing again and I’m starting to think that the pitch count is a reflection of pitch-by-pitch analysis and cannot be consolidated with a play-by-play system like the linear weights system, which is based on events, not pitches.

    24 base-out situations can be spread out because they all have different end results if the batting event is the same. 12 different pitch count situations, but with base-out situation held constant and batting event the same, the end result will also be the same.

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  11. Sky says:

    I think the point is to separate the hitter’s skill in working the count from his skill in hitting the ball (to whatever extent they aren’t the same). So the 0-2 triple is less a result of working the count and more a result of hitting the ball on a (likely) tougher pitch. The 3-1 triple is more a result of working the count and less a result of hitting the ball on a (likely) easier pitch.

    Each triple is worth the same in a linear weights sense (and Pat’s not claiming otherwise), but this approach accounts for the skills behind the triple.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      But shouldn’t that just even out over the season anyway? A player that consistently finds himself in favorable counts should see that reflected in his wOBA, no?

      Using a hitter with little patience: Vlad’s OPS with a 3-1 count is 1.45 and with a 0-2 count .483.

      Using a hitter with patience: Abreu’s OPS with a 3-1 count is 1.45 and with a 0-2 count .465.

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  12. Ty says:

    So, are you suggesting there be some sort of new stat to rate a player’s ability to work the count, or to work this type of skill into an existing stat?

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    • Everett says:

      This is the perfect question – I think the goal needs to be clearly defined before we can try to really critically analyze the method of calculating the stat, and its overall usefulness/value.

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      • Pat Andriola says:

        Well, I admitted I don’t have a clear goal right now and that this was a thought experiment. This wasn’t “CHANGE wOBA!” more of, “hey, here’s a thought…”

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      • Ty says:

        The value I see us getting in this is simply another way to think about plate patience. There are different kinds of plate patience (two that come to mind are Adam Dunn and Kevin Youkilis).

        This may not generate a new stat, or alter any existing ones, but it’s an interesting way to consider how a player gets from point A to point B — not only does plate patience pay off in getting on base, but will also put that batter in a favorable position to achieve more than a walk, given the right pitch (and swing).

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  13. MikeS says:

    It’s interesting but is it relevant? Isn’t a triple a triple? Would it be more interesting to look at who is a good hitter in certain counts?

    You can also get carried away with this, especially with PithFx data. Say Cabrera hit his triple off a 98 mph heater in on his hands whereas Ordonez hit a change left up high over the heart of the plate. What if Cabrera got his off a fifth starter who had thrown 110 pitches and Ordonez off some fresh reliever sleected just for him. Or if Cabrera was facing a good starter who was then pulled for a long reliever. What if one of those triples came only because an outfielder dove and missed the ball when he could have played it safe and held him to a single? Most of those things aren’t count dependent so isolating just one variable may be a good idea but are you isolating the correct variable?

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  14. slash12 says:

    Keep in mind, that there are a lot of hitters who have good success, not because of their ability to work counts, but simply because they make great contact with the ball, in different counts. There are a lot of aggressive hitters who don’t work counts, but hit very well behind in the count, who put up very good numbers (with very low walk rates).

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Vlad’s career OPS when ahead: 1.185
      Vlad’s career OPS when behind: .704

      Very few hitters hit well when behind in the count.

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      • slash12 says:

        Perhaps I exaggerated a bit, but the extremes are different from player to player. I’m not saying it’s not worthwhile to come up with a way to measure a players ability to work the count, but merely that it shouldn’t be the sole factor in determining outcome.

        The pitches you see depend on the situation you’re in, and where you’re hitting the lineup as well, your leadoff hitters (especially NL) will see a ton more strikes then your middle of the lineup bats. Being able to put good wood on that firstball fastball when you can expect it’s coming, is a skill as well.

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      • AJS says:

        That’s because they strike out when behind in the count. What is Vlad’s ISO when ahead vs. behind — does he actually do worse on balls hit in play?

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        .303 vs .165 if my math is correct, its still based off of AB so strikeouts hurt him.

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  15. baumann says:

    I’ll use this remark from garik to lead into some amateurish questions: “If a player gets to a 3-1 count and hits a triple, the total run value of that at bat will be exactly EQUAL to a guy who gets to an 0-2 count and hits a triple.”

    But what about the fact that the former hitter made the pitcher throw 2 extra pitches (assuming no foul balls in the latter scenario)? This maybe harkens back to what Ty suggested, too.

    What is the value of “causing” the pitcher to throw an extra pitch? We can look at in in more detail, too: what is the value of moving a pitcher from Pitch #30 to Pitch #35 during a plate appearance? Or, what is the value of moving a pitcher from Pitch #15 to Pitch #20 in an inning? And should the hitter be credited for that to any degree, so that even if he makes an out, the negative run value for that out is mitigated if he has a 10-pitch PA that lead to that out? One possible problem here, I’m guessing, would be that it’s largely ulterior to the batter when in the inning or in the pitcher’s performance he (the batter) comes up to bat.

    This, of course, assumes that higher pitch counts lead to more runs scored, or something like that. I’m sure research has been done/data has been presented on that somewhere. Anyone know where? Also, if this is true, we might say that a triple hit on Pitch #3 of a pitcher’s outing is “harder” for the batter than a triple hit on Pitch #97. Should the latter triple be worth less because perhaps a “lesser” hitter might have been able to accomplish the same thing? I guess if the linear weight for a triple already account for all these different batting scenarios, as Everett points out above, maybe there’s no point to this either…

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    • bill says:

      I’m not sure that is true though, because the difference between throwing 5 pitches to one batter vs. 3 pitches to one batter might be negligible or nonexistent. For example… if a pitcher throws a 98 pitches in a game vs. 100 pitches in a game, is there even a measurable difference?

      Anyway I’m not sure that doing this proves anything. It’s an interesting exercise to see which players get themselves into favorable counts and what they do in said counts, but there’s no need to modify outcomes (a triple) based on the context that triple came in (a 3-1 count vs. an 0-2 count) because the outcome itself is unchanged. Again, while there’s value *in aggregate* to finding oneself in a favorable count repeatedly, there’s no way to determine if it was better or worse to be a in 3-1 count or an 0-2 in a particular situation vs. a particular pitcher when the outcome was exactly the same (a triple).

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  16. Jeremy says:

    I think separating the count from the result makes more sense for pitchers than hitters. I mean if I triple on a 3-1 count or a 1-2 count, I’ll feel like I did my job just as well either way. But if I give up a triple on a 1-2 count, I’ll feel like I got burned and was somewhat more unlucky than if I give one up on a 3-1 count, in which case I just suck.

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    • Pat Andriola says:

      Sure, this could work well with pitchers too, but just because you did your job either way doesn’t mean that you didn’t initially put yourself in a poor situation which, over the long run, can potentially hurt you if you’re not fortunate in your results.

      Oh, also, HEY JEREMY!

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    • Craig says:

      I was originally thinking in terms of pitchers too, Jeremy. I’d like to see it for both, though, for different purposes.

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      • Dan Hennessey says:

        Completely agree with Jeremy (as well as most of your answers, Pat). I would rather know as a pitcher that when I get a hitter down in the count, I’m getting the outs I’m “supposed” to get. Either way, the information is marginal (over the course of a season it’s probably on the order of runs, not wins), but as long as it’s very clearly defined what’s being measured, it could be useful for teams.

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  17. fanofdefenseagain says:

    I think that the application of a stat like this would be toward predicting something like xBABIP, xHR/FB, BB/9, K/9, or possibly FB:GB ratio.

    All of these stats are variable in the short term, so maybe this count based information provides useful information

    In so far as the above stats affect our understanding of a player’s wOBA, I can possibly see how this new metric COULD be useful.

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  18. no way says:

    I’m sorry, but there is no way that Miguel Cabrera gets a triple. All 3 outfielders would have had to fall down!

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  19. kamikaze80 says:

    stupid idea, the only thing that matters is the result. all else being equal, a batter who always draws a 3-0 count but also always makes an out, is equally useless as a batter who always draws an 0-2 count before always making an out.

    the only legitimate additional factor to consider is that the more pitches a batter sees during a plate appearance, the sooner the starting pitcher will eventually give way to the bullpen (and presumably, inferior pitchers). but even that is extremely context-dependent.

    there may be other effects to consider, such as more opportunities to steal a base if there are more pitches faced, but again, it’s highly context and team-dependent, and it’s not likely to really count for much.

    this is a pointless exercise in intellectual masturbation.

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  20. phoenix says:

    i think that it’s more useful for a pitcher than a batter. i like the idea of knowing how often a pitcher can convert a 2 strike count to an out or how often they are ahead of or behind a batter. i don’t think it should change wOBA or any other existing stat, but rather be its own category. i think a batter’s production will reflect their ability to get into a favorable count as that usually leads to a better outcome anyway. although statistics measuring getting ahead or behind or strike throwing already exist, so i don’t see this as wholly useful. it would just be interesting to see how different players hit with different counts, but i don’t think you can really get much value out of it.

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    • cajuncook says:

      I’m with this person. Part of the pitfall in quantifying where the count is when the ball was put in play is that more productive hitters are going to see more balls than a less productive hitter — either by better discipline or raw power that demands fewer pitches be thrown for strikes. I’m not sure how much useful information could be gleaned from this data for batters, which makes adjusting wOBA a really unsettling idea for me.

      Perhaps with pitchers you could normalize balls in play against opponent wOBA and the count? Certainly for a new statistic, though, not adjusting an existing one.

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  21. Hugh Williams says:

    Doesn’t really make sense. If you want to evaluate the value of a pitch, there’s something to it. If you’re evaluating the value of a plate appearance, your logic is bad. The value of the preceding pitches is suddenly moot? Obviously wrong.

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  22. JMS says:

    Has it actually been established that hitters are (as a general matter) equally impacted by being down in the count? If Wade Boggs, or even a young Louis Castillo, takes a lot of first pitches for strikes, won’t this approach understate their value?

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  23. Matt S says:

    Along these lines, isn’t there a certain inherent value to seeing pitches apart from the count? To use your example, Cabrera got into a 3-1 count meaning he saw 4 pitches. Mags got into an 0-2 count, which means he saw at least two pitches (but he could have seen more because of foul balls). Since the pitcher cannot throw an infinite number of pitches, seeing two pitches than tripling should be more valuable than seeing one or no pitches. So while adjusting for the value of reaching a better count, we should include a per pitch adjustment for the inherent wear being imposed on the pitcher by seeing pitches (regardless of their outcome) than apply the weight based on count. This would then appropriately reward a hitter who reaches an 0-2 count, proceeds to foul off four pitches than gets a hit. I think such an adjustment is necessary.

    I think the best way to implement it would be to weigh it against the average number of pitches seen per PA. After all the pitcher HAS to throw at least one pitch. A hit in a plate appearance wear the hitter sees 10 pitches is more damaging to the pitcher than the same hit on the first pitch, even if just marginally so.

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  24. Michael says:

    The count value assumes an unknown result for the at-bat. Once the result of the at-bat is known, I do not know if the value you stated applies (unless you are looking at the value of increasing a pitcher’s pitch count).

    However, this does lead to an interesting analysis path. We know the theoretical value of any combination of at-bat, count, and runners on base. We can also assign a value to the at-bat’s real life result. We could look at the differences and see which hitter’s are bucking the trends. It would be interesting to see who does it consistently.

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  25. Frank says:

    It seems to me that, as stated above, the purpose of this statistic would not be to evaluate performance, but rather the likelihood that the performance will be repeated. Therefore, we are talking about a new statistic that has a different purpose than wOBP.

    Now, generally speaking, batters that get into better counts (ie: hitter’s counts, rather than pitcher’s counts), face more pitches. Does it not seem logical that using a number such as pitches/AB would be a rough approximation of the same thing? Maybe the way to check the quality of the proxy would be to rank the batters who have the highest pitches / AB, and see if more pitches (and therefore more hitter’s counts, at least in part) generally implies higher batting averages. That is, do the top half of players in pitches / AB account for more than their fair share of the top half of the best batting averages?

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