What Battling at the Plate Actually Means

I wrote a post yesterday on Lookout Landing concerning Luis Rodriguez and his perception as that of a “battler” at the plate. I had seen and heard that adjective tossed about for him quite often and decided to try to come up with a reasonable definition for the term as I interpreted it and then check to see if Rodriguez did in fact deserve the praise. I also wanted to see if others agreed with what I came up with for a formula equivalent of battling and nobody seemed to object, so I am willing now to subject it to another audience for feedback.

I decided that battling at the plate involved either taking a ball or fouling pitches off while in a two-strike count. Unique to two-strike counts, neither action makes the batter worse off while either directly improving their situation (taking a ball) or at least forcing the pitcher to keep throwing. Any other outcome with two strikes ends the at bat and thus the battle. To scale it, I take the ratio of balls taken and pitches fouled off and count it against the other possible outcomes. Or as I put it, given a two-strike count, how often did a hitter keep the at bat alive?

It turned out that Luis Rodriguez does so far warrant praise for battling if you accept the above definition for the term. He has a 70% rate of extending the at bat. Alternatively, for every pitch that ends a two-strike at bat, Luis Rodriguez forces the pitcher to throw 2.3 other pitches. For a league-wide look, I restricted it to players with at least 100 plate appearances only and the toughest out according to this measure is Nick Hundley who sees just over two additional pitches every time he gets into a corner. Vernon Wells is the quickest to dispose of with fewer than one extra pitch seen. I threw the sheet of players up on the web and you can access it here to find your favorites.

Moving on from individual players, I also grouped by team to see if there was any meaningful spread and the results were unsurprising. At the top is the Yankees and the Red Sox sit third in baseball. This stands as yet another way of demonstrating why their games take forever to conclude. Nestled between those two AL East roadblocks are the Cardinals and their very potent offense. The Athletics and Mariners both rank in the top ten, which befits their scrappy offense perceptions. The Yankees at top are at 62% of pitches prolonging the at bat while the Brewers rank 30th with just 56%. Clearly not as dramatic as with hitters who range from Hundley at 68% down to Wells at 43%, but not trivial either.

Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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12 years ago

I liked this. It’s often fascinating to see which old-school terms hold up against statistical analysis and which ones don’t. Why do our eyes and minds serve as adequate analysts at certain times and not at others?

Btw, It would be nice to see a breakdown of who tends to look to take more in 2-strike counts and who tends to swing more in those counts, and then see resultant wOBA by the end of PA.

12 years ago
Reply to  delv

I wasn’t clear above. I meant:

“Btw, It would be nice to see a breakdown of who tends to look to take a ball more in 2-strike counts and who tends to swing and make contact more in those counts, and then see resultant wOBA by the end of PA.”

The first part is basically, “who hacks in order to stay alive?” and “who takes pitches in order to stay alive?” The version of the spreadsheet you provided has the raw numbers but not PAs.

12 years ago
Reply to  delv

This article is making us all dumber (evidence – the posts above). Players don’t “take pitches to stay alive” in ABs. That literally makes no sense. When you are at the plate with 2 strikes you are protecting the zone. You swing if you think it’s close. If you did a study of pitch recognition with two strikes…%swing/take on strike, %swing/take on balls… holy crap that could be an actual article! This whole piece is garbage. I can’t stress this enough.