The Effects of the Opposite Field Strategy

Yesterday, I covered why Tony Bernazard‘s strategy of emphasizing opposite field hitting is a bad idea. The report which broke the story mentioned that this strategy had surfaced at the MLB level. If so, we should be able to examine the profiles of Mets hitters and see if this strategy actually affected their production, and if so, if it was positive or negative.

However, when we deal with pull-push splits, we’re purposefully reducing the size of our data set, leading to the type of issues that we encounter with batter-pitcher splits, although not at quite the same magnitude. Toss in the issues that the Mets had with injuries, and it becomes even harder to establish solid conclusions. With only David Wright reaching the 600 PA mark, we will be dealing with both players without an established level of major league production as well as small sample sizes.

As mentioned yesterday, power, as measured by ISO, is much, much lower when the ball is hit to the opposite field. As such, one possible effect of this strategy would be a team-wide drop in ISO. Although the Mets team ISO did drop by about 20 points from 2008 to 2009, this can be almost entirely attributed to the loss of talent due to injury. We can still look at individual players. Here are David Wright, Fernando Tatis, and Carlos Beltran‘s ISO numbers for their career.

powerdrop

Clearly, this trio had a power dip in 2009. This is consistent with the idea that power dips when more balls are hit to the opposite field. However, there are multiple factors at work here. Park factors are not accounted for, and Citi Field appears to play as a pitcher’s park. Beltran lost much of his year to injury and barely accrued 300 PAs. Tatis also did not reach 400 PAs, and also spent much of 2007 and 2008 in the minor leagues, meaning we don’t have full data as far as his trends go. We also miss the effects of aging.

agepower

The power dips for Beltran and Tatis are unsurprising given their respective ages of 32 and 34. Tatis actually pulled more pitches in 2009 than he did in 2008. Beltran had a lower pull rate as a LHB relative to 2008, but a similar one as a RHB. It doesn’t seem to be enough to definitively say that it affected his power significantly. Either way, given all the factors at work here, it is pretty easy to dismiss front office strategy as a reason for decline, at least with these two.

With Wright, it’s not so clear. He’s a young player a should have been entering his peak in 2009, and yet his ISO dropped off a cliff. In this case, we do indeed see a large difference in his splits. In 2009, he was nearly even in L/C/R hitting, whereas his pull rate was about 1.5 times his up-the-middle rate and 1.6 times his push rate in 2008. He did perform better according to wOBA on balls hit up the middle and to right field in 2009, but that seems to be entirely a function of high BABIPs, as there was still minimal power to be found in either split. It seems safe to claim that Wright did not pull as many pitches in 2009 and that this drop in pull rate is at least partially responsible for his drop in power.

A claim that we can’t make, however, is that the Mets strategy is to blame for Wright’s drop in power and productivity in 2009. Even though we see data that suggests a decreased pull rate resulted in less power, we don’t know that it was intentional or merely noise. If it was intentional, we don’t know if it was merely a change in approach brought about by a slump or if it was brought about by management. This doesn’t change the intelligence of the strategy – we just can’t make blanket statements about its effects on the 2009 Mets, due to the sample sizes and other mitigating factors at work.



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bDogg
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bDogg
6 years 4 months ago

Perhaps, though often times you can drive a fastball away, or a curveball away harder to the opposite field. Where as you pull that pitch, you nub it to the left side of the infield.

Travis L
Member
Member
Travis L
6 years 4 months ago

Yes, some pitches are better to hit to opposite field. However, when talking about general trends, it’s kinda pointless to bring up one simple situation where there’s a different strategy. The fact is that hitters, overall, do much better in general (Ryan Howard excepted) when they pull the ball.

Mentioning that you can hit the ball hard the other way is true, if irrelevant.

Bdogg
Guest
Bdogg
6 years 4 months ago

Sure its one simple situation, but that is1/3rd of the situations. Inside, Middle, Away. And pitchers on every level pitch away because they know its harder to pull the ball on the far side of the plate. So you could argue that is over 1/3rd of the situations. http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2006/11/generalities_in.php

Another option is when you are handcuffed on the hands. You are forced to pull the hands through first to inside out the ball to get the barrel of the bat on the baseball.

In general I am surprised, like Mr. Murphy, that the Mets would do something like this. Everyone knows its harder to hit the ball with authority from the center to the right flag pole. Though some coaches preach it to stay down and square on the baseball instead of pulling your shoulder open too early, which also saps power.

The A Team
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The A Team
6 years 4 months ago

I find it difficult to believe that successful, established players like Beltran, Wright, and Reyes would buy into or pay any service to Bernazard’s BS. Where I think it could show up are the Alex Coras, Daniel Murphys, and Corey Sullivans of the world. You know, guys who are clinging to a roster spot and willing to try anything to eek out a little more job security.

It’s pretty damn near impossible to make any conclusions with the lack of meaningful sample sizes. The data could be biased in a dozen ways and there’s basically nothing we can do about it. Obviously the strategy is dumb and after the lampooning the Mets have taken over it, nobody will be using it for awhile.

Bobby Snyder
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Bobby Snyder
6 years 4 months ago

I know Wright didn’t put up huge power numbers away from home, but Citi definitely sapped Wright’s power production. I remember seeing a stat showing that many of Wright’s 2004-2008 HRs had just cleared the fence. With deeper dimensions and higher walls, many of those deep fly balls that cleared the fence at Shea were long outs at Citi. Additionally, Wright would hit several oppo HR per season at Shea. Citi however has a cutout right where Wright hit most of his Shea RF roundtrippers, making it very difficult for a RHH to hit the ball out to RF, especially for a RHH whose oppo HRs barely made it out of the park. With deeper dimensions, higher walls, and a cut out in RF, it’s as Citi was designed to stunt Wright’s career.

Red Sox Talk
Guest
6 years 4 months ago

If Wright was consciously trying to go the other way, I’m not sure it shows in the aggregate numbers. Anyone looked at his spray charts to try and verify this?

From B-Ref (# ABs Pulled-Up the Middle-Opp Field):
2009: 94-210-91
2008: 148-277-75
2007: 101-286-102

Compared to last season, it does appear to be the case, but just looking at the last three years, I’d say that 2008 is more the outlier here. If I had to say anything form this, I’d probably conclude that Wright uses the whole field pretty well, and is maybe a very mild pull hitter.

Red Sox Talk
Guest
6 years 4 months ago

I’d like to point out that this count doesn’t include FB-GB-LD numbers, so I’m not claiming this is conclusive of anything yet.

Richie Abernathy
Guest
Richie Abernathy
6 years 4 months ago

I think that an executive taking off his shirt and challenging the players of a minor league affiliate to a fight is an excellent organizational philosophy.

Jim S
Guest
Jim S
6 years 4 months ago

Any analysis on splits will only account for a ball hit into play. But a hitter who uses the whole field has a greater margin for error and should strikeout less often and put the ball into play more often; whereas a player who looks to pull has less margin for error and will strikeout more often. There likely is not a way to statistically account for the difference, but you have to consider it in order to arrive at the proper conclusion.

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