The Most Balanced Hitter of the First Half

You’ll hear some hitters say that you can’t cover both the inside and the outside parts of the plate at the same time. We heard Marcus Semien talk about the difficulty both of being able to pull for power and also take the outside pitches to the opposite field just last week. And, to some extent, the high and low fastballs require different swings that suit different players. Brandon Moss told us about his problems with high fastballs, and Brian Dozier admitted that his swing was better against the high cheese.

It stands to reason — at least for the benefit of our exploration today — that a balanced hitter would be one who could handle pitches in all four quadrants. They would produce good results against high fastballs, low fastballs, inside fastballs, and outside fastballs. Conveniently, that sounds like something we can measure.

What I did was measure each hitter against those different fastballs by OPS through last Thursday night. Then I threw the four quadrants into one sheet and asked for the standard deviation between the OPS in each of the quadrants. In other words, how tight was each batter’s production in the four locations? A small standard deviation would suggest that the hitter was good no matter where the ball was pitched. That hitter has a balanced ability to cover the plate.

This method has its flaws, but it’s the first time I’ve thought of things this way, and though OPS is not the best measure, we’re not focusing as much on the OPS as the variance in it. So, let’s run it with just fastballs to the four quadrants in there.

Oh. Wait. Ben Revere showed up number one when I didn’t limit it to players whose names appeared in at least three quadrants — I had a minimum of 200 fastballs in each quadrant, and some that only had two values zoomed to the top. Let’s not have Ben Revere as the most complete or balanced hitter in baseball.

Balanced Fastball Hitters
Player St Dev of OPS Zones
Neil Walker 0.016 4
Michael Conforto 0.024 3
Nomar Mazara 0.026 3
Starlin Castro 0.040 3
Wilson Ramos 0.054 3
Ender Inciarte 0.056 3
Didi Gregorius 0.059 3
Freddy Galvis 0.059 4
Coco Crisp 0.061 3
Joe Panik 0.061 3
Jose Iglesias 0.063 4
Brandon Crawford 0.063 4
Francisco Lindor 0.066 4
Rajai Davis 0.071 4
Zack Cozart 0.074 3
St Dev of OPS = Standard Deviation of OPS against high, low, inside, and outside fastballs.

What an interesting list. Michael Conforto was able to power balls to the opposite field as well as pull them for power before everything fell apart, perhaps related to his wrist injury. Nomar Mazara told me that he looks to hit for power early in the counts and then utilizes an all-fields, two-strike approach. Brandon Crawford was a spray hitter who developed the ability to turn on the inside fastball quicker. Those are the guys for whom we’re looking.

But look at the rest of the list. We found a lot of Ben Reveres without finding Ben Revere. Contact and spray hitters will naturally show up here for two reasons. One is that they survive on making contact and putting the ball in play, so they have to be good in all quadrants. The other is that their OPS may be consistent but low in all four quadrants. Come on down, Ender!

We can add sliders, changeups, and curves in here to get a more, ahem, complete measure of completeness if we like.

Balanced Hitters Against All Pitches
Player StDev Zones
Rajai Davis 0.061 6
Francisco Lindor 0.074 7
Howie Kendrick 0.086 4
Neil Walker 0.091 7
DJ LeMahieu 0.092 5
Yunel Escobar 0.093 4
Salvador Perez 0.094 4
Billy Burns 0.097 4
Brandon Crawford 0.097 7
Wilson Ramos 0.097 5
Melky Cabrera 0.098 6
Jose Bautista 0.099 5
Jose Iglesias 0.107 6
Johnny Giavotella 0.107 4
Joc Pederson 0.107 5
St Dev of OPS = Standard Deviation of OPS against high, low, inside, and outside fastballs, and curves, changeups and sliders.

Rajai Davis is having a really good year, y’all. He has an .853 OPS against fastballs closer than the inner third of the plate. He has a .684 OPS against fastballs on the outside part of the plate. He has a .782 OPS against fastballs up. He has a .801 OPS against fastballs down. He has a .734 OPS against changeups. He has a .817 OPS against sliders. That’s consistency, and it’s actually excellence, too!

But it’s also worth noting that we have our first appearance of a real power hitter in the form of Jose Bautista. His worst OPS is against fastballs on the outside part of the plate (.620), but the rest of his OPS numbers are in the mid-.800s. He can cover the plate fairly well.

Let’s do something visual with Bautista versus one of the least complete hitters. Mark Trumbo murders inside pitches, and showed up as being the third-most dominant hitter against a single quadrant or pitch, but he also goes from a 1.009 OPS hitter on the inside part of the plate to a .159 OPS guy on the outside part of the plate. Here he is (on the right) against Bautista (left) judged by isolated slugging percentage.


Completeness doesn’t necessarily equate to excellence, as we can see from some of the names on these lists. Exerting dominance over one part of the strike zone or another can be just as good as mere competence across the spectrum — if you have the patience to wait for pitches to drift into your happy zone. But I suspect that this sort of thing does become meaningful at high-leverage moments, or against pitchers with the very best command. Anecdotally, the postseason of Yoenis Cespedes comes to mind, and he’s in the bottom 15 when it comes to this measure of balance, mostly because his OPS against fastballs goes from .974 on the inside to .511 on the outside in particular.

Given the intersection of overall quality and ability to cover different parts of the zone, it makes sense to fear Nomar Mazara and Jose Bautista. There isn’t necessarily a place to hide.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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7 years ago

I find this interesting because Mazara has been pretty terrible the last 30 days. He owns a wRc+ of 27, good for the second lowest in MLB!