Baseball BeatNovember 25, 2008
The Bill James Handbook 2009 - Part Three
By Rich Lederer

In the final segment of our three-part series on The Bill James Handbook 2009, we will focus on the 2008 Leader Boards. This section of the book has always been one of my favorites. Although many of the stats are now available online at Baseball-Reference, ESPN, Fangraphs, and The Hardball Times, I still enjoy looking at them in this format.

Milton Bradley and Kevin Youkilis were the only American League hitters who ranked in the top ten in AVG, OBP, and SLG. Bradley led the league in OBP and finished no lower than fourth in the other categories. Chipper Jones, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, and David Wright were the only National League hitters to finish in the top ten in all three rate stats. Jones led the league in AVG and OBP while finishing third in SLG. Pujols led in SLG and placed second in the other two.

The Baltimore Orioles had three hitters with 48 or more doubles. Brian Roberts (51), Aubrey Huff and Nick Markakis (48 each) ranked second and tied for third, behind MVP Dustin Pedroia (54).

Jack Cust led the AL in walks (111) and strikeouts (197). With two HBP, Cust failed to make contact 310 times out or 51.8% of his 598 plate appearances. Remarkably, he didn't lead the league in pitches per PA (4.38) as Nick Swisher (4.53) beat him out. Cust also tied for sixth with 33 HR. Jim Thome was the only other hitter in the league to place in the top ten in the three true outcomes. Adam Dunn led the NL in BB (122), ranked fifth in SO (164), and second in HR (40).

Mark Reynolds became the first player in history to whiff 200 or more times in a single season. Reynolds struck out 204 times, breaking the record Ryan Howard (199) set last year and tied this season. The top six seasons belong to four active players (Reynolds, Howard, Cust, and Dunn). Thome is the only other active player in the top 20. Interestingly, Howard, Cust, Dunn, and Thome ranked in the top five in HR/FB while Reynolds was 23rd. I think it is fair to say that these fellows are swinging for the downs and they are tremendously successful when they connect.

Not surprisingly, Reynolds had the highest swing and miss percentage in MLB at 37.7%. Howard (33.4%) and Dunn (28.3%) ranked in the top six in the NL. Kelly Shoppach (36.0%) led the AL while Cust (34.9%) and Thome (29.6%) placed in the top four.

Only four players in the National League (Skip Schumaker, Ryan Theriot, Yunel Escobar, and Cristian Guzman) and two in the American League (Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Jeter) had groundball-to-flyball ratios over 2.00 with Schumaker leading the way at 2.88. If you wonder why Delmon Young (10 HR in 623 PA) didn't hit for power, look no further than the fact that he had the third-highest GB/FB ratio (1.98) in the AL. The former No. 1 draft pick needs to get a little more lift in his swing if he is going to slug home runs at the same rate as in the minors (59 HR in 1540 PA or once every 26 trips to the plate).

Young could also learn to become more selective as he tied Vladimir Guerrero for the highest first swing percentage in the majors at 47.4%. By contrast, Bobby Abreu and J.J. Hardy swung at the first pitch just 6.2% and 7.8%, respectively, of the time.

Manny Ramirez (1.232) and Mark Teixeira (1.081) led their new leagues in OPS during the second half. Along with C.C. Sabathia, Manny and Tex are two of the top three free agents available this offseason. It will be interesting to see where the Scott Boras clients wind up.

The Handbook's attempt to measure hitter performance against various pitch types by result pitch only has graduated to the point where hitters are rated for the first time on every pitch. As a result, "the hitters you'll now see in these leader boards are a much better representation of the guys who mastered each pitch type this past year."

Carlos Quentin is a beast, leading the AL in OPS vs. fastballs (1.101) and curveballs (1.063). Josh Hamilton, Alex Rodriguez, Ian Kinsler, and Joey Votto were the only other hitters who ranked in the top ten on FB and CB. A-Rod also led the majors in OPS vs. sliders (1.168). I wonder if pitchers shouldn't be throwing him more changeups? A quick look at Fangraphs shows only 9.3% of the pitches thrown to Rodriguez were changes, placing him 87th out of 145 qualifiers.

Speaking of A-Rod's power, he led the AL with the longest average home run (413 feet) and had three of the top five, including the longest (467 feet) on 6/30 at home vs. Scott Feldman of the Texas Rangers. Thome jacked the second and third longest homers and Hamilton (excluding the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game) cranked three of the ten longest dingers in the AL. The longest home run in the majors was ripped by Justin Upton, a 480-foot shot to left field off Josh Banks of the San Diego Padres at home on 7/6. Upton also led the majors with the longest average home run at 417 feet.

In the "Additional Bill James Leaders," Jeff Francoeur had the lowest offensive win percentage (.261), .032 lower than any other hitter (Michael Bourne). It might be time to re-think Francoeur's potential. Granted, he is only 24 but one can't help but notice that the 6-foot-4, 220-pound "veteran" of 3 1/2 seasons had the lowest AVG and SLG of his career while posting his second sub-.300 OBP and striking out nearly three times for every walk. He tied for the third-worst plus/minus total among all right fielders and was no more than an average baserunner last season.

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Turning to pitching leaders, Roy Halladay led the American League in the following categories: baserunners per 9 IP (9.91), complete games (9), pitches per start (107.2), batters faced (987), innings pitched (246), most pitches in a game (130), opponent OBP (.276), opponent OPS (.621), K/BB (5.28), highest GB/FB ratio (2.00), and opponent OPS vs. curveballs (.480). The Toronto righthander also led the AL in component ERA (2.62) and highest average game score (60.48).

Tim Lincecum led the National League in winning percentage (.783), opponent AVG (.221), wild pitches (17), strikeouts (265), pitches per start (109.0), most pitches in a game (138), K/9 IP (10.51), opponent SLG (.316), opponent OPS (.612), HR/9 (0.44), opponent AVG w/ RISP (.167), and H/9 (7.22). The 2008 Cy Young Award winner also led the NL in pitchers win shares (25), component ERA (2.69), and highest average game score (62.06).

Paul Byrd (56.5% and 3.33) and Greg Maddux (55.3% and 3.20) led their respective leagues in percentage of pitches in the strike zone and pitches per batter.

Gavin Floyd allowed the most stolen bases in the majors (37), nine more than anyone else (Jair Jurrjens). Greg Smith, on the other hand, tied for the MLB lead with a dozen runners caught stealing (with Edinson Volquez) while picking off 16 or six more than Andy Pettitte, who ranked second.

Grant Balfour led the majors in strikeout/hit ratio at 2.93, while Carlos Marmol topped the NL at 2.85. It was the second consecutive year that the Chicago reliever had more than two Ks for every hit allowed. Only six others have even accomplished this feat once during this period. I would have no hesitation making Marmol (who also led all NL relievers in opponent AVG, SLG, OBP vs. first batter faced, AVG with runners on, AVG vs. RHB, and OPS vs. sliders) the Cubs closer next season.

Interestingly, Lincecum and Rich Harden were the only starters who ranked in the top ten in K/H ratio (minimum of 50 IP). Harden actually ranked second in the NL (2.28) and eighth in the AL (1.61) while Lincecum was tenth in the senior circuit at 1.46. No starter placed in the top ten last year.

Matt Lindstrom (96.9) had the fastest average fastball in the majors (minimum of 50 IP). Jonathan Broxton's heater (96.3) ranked second. Manny Delcarmen led the AL at 95.5. Ubaldo Jimenez (94.9) led all starting pitchers while Felix Hernandez (94.6) was tops in the AL. Lincecum (94.1), Ervin Santana (94.4), Josh Beckett (94.3), and A.J. Burnett (94.3) were the only other starters with an average fastball over 94 mph.

Conversely, Tim Wakefield (72.9) and Jamie Moyer (81.2) not only had the slowest average fastballs but they also used this pitch less often than any other qualifying pitcher (13.1% and 40.4%, respectively). Maddux (83.7) and Barry Zito (84.9) were the only other pitchers under 85 mph.

Broxton (28) had the most pitches clocked at 100 or higher. Lindstrom (16) and Joel Zumaya (18) were the only other pitchers with more than ten pitches over 100 mph. Jimenez (1342) and Hernandez (1035) were the only pitchers who hit 95 on the radar over 1000 times.

Daniel Cabrera (81.3%) relied on his fastball more than anyone else. Aaron Cook (80.4%) and Mike Pelfrey (80.2%) were the only others who used it 72% or more. Burnett (28.9%) and Ben Sheets (32.2%) led their leagues in throwing curveballs, Volquez (31.5%) and James Shields (26.1%) in changeups, and Armando Galarraga (38.3%) and Randy Johnson 34.6%) in sliders. Ironically, Sheets had the best opponent OPS vs. fastballs in the majors at .599.

There is a lot more information in The Bill James Handbook. I'm confident that it will help you pass the long winter ahead.