Graphing the Hitters: Productivity
While I have been graphing pitchers for a number of years, I only started doing the same for hitters twelve months ago. It was a simple exercise of measuring productivity by plotting on-base percentages on the x-axis and slugging averages on the y-axis for every qualified batter in 2009.
With the foregoing in mind, I decided to create a graph using the data for 2010. As I noted a year ago, "there is nothing groundbreaking" here. Instead, my goal is just to present the information in a format that is not only visual but easier to absorb more quickly than via a spreadsheet. It is designed to be simple and straightforward. Two axis, four quadrants, and player names identifying outliers.
The quadrants were determined by the intersection of the MLB averages for OBP (.325) and SLG (.403). [The averages last year were .333 and .418. Call 2010 the Year of the Pitcher if you want to put a positive spin on it or the Year of the Worsening Hitter if you prefer to be a cynic.] The northeast quadrant is the home of hitters with above-average OBP and SLG. The southwest quadrant is made up of "hitters" with below-average OBP and SLG. The northwest and southeast quadrants identify hitters who were above average in one and below average in the other.
Note: You can download a spreadsheet containing the OBP, SLG, and OPS of the 151 qualified hitters here. This information can also be used to locate the 125 players not labeled in the graph below.
Starting with the best quadrant, the four hitters who stand out — Josh Hamilton, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, and Albert Pujols — all ranked first or second in his respective league's Most Valuable Player voting. Hamilton (1.044) and Votto (1.024) led the American League and National League, respectively, in OPS and were named the MVP winners.
The only other player besides these four to receive a first-place vote for MVP was Jose Bautista, who seemingly came out of nowhere to put up a .378 OBP and .617 SLG. He ranked fifth in the majors in OPS (.995). Bautista slugged 54 HR (12 more than any other hitter) and drew 100 BB. He led MLB in HR plus TB (tied for first with 351) and XBH (92). The Toronto Blue Jay right fielder/third baseman produced an OPS+ of 166, the first time he had ever reached the MLB average of 100. Bautista was in the 90s in his prior four seasons.
In addition to the five aforementioned players, there were three others who exceeded an OBP of .375 and a SLG of .550. Paul Konerko (.977), Carlos Gonzalez (.974), and Troy Tulowitzki (.949) ranked sixth, seventh, and eighth in the majors in OPS. Konerko (3 years/$37.5M), Gonzalez (7/$80M), and Tulowitzki (10/$157.75M) were rewarded with big contracts during the off-season.
CarGo and Tulo benefited greatly by playing their home games at Coors Field, which had a park factor of 118 in 2010. Gonzalez hit .380/.425/.737 at home and .289/.322/.453 on the road. Tulowitzki hit .339/.403/.631 in Colorado and .291/.358/.504 in away games. Nevertheless, their OPS+ of 143 and 138, respectively, ranked sixth and eighth in the NL last season. Konerko generated a career-high OPS+ of 158 at the age of 34. He finished in the top eight in the AL in AVG (.312), OBP (.393), SLG (.584), OPS (.977), OPS+, HR (39), XBH (70), TB (320), and RBI (111).
Two other outliers in the northeast quadrant include Matt Holliday (.390/.532) and Jayson Werth (.388/.532), whose diamond in the above graph touches Holliday's. Interestingly, Holliday signed a 7/$120M contract (or $17M per year with a $1M buyout) with the St. Louis Cardinals in January 2010 and Werth inked a 7/$126M deal (an average of $18M annually including a $4M signing bonus) with the Washington Nationals in December 2010. The latter's salary escalates from $10M in 2011 to $21M in 2015-17. Holliday was 30 and Werth 31 at the time of their signings.
We should also give a shout out to Yo Adrian as Beltre (.365/.553) and Gonzalez (.393/.511) had terrific seasons, placing 11th and 13th in the majors in OPS. Who finished 12th? Robinson Cano (.381/.534), whose diamond sits directly below Tulowitzki's.
By the way, is it just me or does Shin-Soo Choo remind anyone else of Bobby Abreu? Both play right field, hit lefthanded, and put up .300/.400/.500 type rate stats. Through their age 27 seasons, Choo had a 138 OPS+ and Abreu had a 137. Abreu (.308/.413/.521, 151 OPS+) had his best offensive season at age 28. Just sayin'.
At the opposite end of the graph, we see a bunch of futility infielders as Jay Jaffe would be inclined to call them. Ranked from lowest to highest OPS, Cesar Izturis (.545) takes the cake, followed by Jose Lopez (.609), Alcides Escobar (.614), Ryan Theriot (.633), Erick Aybar (.636), Orlando Cabrera (.657), Aaron Hill (.665), Jason Bartlett (.674), Ronny Cedeno (.675), Alberto Callaspo (.676), Kevin Kouzmanoff (.679), Cliff Pennington (.687), Miguel Tejada (.693), Ian Desmond (.700), Jhonny Peralta (.703), and Brandon Inge (.718). Any player residing in this quadrant had better be a "plus" fielder or had an off year.
My best bet for a comeback candidate is Aaron Hill, who had a batting average on balls in play of ONE-NINETY-SIX (.196)! His BABIP is not only remarkable in an absolute sense but also relative to his previous five campaigns when he averaged .307 on balls in play with a range of .288 to .324. The source of the problem can be found in Hill's batted ball stats. According to Fangraphs, 54% were fly balls (vs. 41% career mark and a MLB average of 38%), 35% were ground balls (vs. 40% career and MLB of 44%), and 11% were line drives (vs. 19% career and MLB of 18%). Per The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2011, 83% of fly balls turned into outs whereas only 74% of ground balls and 27% of line drives were converted into outs last year. Given the increase in FB and the decrease in GB and LD, one would expect Hill's batting average to decline but not necessarily from a previous career mark of .285 to .205. If the second baseman can keep his strikeout rate below 15% (which he has accomplished in five of his six seasons to date), I would expect his AVG/OBP/SLG to improve materially this year.