6 MLB Batting Stats That Will Surprise You
There are so, so many statistics in baseball.
That, of course, is part of baseball's charm. The game has been around since the late 1800s, and people have been keeping track of who has done what since way back when. There's a reason Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn is a popular figure in the online world, and that's because people kept track of his 59-12 season in 1884 when he started 73 games, pitched 678 2/3 innings and struck out 441 batters with 11 shutouts.
In that spirit, at the end of every season, I like to comb through the 'ol electronic thinkin' box on my desk and look through that season's stats to find some of the more surprising numbers. Lo and behold, once again this year, I found some good ones.
So, below are six statistics from the 2015 season that made me do a metaphorical spit-take.
Nolan Arenado Power Numbers
From the middle of the 1970s through the '80s, you could count on pretty much two things; ugly uniforms (that we now find beautiful) and Mike Schmidt leading the National League in home runs and RBIs. It seemed to happen almost every year.
This year, one NL player managed to pull off the 'ol Mike Schmidt, and his name isn't Bryce Harper, even though Harper was worth almost 10 wins above replacement this year. Harper did lead the league in long balls with 42, but he did not win the home crown outright.
Another National League third baseman, Colorado's Nolan Arenado, also hit 42, and also led the league in RBI with 130. Not only that, Arenado is a plus-defensive third baseman, just like Schmidt was. Obviously, Arenado has a long way to go before he reaches the greatness of Schmidt, but he certainly had a Michael Jack-like season in pretty much every way you can.
Odubel Herrera BABIP
He's not going to get any votes for the National League Rookie of the Year Award this year, but Philadelphia's Odubel Herrera had one heck of a season. Taken as a Rule 5 pick by the Phils over the winter, Herrera finished tied for the fourth-most fWAR among qualified rookies, with Jung Ho Kang at 3.9 fWAR. He hit .297 this season, with a .344 on-base percentage, a .418 slugging percentage and a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 110.
No one saw that coming.
But was it all because of a lot of luck? After all, Herrera led all of baseball with a .387 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which usually indicates a fair amount of luck on the balls he put onto the playing field. In many cases, BABIP is not sustainable from year-to-year, and a lower BABIP would also mean a lower batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage as well.
It remains to be seen in Herrera's case, however, he is a line-drive and ground-ball hitter who has historically had a high BABIP throughout his minor league career. In 96 games at Double-A last year it was .389, and in 101 Double-A games in 2013 it was .304. In fact, Herrera has never posted a BABIP lower than that .304 in six professional seasons (majors and minors). So perhaps in his case, it just might be sustainable.
Jose Bautista Line Drive Percentage
Toronto's Jose Bautista is generally considered one of the most feared sluggers in the game, and this year was no different. He hit 40 home runs and 29 doubles for the Blue Jays this season, his most since 2011 when he hit 43. He generally hits the ball very hard, and some of his moonshots are of the majestic variety.
So would it surprise you to learn that Bautista had the lowest line-drive percentage among qualified hitters in Major League Baseball this season? Bautista hit what FanGraphs describes as a line drive in just 13.9% of his plate appearances this season, fewer than any other player.
However, the masher balances that by putting up a fly ball percentage of 48.8%, second highest in baseball, with an 18.4% home run-to-fly ball ratio that was 22nd-best in the Majors. Bautista elevates the ball more than he hits it on a line, and while the result may be a lower batting average (he's a career .257 hitter), his .536 slugging percentage, .285 isolated power (ISO) and wRC+ of 148 indicate he's still getting the job done.
Brian Dozier Pull Percentage
Minnesota's Brian Dozier had himself a very Dozier-like season in 2015, slashing .236/.307/.444 with a career-high 28 homers, plus 77 RBI and 101 runs scored. That power, especially for a second baseman, is what makes him valuable.
But until the last two seasons, Dozier didn't display much power, never hitting more than seven home runs in any minor league season. He hit just six in 84 games with the Twins in 2012 and 18 with Minnesota in 147 games in 2013. However, last year, that number jumped up to 23 in 156 games, and this year it was 28.
This change is due almost entirely to Dozier focusing on becoming a dead-pull hitter, with a MLB-high pull percentage this year of 60.2%. That's up from 53.8% last year, 42.0% in 2013 and 39.6% in 2012.
The correlation is clear. As Dozier has focused more on pulling the ball for power, the power has come.
Anthony Rizzo WPA
There's a stat that not a lot of casual fans know about called Win Probability Added, or WPA. It is a statistic that attempts to measure a player's contribution to a team's win by figuring out each specific play made by that player and how much it altered the outcome of a game.
For example, say a team has a 35% chance of winning the game when a player comes to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. And then say that player hits a three-run double, which pushes that team's win expectancy up to 55%. That difference in win expectancy of +20% is given to that player. However, if that player grounds into a double play, his team's win expectancy drops to 25%, or -10%. You then tally up all those events during the course of a season and put it into one number, formatted much like WAR. Here is how FanGraphs describes it.
This year, the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo's WPA was 7.75, the highest in all of baseball. In other words, according to this metric, no player did more this year to help improve his team's chances of winning games than Rizzo did for the Cubs. This is not a stat that is routinely talked about when considering league MVPs, but perhaps it should be.
If so, Rizzo's name might be featured more prominently in the conversation.
Darin Ruf vs. Lefties
Some players are really bad against pitchers who throw with a certain hand. And some are very good. Usually, the ones who are really bad against the one are really good against the other.
These are called platoon-splits, and many teams put their rosters together with the idea of playing two guys at the same position, with one playing primarily against lefties and the other primarily against righties. Nelson Cruz is one of the best power hitters in the game, a right-handed bopper who is murder against left-handed pitchers, to the tune of a 1.107 OPS against them this season. Cruz also hit 44 homers this season, just three behind the league leader Chris Davis.
But there was one other player with surprisingly high numbers against left-handed pitching this year. In fact, among players with at least 100 plate appearances, the Phillies' Darin Ruf was tied with Cruz for the highest OPS against left-handed pitchers, at 1.107. I'll bet you didn't think the names Darin Ruf and Nelson Cruz would ever be in the same sentence together, huh?
Unfortunately for Ruf, he's not quite the hitter Cruz is against righties. This year, Cruz' OPS against right-handed pitching was still a robust .866. You ain't platooining Cruz. Ruf's, on the other hand, was .483. Which explains why Cruz is making about a jillion dollars more per year than Ruf, who will likely be platooning with Ryan Howard again next year in Philadelphia.