What Battling at the Plate Actually Means

I wrote a post yesterday on Lookout Landing concerning Luis Rodriguez and his perception as that of a “battler” at the plate. I had seen and heard that adjective tossed about for him quite often and decided to try to come up with a reasonable definition for the term as I interpreted it and then check to see if Rodriguez did in fact deserve the praise. I also wanted to see if others agreed with what I came up with for a formula equivalent of battling and nobody seemed to object, so I am willing now to subject it to another audience for feedback.

I decided that battling at the plate involved either taking a ball or fouling pitches off while in a two-strike count. Unique to two-strike counts, neither action makes the batter worse off while either directly improving their situation (taking a ball) or at least forcing the pitcher to keep throwing. Any other outcome with two strikes ends the at bat and thus the battle. To scale it, I take the ratio of balls taken and pitches fouled off and count it against the other possible outcomes. Or as I put it, given a two-strike count, how often did a hitter keep the at bat alive?

It turned out that Luis Rodriguez does so far warrant praise for battling if you accept the above definition for the term. He has a 70% rate of extending the at bat. Alternatively, for every pitch that ends a two-strike at bat, Luis Rodriguez forces the pitcher to throw 2.3 other pitches. For a league-wide look, I restricted it to players with at least 100 plate appearances only and the toughest out according to this measure is Nick Hundley who sees just over two additional pitches every time he gets into a corner. Vernon Wells is the quickest to dispose of with fewer than one extra pitch seen. I threw the sheet of players up on the web and you can access it here to find your favorites.

Moving on from individual players, I also grouped by team to see if there was any meaningful spread and the results were unsurprising. At the top is the Yankees and the Red Sox sit third in baseball. This stands as yet another way of demonstrating why their games take forever to conclude. Nestled between those two AL East roadblocks are the Cardinals and their very potent offense. The Athletics and Mariners both rank in the top ten, which befits their scrappy offense perceptions. The Yankees at top are at 62% of pitches prolonging the at bat while the Brewers rank 30th with just 56%. Clearly not as dramatic as with hitters who range from Hundley at 68% down to Wells at 43%, but not trivial either.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

59 Responses to “What Battling at the Plate Actually Means”

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  1. delv says:

    I liked this. It’s often fascinating to see which old-school terms hold up against statistical analysis and which ones don’t. Why do our eyes and minds serve as adequate analysts at certain times and not at others?

    Btw, It would be nice to see a breakdown of who tends to look to take more in 2-strike counts and who tends to swing more in those counts, and then see resultant wOBA by the end of PA.

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    • delv says:

      I wasn’t clear above. I meant:

      “Btw, It would be nice to see a breakdown of who tends to look to take a ball more in 2-strike counts and who tends to swing and make contact more in those counts, and then see resultant wOBA by the end of PA.”

      The first part is basically, “who hacks in order to stay alive?” and “who takes pitches in order to stay alive?” The version of the spreadsheet you provided has the raw numbers but not PAs.

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      • Telo says:

        This article is making us all dumber (evidence – the posts above). Players don’t “take pitches to stay alive” in ABs. That literally makes no sense. When you are at the plate with 2 strikes you are protecting the zone. You swing if you think it’s close. If you did a study of pitch recognition with two strikes…%swing/take on strike, %swing/take on balls… holy crap that could be an actual article! This whole piece is garbage. I can’t stress this enough.

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  2. Ellis says:

    Nice article. Brett Gardner has got to be the best “battler” in the game.

    (And sorry to nitpick, but “battler” is a noun, not an adjective!)

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  3. Telo says:

    A. Not sure why you limited yourself to just this year’s data. Those samples just don’t feel meaningful at all

    B. I’d have included all results of 2 strike counts into your “battler rating”. The hypothesis is that a player may perform differently than their true talent in a 2 strike situation, possibly elevating (battling) or lowering their effectiveness. So why throw out a large portion of 2 strike outcomes (strikeouts or when the ball is put into play)? Limiting your selection to fouls and balls taken makes no sense.

    C. Luis Rodriguez sucks, and he can foul off all the 2 strike pitches he wants, he’s still a marginal utility IF.

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    • Keenan says:

      I don’t think he ever said that Luis Rodriguez was good

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    • Matt says:

      You completely missed the purpose of this post.

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      • Telo says:

        Part C wasn’t directed at the author but at whoever purported the “battler” label in the first place. No surprise you ignored the salient and logical points in my post and focused entirely on the meaningless part… and even interpreted that wrong. Congrats.

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  4. aweb says:

    There is some bias towards those players that find themselves in an 0-2 hole, I would think, since the 0-2 pitch is so often wasted, but a fun look at the data out there.

    But looking at the foul ball vs taken ball ratio – Geovany Soto is at 58:8. Only 8 2-strike foul balls is kinda’ amazing. Lots of guys foul off more than they take, those are the “battlers” to me

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    • Tang says:

      Basically, the core metric is the number of pitches after reaching a 2 strike count divided by the number of 2 strike counts reached. Subtract one for having to face at least one more pitch no matter what.

      Certainly an interesting concept. Not sure how much value there is in this metric since it’s more important whether the PA ends in a hit, walk, or out. Also it’s an alternate way of measuring contact and battling eye.

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    • Telo says:

      The words “foul ball” should never have been used in this entire piece. Try contact rate with 2 strikes…..think about it……..

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  5. Bip says:

    I had a feeling Jerry Sands would be up there. Now, if only more of those battles ended in hits instead of strikeouts.

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    • Telo says:

      I had a feeling some player I knew the name of would be on that list. And yes, the actual outcomes of 2 strike ABs should obviously be included. You win a prize for engaging your brain for a half a second.

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  6. Chone Figgins says:

    I wish Luis Rodriguez could teach me how to battle.

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  7. Superintendent Chalmers says:

    Did that child just what’s a battle?

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  8. m's fan says:

    Somebody should look up Carlos Guillen, he struck me as a “battler.” Also, pre-mariners Chone Figgins.

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    • Telo says:

      Figgins is bottom half and Guillen… well he aint on the list because Carruth Hawking decided to use this year’s 150 ABs of data and nothing else for his nobel prize winning article, so Guillen aint on the board.

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  9. keegs says:

    Did you take out pitcher AB’s for the team rankings?

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    • Telo says:

      I’m pretty sure he wrote this article in about 10 minutes and couldn’t give a crap less about your request, which by the way is mind blowingly lame and irrelevant

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      • hjrrockies says:

        Please stop trolling every comment. Everyone knows your opinion now, so please stop harassing those who have legitimate questions.

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  10. Mike says:

    I really like this, any way we can get this stat on player cards here on fangraphs?

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    • Telo says:

      This is entire exercise is flawed and as close to meaningless as it gets. Carruth is a joke. Holy crap Chris Ianetta has fouled off like 50 balls this year on 0-2 counts!?!? That is totally a meaningful thing. I am blown away. This type of shit is literally what gives sabermetrics a bad name. Using numbers sloppily, lazily, and as a substitute for actual thinking.

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      • Nick44 says:

        Then do your own analysis and link to it.

        Running up pitch counts will give the offense a slight advantage as it increases the probability of a starter going out earlier and a reliever coming in. Given the average starter is better than an average reliever this has some value.

        You can disparage an article with comments all you want, but wihout doing an analysis of your own (with numbers and actual thinking!) your comments come off as sloppy. I’m sure you understand it all in your head, but all your comments here in this post make it clear to me that you cannot explain it well to others.

        Either that or you’re just trollin’.

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      • Mr. wOBAto says:

        The fact that Iannetta has faced over 150 pitches with a 2 strike count is of interest, and is a measure of value.

        If you think it is a flawed one, I may very well agree but post a preferable form of analysis instead of wasting our time by bitching.

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  11. Cam says:

    Vernon Wells is dead last in the majors by a rather large margin, which confirms that this list is accurate.

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    • Telo says:

      And AGone, Beltre and Zobrist are 7 spots ahead of him in the bottom of the barrel. I AM BLOWN AWAY BY THE ENLIGHTENING DISCOVERIES IN THIS ARTICLE

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      • Phrozen says:

        Did someone shit in your cheerios this morning?

        This was a simple article with a simple, but interesting point: applying some measure of statistics to the “watches the game” crowd, showing, at least in this instance, a correlation. There’s no need to be such a douchebag about it.

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      • Andrew says:

        Seriously, get the stick out of your ass. If this is so meaningless, why do you bother flaming every single person that posts? Go find a better use of your time, since you are clearly much smarter than everyone else.

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  12. Bob Bobson says:

    I know Telo will flame me for this, but…

    I would think it would more befit a “battler” if a player works a walk than Ks at the end of the PA. In the K outcome, the player lost the battle. In the other, they won the battle. I see hits, and ground/fly/line outs as “battle-neutral” (as that’s largely driven by BABIP). In both the K and BB outcome, the PA is over, so it’d be nice to throw in a “fudge factor” where you assume that if he had been able to continue to battle he would have fouled off his standard rate of balls.

    One thing I’ve noticed is the Craig Counsells and David Ecksteins of the world – guys that foul away balls in the middle of the zone that other players probably would have squared up on. So, is there a different in-zone swing-and-foul rate for a battler than for a non-battler? Also, Counsell seems to have a penchant for working a walk in bases loaded situations, and probably has a higher wOBA contribution from the walks than from hits. He also seems to have a higher-than-normal number of sacrifices (for non-pitchers) in such situations.

    In other words, a) a walk is more battley than a K and b) in-K-zone swing-and-foul rate? Oswing rate? c) are “battlers” correlated with “gritty” high sacrifice position players?

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    • Squads says:

      The feeling I get is the author was just trying to determine if a player battles or not, basically just to see if the term “battler” passes the smell test. Whether they win or lose the battle isn’t the point here, just that they work the pitcher in a 2 strike count. I thought it got the point across.

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      • Bob Bobson says:

        I acknowledge that. But you have to admit that they don’t NEED to work the count if they went 3-1, then 3-2 then took a ball. This analysis would conclude that (based on this 1 PA at least) they’re not a battler, when they didn’t need to do anything to work the count.

        Absolutely, they’ll need to work the count and foul off a few to go from an 0-2 count to a walk, unless the pitcher has a complete meltdown.

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      • In the case you outlined the batter would be credited with one pitch in the “battled category” and zero pitches in the other category, which would increase his ratio of the former over the latter thus making him look more like a battler.

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  13. JRoth says:

    Meanwhile, just yesterday I was wondering if anyone had ever looked to see if there was a correlation between “good ABs” and actual success in subsequent ABs. IOW, you’ll often hear that a hitter whose made an out after a long AB had a “good AB”, with the implication that this portends success. And it could be true – fouling off a bunch of pitches suggests that the hitter is at least not lost up at the plate – but I wonder if it really is.

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  14. Ari Collins says:

    Wow, Telo, you really have nothing better to do than reply to every single person’s comment, belittling them and the original author?

    Meantime, I was amused at how the surnames in the spreadsheet are in quotes, like Carruth believes the names might not be real. I see him putting air quotes around “Pujols.”

    “Albert so-called ‘Pujols.’ Come on, that can’t be his real name!”

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  15. boxx says:

    Geez thank god Dave Cameron didn’t write this article or else Telo would still be typing.

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  16. boxx says:

    Telo – Seriously man you need to learn how to disagree with someone and maintain respect. There are many ways to present a dissenting opinion without coming across like an obnoxious douche…..ALL THE TIME. When you constantly respond in vitriolic ways, it destroys your credibility. I read almost every article here on FG, and there are many times you add something positive to the discussion. When you do, it sounds like something coming from a knowlegeable baseball fan. Conversely, when you go off the deep end, it just feeds the perception that you are all bluster and no substance. It’s gotten to the point where once I see your name, I first check to see if there are the obligatory 27 thumbs down or not. Once I see the -30 in bright red, I know to skip on by to the next comment.

    Also Telo, everybody knows you hate Dave Cameron. Nobody gives a shit.

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    • Telo says:

      Yea, but threads like this are more fun, especially when the content is so garbage. Plus I pretty wasted. But point taken.

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  17. Slugger27 says:

    im only gonna state i like the article to test “telo” and see if he lets it go or reacts negatively to both my positive comment and the article

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  18. Antonio Bananas says:

    Do Eckstein the year he won the WS MVP. That was a big part of it. he was the gritty little guy that inspired everyone to play better.

    This article is neat but kind of an intro. I’d like to see it expanded. Pitchers who are most easily battled, runners on vs bases clear, 0 out, 2 out, early in the game, late in the game, how often a team scores after a guy battles and gets out vs a “normal out”, how often a team scores after a battling and getting a hit. Home runs after battling, etc. Lots of stuff to look at.

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  19. Jon says:

    I have two points, although one is just a point of confusion:

    To wit: I’m not sure why we have a “ratio.” Can’t we just have each player’s average of pitches seen after 2 strikes? Or is that what we are seeing?

    The other point is that it looked like both very good hitters and struggling hitters might come out at as “battlers.” Anecdotally, it seems that a weak or struggling batter might see pitches in the zone but foul them away, while a powerful hitter may have to be patient while the pitcher tries to nibble around the corners. Both groups look like battlers (and of course, lousy hitters who get quick strikes against have more time to “battle”). The groups may be hard to differentiate with this metric alone.

    In any case, contrary to what a minority few are saying, this is a very cool idea – very Jamesian, identifying a common observation and testing it empirically.

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  20. The Nicker says:

    I’m surprised AJ Pierzysnki wasn’t at the very top actually, I’m sure in season’s past he would have been. So obnoxious to get two strikes on him and watch him foul off pitch after pitch. Two things I’d like to see done:

    1) Expand this list back from 2008 to now to give us the best battlers in the league right now.

    2) Echoing Antonio Bananas, a list of pitchers that shows who’s the most difficult and least difficult to battle.

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  21. Eck (Yankee Kid) says:

    I am the best battler. Plus, I got a RBI at Elkhorn

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  22. Matt says:

    Really interesting article…not surprised to see Tejada near the bottom of the list.

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  23. Flynn says:

    Wouldn’t you have to take into account park factors in this? I mean, don’t both the new Yankee Stadium and Fenway have some of the smallest foul ground areas in all of baseball? It would seem that battlers would have to be normalized by where the AB took place…

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    • Antonio Banans says:

      Definately. Large foul territory means more space to catch the balls. It’s why we should use least significant difference. but that’s a normal statistical measure and if we don’t pull some ratio or equation out of our ass here it doesn’t count.

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  24. CircleChange11 says:

    [1] Guy hears something
    [2] Guy wonders if it’s true
    [3] Guys researches to find out


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  25. Stephen says:

    Wow, another superfluously unimpressive article from Matt.

    I usually stop reading an article when the author makes an egregious grammatical error in the 2nd sentence.

    For some reason, I read the article in it’s entirety….I wish I hadn’t. People read things that are either enlightening or entertaining. This was neither.

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