Some of What I Learned From the Run-Value Leaderboard

This is the leaderboard. It actually shows up under “Pitch Value,” and not “Run Value,” but I prefer “Run Value.” For the sake of being most accurate, it might be filed under “Pitch Run Value,” but now that’s too many words. Don’t worry about it. Let’s move ahead.

I feel like we don’t use these numbers enough. What they show, for hitters: how many runs above or below average a given hitter has been against the various pitch types. We don’t use the numbers much because we don’t understand them very well, and because maybe they don’t stabilize very quickly, but the results aren’t all random. I went ahead and did some exploring, and I’ve pulled some nuggets of interest below. This way, all of us can learn together!

My pool of players: players who batted in 2015, and who have also batted at least 750 times since 2002. Why 750? Because 750 is what I used. The exploration I did grouped everything into two columns. I looked at performance against hard pitches, those being fastballs and cutters. And I looked at performance against everything else, those pitches being sliders, curveballs, changeups, splitters, and knuckleballs. These are the “softer” pitches. For hard and soft, I calculated run values per 100 pitches. Off we go!

Jose Abreu can handle the heat

It should be pretty obvious by now that, yes, Jose Abreu can be successful in the major leagues. But you might not remember that, when Abreu was first on the market, there was a good deal of skepticism regarding his bat speed. The line of thought was that Abreu could hit the ball to all fields, but he could have trouble with big-league fastballs. It’s true that the bigs feature the best fastballs in the world, and they’re not particularly pleasant to try to hit against, but Abreu hasn’t just held his own against heaters — he’s thrived.

My player pool numbers 352 hitters. In run value against hard pitches, Abreu ranks…first overall, at +2.1 runs per 100. He has just about the narrowest possible edge over Joey Votto in second place, but when you’re a guy who’s being compared to Joey Votto at the plate, there’s no way you can’t be productive. Maybe Abreu made adjustments on his own. Maybe the White Sox helped Abreu make adjustments. Maybe no adjustments were actually necessary. Observers didn’t know if Abreu would be able to handle the big-league fastball. He’s handled them better than anyone.

Corey Dickerson and Mookie Betts own the softer stuff

It was something I noticed about Betts that got me looking in here in the first place. My idea held up, and Betts came away looking terrific, but then I was also surprised by Dickerson. To remind you, I have a pool of 352 players. Dickerson ranks first in run value against softer stuff, at +2.6 (per 100 pitches). Betts is in second, at +2.2. Now, for whatever it’s worth, I’m not sure if these numbers are park-adjusted, and I don’t think they are. So that would give Dickerson a boost, as would the fact that softer pitches are arguably less effective in Colorado, where Dickerson has played half his games. But there’s still something you can learn from this. Dickerson prefers secondary pitches, and Betts is also tremendous against them.

You’ll remember those things that were written a while ago about Betts and the Red Sox’s neuroscouting. Betts apparently stood out from the pack in his ability to pick up pitches quickly, and this could be considered supporting evidence. He hasn’t yet been thrown by major-league spin. Dickerson is somewhat atypical on account of his swing path, as he’s a power guy who does a surprisingly good job of spraying his grounders. We don’t have neuroscouting reports for Dickerson. We don’t have neuroscouting reports for just about anybody. This is what we do have. It will be interesting to see how well this indicator holds up now that Dickerson has moved to Tampa Bay.

Pedro Alvarez — surprise! — is a fastball hitter

So, okay, this is less something I learned, and more something I confirmed. We can all already tell that Alvarez is better against fastballs than against breaking balls. This is why Alvarez sees one of the lower rates of fastballs in the game. But for his career, against hard stuff, Alvarez shows up at +1.1. Against softer stuff, he’s at -1.0, for a difference of 2.1 runs per 100 pitches. This ties him for the biggest such difference, along with the maybe more surprising Geovany Soto. One Jackie Bradley Jr. is in third, at 1.9. Pretty much all of Bradley’s damage last year was done against fastballs. That helps to explain why his own rate of fastballs seen dropped about 10 percentage points. Opponents adjust quickly. Bradley adjusted, opponents adjusted, and now we’ll see if Bradley has to adjust again. I hope you love adjustments, because they are constantly happening all over the place.

Lonnie Chisenhall is sort of the opposite of Pedro Alvarez

What we see with Alvarez is that he’s better against hard pitches than soft pitches, by 2.1. If you reverse-order the same list, then you see Chisenhall’s name — against hard pitches, he’s at -0.6, but against softer pitches, he’s at +1.2, for a difference in that direction of 1.8. Now, I should note, Corey Dickerson also has a difference of 1.8. Mookie Betts is at 1.7. But unlike Chisenhall, Dickerson and Betts have been above-average against harder pitches. They’ve simply been better against weaker stuff. Chisenhall ranks 320th out of the 352 in performance against hard pitches. In his good offensive year, in 2014, Chisenhall wasn’t strong against hard stuff. In his bad offensive years, he hasn’t been strong against hard stuff. It’s possible that Chisenhall still isn’t seeing as many hard pitches as he should, from the opponents’ perspective. Pitchers might be able to be more aggressive here, without paying too much of a price.

lol Mike Trout

Miguel Cabrera ranks 10th out of everyone in performance against hard stuff, and 10th out of everyone in performance against softer stuff. His ranks add together to 20. Tied with him, we get Ryan Braun — 14th and sixth, respectively. At a combined ranking of 18, there’s Albert Pujols, who’s ranked third against hard stuff, and 15th against soft stuff. Joey Votto is at 14 — second and 12th, respectively. And then there’s Mike Trout. Against hard pitches, Trout ranks fifth in run value per 100. Against softer pitches, Trout ranks third in run value per 100. So his combined ranking is 8. The one pitch against which Trout has a negative career run value is the splitter. He’s seen it exactly 1.3% of the time. Maybe everybody should learn splitters.

At the other end, by the way, Jeff Mathis has a combined ranking of 700. He’s 350th against hard stuff, and 350th against soft stuff. In two very different ways, if you’re a pitcher pitching against Mike Trout or Jeff Mathis, it can be hard to decide what to throw. Yet it’s probably not going to matter.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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One Weird Thing Mike Trout and Jeff Mathis Have in Common!*

(*has nothing to do with playing for the Angels!)