Bill James Handbook (Part Two)
In reviewing The Bill James Handbook yesterday, I spent most of time covering fielding and baserunning. Today's article is going to concentrate on hitting in one of my favorite sections of the book - The 2006 Leader Boards.
Maybe it's just me but I like to look for players who show up among the best and/or worst in a combination of related stats. In this regard, there were five players in the majors who placed in the top ten in their respective leagues in HR, BB, and SO. Troy Glaus and Jim Thome accomplished this feat in the AL, while Jason Bay, Adam Dunn, and Ryan Howard performed this trick in the NL. Dunn was the sole repeater from last year. He has now finished in the top ten in HR, BB, and SO for three consecutive seasons. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound lefthanded-hitting slugger might be working on a four-year streak, if not for an injury to his left thumb on 8/15/03 that sidelined him for the remainder of that campaign.
Speaking of Thome, he led the majors in SLG vs. RHP (.749), beating out his closest challenger in the AL (David Ortiz) by .100. Ortiz was one of four sluggers who ranked in the top ten in SLG vs. RHP and LHP. The other three? Jermaine Dye, Albert Pujols, and Manny Ramirez. Pujols and Ramirez also finished in the top ten in OBP vs. RHP and LHP, as did Miguel Cabrera, Derek Jeter, and Nick Johnson.
Kevin Youkilis led the majors in pitches per plate appearance (4.43) and was second in the AL in percentage of pitches taken (63.8). Jason Giambi, Travis Hafner, and Thome ranked in the top ten in the AL in both. Pat Burrell led the NL in pitches per PA (4.32). Carlos Beltran, Johnson, and Felipe Lopez finished in the top ten in the NL in both stats. Based on the information supplied in the book, one can deduce that Youkilis led all batters in number of pitches taken per PA (2.83). Giambi (2.80), Johnson (2.79), and Burrell (2.78) followed closely behind. Of the eight players mentioned above, all but Lopez can be found among the top ten in BB in their league.
Miguel Cabrera was the best hitter in the majors on pitches outside the strike zone (OutZ). Nick Markakis was tops in the AL. The worst? Jhonny Peralta and Geoff Jenkins. Peralta and Jenkins were also in the top ten in their league in highest strikeout per plate appearance. I would argue that hitters who whiff a lot and fare poorly on OutZ have a difficult time recognizing pitches and/or long swings. In addition to Peralta and Jenkins, players who were among the leaders in both areas include Mike Cameron, Dunn, Brandon Inge, Craig Monroe, Richie Sexson, Nick Swisher, and Preston Wilson. Dunn, Peralta, Sexson, and Swisher also had some of the highest swing and miss % of anyone (with the Seattle first baseman topping the league for the second year in a row). On the other hand, Mark Loretta, Juan Pierre, and Pujols ranked among the best on OutZ and lowest strikeout per PA.
Prince Albert, by the way, was the only hitter who was in the top ten in at-bats per HR and lowest strikeout per PA - a pretty remarkable combo. With respect to roundtrippers, Howard launched the longest one of 'em all (496'). Wily Mo Pena had the longest average HR (411'), including two of the top eight rockets in the AL (475' and 451'). Prince Fielder (475' and 471') and Matt Holliday (481' and 478') had two of the longest eight in the NL. The shortest average HR (with a minimum of 10 or more)? Craig Biggio (358'). He lost three feet from his average last year. Hey, where else are you going to get this info?
Hackers with the highest first swing % were Vladimir Guerrero (50.2%) and Jeff Francoeur (49.9%). Two free swinging, powerful, athletic right fielders with strong arms. However, there is one big difference between them - Guerrero K'd 68 times in 608 AB while Francoeur whiffed 132 times in 651 AB. As a result, Vlad hit .329 and Jeff hit .260. Patient hitters with the lowest first swing % were Jamey Carroll (8.8%) and Jason Kendall (9.2%).
With respect to pitch data, Howard and Ramirez were the best hitters in the NL and AL, respectively, vs. fastballs. Guerrero and Lance Berkman were #1 in their leagues vs. curveballs, Thome and Nomar Garciaparra tops vs. changeups, and Josh Bard and Giambi (for the second year in a row) the kings of sliders.
Ichiro Suzuki had a strange year on the basepaths in 2006. One might say it was the best and worst of times. He was the only player in baseball who ranked in the top ten in the league in SB, SB%, GIDP%, and triples. He pulled this quadruple the previous year as well. As noted yesterday, Ichiro also led the majors in Bases Taken (bases gained via wild pitch, passed ball, balk, sacrifice fly, or defensive indifference) with 33. However, he was thrown out trying to advance an extra base on a hit three times and doubled off base on a ball hit in the air five times. His total of eight baserunning outs topped everyone in the majors.
Carl Crawford, Corey Patterson, Dave Roberts, and Jimmy Rollins were in the top ten in three of the four speed categories (SB, SB%, GIDP%, and triples). Crawford (16 of 18 chances) and Patterson (18 of 19) were also two of the best at scoring from second on a single. Roberts, on the other hand, was surprisingly one of the worst at going from first to third on a single (2 of 18 times).
Alfonso Soriano led all players in steals of third with 14. He also had the lowest GB/FB ratio (0.63) in the NL. There's no way to verify my gut instinct, but I would venture to say that the $136 million dollar man is the first player in the history of the game to pull off that combo. Only Frank Thomas had a lower GB/FB ratio (0.47). On the other end of the spectrum, Jeter had the highest GB/FB ratio (4.07).
I will wrap up the series tomorrow with a focus on pitchers and pitch data.