Prior to last night’s decisive ALDS game, Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland remarked of that Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner “had been really pesky” at the plate. I am not sure exactly what Leyland meant, but I have my own idea about what it means to be “pesky” at the plate. Usually, people mean that a “pesky” hitter is hard to strike out. That is part of it for me. However, when I think of Brett Gardner plate appearances, I think of not only a lot of contact, but a lot of pitches seen in general, both because of contact and simply taking pitches. So, let us say farewell to the Yankees by looking at the five most Gardner-esque, “pesky” hitters of 2011. To the junk stat laboratory!
The simple way of measuring contact and patience is probably to just look at some combination of results — say, walk-to-strikeout ratio. But that wouldn’t be any fun. I wanted something to capture the experience of watching a pesky hitter — a guy who seemingly cannot be forced to swing, and when he does swing, rarely misses. So rather than looking just at walks and strikeouts (which would be more useful for purposes of projection), I used contact rate and swing rate. I did not want to favor just one or the other, so I ranked the hitters by contact rate divided by swing rate. I call it the Peskiness Ratio or PeRt. (I was too lazy to come up with anything more annoying, but that should do the trick.) Again, this is a junk stat, it isn’t meant to be anything “serious” or deep, just to give us an interesting way of sorting players. Junk stats are fine as long as they are acknowledged for what they are.
Those five do not exactly conjure up thoughts of good hitters making the top five, but there are some surprises.
5. Bobby Abreu, 2.380 PeRT, 81.6% contact, 34.3% swing. This one surprised me at first, although it makes sense. Abreu has always been known for having a great batting eye, and a player with a great eye is not going to swing at a pitch with which he does not think he can make contact. Abreu has had a great career and has a somewhat-plausible Hall of Fame case. Despite keeping his walk rate up, his power is just about gone, and although a .325 wOBA in 2011 was above average, Abreu is pretty much a DH-only player at this point. Good thing he Angels did not let him get more than 550 plate appearances, which would have triggered his $9 million opt– d’oh. As a great man once said, maybe it’s just society.
4. Ian Kinsler, 2.390 PeRt, 91.5% contact, 38.2% swing. While Mike Napoli has rightly received recognition for being a key addition for the Rangers this season (you can’t get players like Napoli for nothing… just almost nothing, apparently), and Adrian Beltre also had a tremendous season, Kinsler has been their most valuable player. Hopefully Kinsler will get a decent amount of American League MVP support. He managed a .370 wOBA with only a .243 BABIP this season, which is what happens when a player walks a lot and hardly ever strikes out. I guess Kinsler has too much power to be considered conventionally “pesky.” A better word for Kinsler might be “awesome.” As the Rangers’ lead-off hitter, he allegedly is not ideal, but as the playoff television announcers of the ALDS said of Beltre, Kinsler is another good complementary player to Michael Young.
3. Marco Scutaro, 2.516 PeRt, 94.7% contact, 37.6% swing. Along with Gardner, Scutaro is one of the first low-power-high-patience-high-contact that comes to my mind (see #8; uh, yeah, just ignore most of the rest of that list.). He had some injury problems this season, but he can still play shortstop well enough, gets on-base, and has just enough pop in his bat to be a good hitter for the position. It is a thin free agent market this season, and if his option is not picked up, Scutaro will (or should) be in demand for a number of teams that need help at shortstop — Tampa Bay comes to mind, for example.
2. Jamey Carroll, 2.524 PeRt, 92.6% contact, 36.7% swing. I would call Carroll a Scutaro-in-training, but Carroll is actually older than Scutaro. Carroll is basically the player that people think Willie Bloomquist is. Like Bloomquist, he plays a number of positions, but unlike Bloomquist, he can play the the infield well. Like Bloomquist, he does not have much power, but unlike Bloomquist, he actually gets on base. Carroll looks like the Generic White Utility Guy, but over the last four seasons he’s averaged about two WAR a season while playing less that full-time for most of that time. A team in need of a stopgap option at second or maybe even short could do a lot worse than Carroll, right Brewers and Diamondbacks?
1. Brett Gardner, 2.573 PeRt, 91.4% contact, 35.5% swing. I thought he would be on the list, but I honestly did not know he would win. Lately, Jack Moore has been trying to wrest Presidency of the Brett Gardner Fan Club (non-Yankee Fans Chapter) from me, but my claim to primacy goes back much further. Gardner’s walk rate unsurprisingly regressed a fair bit in 2011 as he became a bit more aggressive, and his wOBA suffered accordingly. Gardner was still very patience, and he gets on-base enough and runs the bases well enough that he would be about an average player even without his outstanding outfield defense.
One final, utterly unsurprising note: the least pesky player of 2011 (with at least 400 plate appearances) according to PeRt was Miguel Olivo.
Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.