The Least Intimidating Hitter in Baseball

You can learn a lot about a hitter by the way he gets pitched to. Granted, you can also learn a lot about a hitter by the way that he hits, but when you look at the approach, you learn something about perception. You learn how opponents see the hitter. Two useful measures: fastball rate, and zone rate. You could of course go deeper than this, but fastball rate tells you something about fear. The same goes for zone rate. If someone keeps getting fastballs in the zone, the pitchers probably aren’t afraid. If someone rarely sees fastballs or pitches in the zone, well, something else is going on.

Some 2016 numbers, for reference:

Fastball and Zone Rates
Split Fastball% Zone%
Pitchers 71% 55%
Non-Pitchers 56% 48%
Top 25 ISO 53% 45%
Bottom 25 ISO 59% 49%

You can see how aggressively pitchers are attacked by other pitchers. The fastball rate skyrockets, and you get five out of nine pitches in the strike zone. More powerful hitters see fewer fastballs, and fewer strikes. Less powerful hitters see more fastballs, and more strikes. This is all easy and intuitive, and although there are other variables to consider, we’ve touched on the big stuff.

Using these statistics, we can attempt to quantify a hitter’s intimidation. No, it’s not perfect, but I’ve still run the math, calculating z-scores for both of the rates. The last step is just adding the two z-scores together. In this table, the least intimidating hitters in baseball in 2016, given a minimum of 200 plate appearances.

Least Intimidating Hitters, 2016
Player Season Fastball%, z Zone%, z Combined
Ben Revere 2016 3.5 1.9 5.3
Nori Aoki 2016 1.8 2.6 4.4
J.B. Shuck 2016 1.9 2.1 4.0
Billy Burns 2016 1.2 2.7 3.9
Shawn O’Malley 2016 1.9 1.9 3.8
J.J. Hardy 2016 1.5 2.2 3.7
Angel Pagan 2016 2.6 0.9 3.5
DJ LeMahieu 2016 2.3 1.0 3.3
Darwin Barney 2016 1.3 1.9 3.2
Derek Norris 2016 1.6 1.6 3.2

It’s Ben Revere! And it’s Ben Revere by a mile. Revere just saw 70% fastballs, and he saw 52% of all pitches in the strike zone. That’s not quite where pitchers wound up, collectively, but Revere was nearly pitched like a pitcher, and that certainly sends a message. No one was afraid of him, and not coincidentally, Revere finished with a 47 wRC+. He did, though, smack a couple of dingers.

For some context, I calculated numbers for individual hitter-seasons throughout the PITCHf/x era, stretching back to 2008. Where did Revere’s season rank in terms of its unintimidatingness?

Least Intimidating Hitters, 2008 – 2016
Player Season Fastball%, z Zone%, z Combined
David Eckstein 2009 3.1 2.7 5.8
David Eckstein 2010 3.1 2.5 5.6
Marco Scutaro 2013 2.6 2.9 5.5
Nick Punto 2013 2.8 2.7 5.5
Ben Revere 2016 3.5 1.9 5.3
Jason Kendall 2010 2.8 2.5 5.3
David Eckstein 2008 2.8 2.2 5.1
Denard Span 2011 2.0 3.0 5.0
Ryan Hanigan 2015 1.9 3.0 4.9
A.J. Ellis 2015 3.0 1.9 4.9

Not a bad showing — fifth place, out of 3,148 hitter-seasons. David Eckstein occupies the top two spots, and, sure, of course he does. Because I’m sure you’d wonder, the lowest combined score is -6.7, belonging to 2012 Josh Hamilton. Pitchers definitely didn’t want to throw him any fastballs, and they didn’t want to risk anything he’d find particularly hittable.

Back to Revere. There was an article on after the home run embedded above, which was Revere’s first of the season. Said Dusty Baker, unironically, or maybe ironically, how should I know:

“I’m just hoping he doesn’t get that dreadful disease of home run-itis,” Baker said.

Said Revere, referring to same:

“If I try to hit it in the air, I’ll probably be at .250 or a Mendoza-line .200 hitter. But if I hit the ball on the ground or line drives, I’ll be .300 for a long time.”

Revere ran the same ground-ball rate he had as a regular in 2015, when he hit .306. He finished the year batting .217.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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