Giving Hitters an Upper Hand

Giving Hitters an Upper Hand


Image credit: © Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Last month, in my annual “Facing a Lineup of Trouts” article, I looked at what sort of pitching numbers MLB hitters generated last season. By using batting statistics and an estimate of innings pitched, Shohei Ohtani battered opposing hurlers to the tune of an 8.20 FIP and a 9.03 CERA (an ERA estimator created by Bill James). On the other hand, slick-fielding Rockies center fielder Brenton Doyle was able to manage only a 2.65 FIP and 1.92 CERA.

The idea was to flip around batting numbers, presenting them from a pitching perspective, the way we can easily do that with pitching numbers. Blake Snell gave up a .181 batting average. Gerritt Cole allowed only a .259 on-base percentage. On the other side, Patrick Corbin surrendered a .293 average and .344 OBP. Those were all MLB-leading figures.

Last year, the average OPS in MLB was .734. Among the 44 ERA qualifiers, 9 finished above that level. (Corbin, Lance Lynn, Jordan Lyles, Lucas Giolito, JP Sears, Miles Mikolas, Kyle Gibson, Dylan Cease, and Yusei Kikuchi, if you were wondering.) The remaining 35 were below. This asymmetry shouldn’t be a surprise. Pitchers who amassed 162 innings are, tautologically, better pitchers. All pitchers combined gave up that .734 figure. The 44 good enough to average an inning per game were better than that.

Baseball-Reference calculates OPS+. It’s OPS adjusted for both the league average and the player’s home ballpark. In 1968, the Year of the Pitcher, Jim Wynn hit .269/.376/.474 playing half his games in the cavernous Astrodome. In 2000, when teams scored 5.14 runs per game, Todd Helton hit .372/.463/.698 with a home field of pre-humidor Coors Field. Helton’s 1.162 OPS, of course, dwarfs Wynn’s .850. But OPS+, adjusting for the scoring environment and ballpark, rates the seasons as almost identical, 158 for Wynn and 163 for Helton. It’s scaled to an average of 100, so Wynn was 58% above average and Helton 63%.

Baseball-Reference does the same for OPS allowed by pitchers. Last year, nine pitchers (the same nine as above, less Cease, plus Dean Kremer) were charged with an OPS+ above 100, worse than league average. Two (Cease and Cristian Javier) were exactly average. The other 33 were better than average.


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