Friday, June 06, 2008

Pitcher's Value as Hitters: BP Found Similar Gains as I Did

I wrote a while back on the value of a hitting pitcher: here. Baseball Prospectus has recently did a more comprehensive analysis of it (well, they do have a much better database of information; they did the same thing when they replicated my draft study) and came to basically the same conclusion I did, though the range is smaller than what I had posited. Their article is here.


As a recap, I bumped up the Giants pitcher's performance to that of Omar Vizquel last season (i.e. not that huge a jump) and found that the increase in runs scored relative to their pitching performance resulted in an extra win, but since it's a zero sum game, it is a net two win swing.


Sidenote: I just realized that this is something that sabermetrics types either didn't notice or don't make clear in their discussions on this or, more likely, I was being stupid, but while increasing runs scored or runs prevented by the roughly 10 runs that results in an additional win in a season (say from 81 wins to 82 wins), that results in a swing of two games in your record (from 81-81 to 82-80, for example). So I always thought that when they say you increase by one win, you need to get to two wins in order to go from 81-81 to 82-80.


BP didn't quite find such a jump in wins but something similar and, I just realized, is using a different measure so perhaps we are more similar in results than I originally thought. They used a regression-based system for projecting hitter performance that they call SPHPS (Simple Pitcher Hitting Projection System). They used their Marginal Lineup Value formula to calculate how many extra runs a pitcher produces relative to a league-average hitting pitcher, where the rough rule of thumb is 10 extra runs equals one win.


The best hitting pitcher, Dontrelle Willis, adds a whopping 8.7 runs per season, which is ironic since he's now in the AL where this advantage is gone. He is a full 2.3 runs better than the next pitcher, Micah Owings, who is a full 0.8 runs better than the third, and the third is 0.7 runs higher than 4th. The 10th best hitting pitcher is Brad Penny with +2.8 runs per season.


Dontrelle's lifetime hitting line is .234/.280/.359/.639 with almost 30% XBH and 44 AB/HR. That is almost but not quite to the stats I used for Omar (which was .671 OPS). Plus the Giants pitchers OPS (or rather #9 hitter's OPS) of .467 is probably close to the league-average for the NL (since AL has DH), plus or minus.


So the results are very similar, if a pitcher can rise from a league-average hitter to one as good as Omar was last season, which is considered pretty bad for a regular starting position player, you would add, based on the calculation that BP did for Dontrelle Willis, roughly 10 runs extra per season, which translates to an extra win (if the translation is linear, the .671 OPS would equal 9.1 runs extra per season but close enough).


In my study, I stated that it adds around 0.34 runs per game, which translate into 10.9 runs extra per season. BP's finding is roughly equal to that, particularly if the Giants pitchers are below the league-average for the NL (very possible, they don't seem to be that good as hitters, particularly last season), that would account for the 1.8 runs difference between my calculation and their calculation. And obviously this only applies to NL cities where the pitcher bats.


Do You Really Want to Win?


So this is an open challenge to any pitcher reading my post. Do you really want to win? If you do, you would keep up your hitting skills every day and try to get as good as one of the worse starting position players, and if you can do that, you can add an extra win (which results in a two win swing in your team's record) every year. I always thought it was a shame that you see in high school all these pitchers who could also hit as well or better than any regular position player, but then you get to the majors and don't see the same thing anywhere in the NL.


And if you can get your teammates to buy into it and duplicate your feat (Livan, as much as I don't like him, did at least challenge his fellow starting pitchers with bets and contests, to hit better when he was around), that is an extra five wins per MLB season. Thus if your team is just an average team overall but have pitchers who can hit as crappy as the worse hitting position player around, you would change an 81-81 team into a 86-76 team. In other words, from a mediocre also-ran to a team that would be in contention every year.

World Series Gambit


Now this advantage would be diminished in the World Series because the DH would be used in the AL cities, so that got me thinking. Most teams are rarely in place to be assured a spot in the playoffs before the last day you can trade for somebody, but if you are close enough and you are an NL team, you could try to pick up a cheap rental of a good hitter from another team so that you have a better caliber hitter on the bench for the playoffs and so that you would have a better caliber hitter DH-ing for you in the AL cities.


Typically, the NL team is reduced to using their best hitter on the bench. But unless you are extremely lucky, most of the hitters on your bench are there for a reason, they are replacement level hitters or worse, unless you are lucky enough to have a McCovey-Cepeda-like competition going on where one sits when the other one plays. That creates a huge advantage for the AL team against the NL team when playing in the AL city, and lately with the NL losing the All-Star game each year, the AL team gets that extra game in their city and extra advantage.


That is probably similar to the advantage the NL team has over the AL team in terms of how well their pitchers hit.

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