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Some fun with baseball splits

May 9, 2013, 9:14 AM EDT

Division Series - Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees - Game Three Getty Images

A few fun early season statistics using Baseball Reference’s amazing new “Split Finder.”

  1. The Kansas City Royals’ No. 3 through No. 6 hitters have six homers all year … by far the lowest total in baseball.

The Royals, even in the midst of a three-game losing streak, are off to a very nice start, and they have Kansas City baseball fans buzzing for the first time in a decade. But there are a couple of disturbing trends, and this is one of them. The middle of the lineup — which has mostly been Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas — have just those six homers all year. Throw in Jeff Francoeur, who has been abysmal in the No. 7 spot since the beginning of 2012, and you can see that at the moment it’s just too hard for the Royals to score runs.

I suspect that at some point manager Ned Yost will shake up the lineup,* perhaps moving leadoff hitter Alex Gordon into the meat of the lineup (he leads the team with five homers) and Cain up to the top. But this isn’t something that can get fixed with a lineup change. Butler, Hosmer and Moustakas — especially Hosmer, who has not hit a homer yet this season — will have to hit with more power if the Royals are to contend over a long season.

*I wrote this before I saw this story that says, well, yes Ned Yost is considering major lineup changes including moving Alex Gordon down. Well, the Nedster is nothing if not predictable.

  1. St. Louis has a baseball-leading .392 on-base percentage in high-leverage situations. The Cardinals also have the best record in baseball.

People will argue until the end of time, I suppose, about clutch hitting in baseball. Is it a separate skill from regular ol’ hitting? Are there certain players who can raise their games in the biggest moments? Are there certain teams that have the magic when the chips are down, when backs are against the wall, when the moment is right, when it’s squeaky-bum time?

It’s hard to say … but one thing that seems true is that the teams that perform in those high leverage situations — that is those moments when the game is at its tipping point — tend to be really good teams. Last year, the team that had the highest on-base percentage in high leverage moments — the San Francisco Giants — won the World Series.

Two years ago, the team that had the highest on-base percentage in high leverage moments — the St. Louis Cardinals — won the World Series.

Three years ago, that team was Minnesota … which won 94 games. In fact, let’s look at the list:

2009: Angels (won 97 games)

2008: Boston (won 95 games)

2007: Colorado (won 90 games and reached World Series)

2006: Yankees (won 96)

2005: Boston (won 95)

2004: San Francisco (won 91)

2003: Boston (won 95)

So, it works. Teams that make the fewest outs in those key situations wins games. I guess that’s obvious. But how teams actually go about performing so well in high leverage situations over a whole season, well, that’s not as obvious.

  1. Yu Darvish has already had five games where he was given six-plus runs of support.

Not surprisingly — or coincidentally — those are the five games he has won.

Here’s a fun little tidbit for you:

In 1962, the San Francisco Giants gave Jack Sanford six-plus runs of run support 22 times — that’s tied for the most for any pitcher since World War II. Sanford pitched fairly well in those 22 starts, with a 3.18 ERA. That was good enough for him to go 18-0 in those games. Basically because his team scored lots and lots of runs for him, he finished second in the Cy Young Award voting to Don Drysdale.

Here’s what’s interesting about this: Drysdale ALSO got six-plus runs of support 22 times — amazingly two different pitchers got that kind of crazy runs support in 1962 — and Drysdale went 16-0 with a 2.91 ERA in those games.

Meanwhile, Bob Gibson — who probably pitched better than both of them — only had eight games where his team scored six plus runs (he won seven of them). He went 15-13 overall and did not get a single Cy Young vote. I’m sure there are people who will continue to say that Gibson just wasn’t as much of a winner as those other guys.

  1. Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez is hitting .405 and slugging .714 so far against lefties. He’s hitting .263 against righties.

We are obviously only talking about a small sample size … but CarGo has always held his own against lefties as a left-handed batter. For the moment, he’s crushing them and so let’s watch and see if managers are paying attention. If a manager brings in a lefty-specialist to get out CarGo, then they are probably not paying attention.

Bill James thinks the whole specialist thing has brought more blah to baseball than joy, and I would tend to agree. The other day, I was flipping channels and that Jodie Foster movie about life on other planets was on — Contact, I guess it’s called. Was that movie 5 1/2 hours long or do I just remember it that way? I mean it wasn’t bad, but man it felt long.

Anyway, there’s a scene in there — I have no idea how to set this up if you haven’t seen the movie — where aliens may or may not have given explicitly directions on how to build a spaceship that will take Jodie Foster to their planet or their dimension or something. I’m sure I’m getting that wrong. It’s an involved plot. What was striking was that the directions specifically did not include putting a seat on the space ship. The people who built the space ship, though, INSISTED that a seat be put on there, you know, for safety reasons.

So the seat is installed, and the space ship takes off, and it’s rumbling and bumping like crazy, and it seems like it will break apart. Finally, what happens is that the stupid seat breaks loose, and suddenly the ride is smooth and utterly perfect. It was the seat that had caused all the problems.

I’ve come to think of baseball that way with managers. It feels like the more they throw their seats into the game — the move involved they get with bunting and intentional walks and pitching changes and base-running shenanigans — the bumpier and less interesting they make the game. I’m not saying they should stay out entirely. I’m just saying, like in most areas of life, less is more.

  1. The Crime Dog and the Thomenator loved swinging 3-0.

This is a historical split: Going back to 1988, Fred McGriff, by far, was the king of the 3-0 count. One hundred twenty two times, the Crime Dog swung and put the ball in play on 3-0 — the most of any player since they’ve been keeping track. He hit .434 and slugged .852 — hitting 13 home runs and, oddly, two of his 24 career triples.

Here are the home run leaders on 3-0 pitches (again, since 1988):

1. Jim Thome, 17

2. Sammy Sosa, 15

3. McGriff, 13

(tie) Greg Vaughn, 13

5. Carlos Delgado, 12

6. Jeff Bagwell, 11

(tie) Frank Thomas, 11

8. Barry Bonds, 10

(tie) Juan Gonzalez, 10

10. Ken Griffey Jr., 9

Thome’s 3-0 home run record is unsurprising. Pitchers tend to throw fastballs 3-0 – everybody knows that. And Thome, throughout his career, feasted on fastballs. It did not matter how hard you threw it. I remember a game, 2000 I guess, Indians down a run in the ninth against the Angels and Troy Percival was pitching. Percival could throw a million miles an hour, and Thome LOVED facing him. It wasn’t just that Thome hit a massive two-run homer to win the game. It was that there was never even the slightest doubt that he would. Percival was a fastball pitcher in a situation where he would want to pump it up just a little bit higher than normal. To Thome, in those days, faster the better.

The other cool thing is that Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas — who were born on the same day — both hit 11 homers on 3-0 counts. Their cosmic connection is pretty cool. It would be nice to see them go into the Hall of Fame the same year (meaning, next year).

  1. proudlycanadian - May 9, 2013 at 9:24 AM

    Very interesting Joe. Do you have any recent stats on which active hitters have the most home runs when they have 2 strikes on them?

    • jamessmyth621 - May 9, 2013 at 1:09 PM

      A-Rod 183
      Giambi 162
      Pujols 149
      Dunn 138
      Ortiz 136

      But that will skew towards active players who’ve been around the longest. Let’s just look at the last 5+ seasons since 2008:

      Dan Uggla 66
      Adam Dunn 62
      Prince Fielder 61
      Ryan Braun 60
      Albert Pujols 58
      Mark Reynolds 57
      Curtis Granderson 56
      David Ortiz 53
      Adrian Gonzalez/Jayson Werth/Miguel Cabrera 51

      • proudlycanadian - May 9, 2013 at 2:42 PM

        Thanks. I see some guys who strike out a lot on that list. In particular, I am thinking of Dunn and Reynolds.

  2. paperlions - May 9, 2013 at 9:40 AM

    There needs to be some context for the OBP team leaders. Often, teams that lead in OBP in high leverage situations do so because they are great hitting teams and they also lead in OBP in any situation. No one debates that clutching hitting happens, of course it does, if there are clutch situations, there must be clutch hits. The debate is whether it is a skill. Skills don’t go away, and they manifest year and year. That list doesn’t show a whole lot of consistency (though it is only the #1s) and is mostly just teams that were great at hitting all the time.

    • dowhatifeellike - May 9, 2013 at 10:08 AM

      There’s also something to be said for situational awareness. Hitters (and pitchers, for that matter) do change their approach in relation to the situation; there’s no need to swing for the fences when a single brings in the winning run from third.

      • paperlions - May 9, 2013 at 11:00 AM

        I’d love to see HR rates for a runner on 3B versus overall. I bet they don’t differ at all.

  3. ireportyoudecide - May 9, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    The arguement against being clutch is you can’t perform at higher then 100%. So to say a player performs better in clutch situations is to say he doesn’t focus and performs at less then 100% in non clutch situations. Basically a clutch player would have to be a lazy, unmotivated player.

    • dowhatifeellike - May 9, 2013 at 10:59 AM

      You are equating effort with performance, which are not the same.

      • paperlions - May 9, 2013 at 11:03 AM

        But the argument is the same. If a player can focus more in “clutch situations” resulting in greater production, then why isn’t that players using that level of focus for every PA? There are plenty of reason to think that clutch hitters (i.e. guys that hit better in clutch situations over the course of their career than in other situations) do not exist, mostly because there has been a lot of research in this area…and, they don’t. Yes, over small sample sizes, some years a guy will “be clutch”, but over the course of his career those numbers are going to “even out”….they always do.

      • Francisco (FC) - May 9, 2013 at 12:03 PM

        But the argument is the same. If a player can focus more in “clutch situations” resulting in greater production, then why isn’t that players using that level of focus for every PA?

        Because to activate that focus you need to push that A+X buttons and then you need to wait for some time before the Clutch Meter refills.

      • dowhatifeellike - May 9, 2013 at 1:14 PM

        No, the argument is not the same. “Clutchness” is not about what a player does or doesn’t do – it’s an abstract concept entirely predicated upon the result.

        It’s really simple when you look at the statistics. Did a player perform significantly above his mean in critical situations? Yes? Clutch.

      • paperlions - May 9, 2013 at 1:42 PM

        That is fine then….because the answer is always “no”. Over short sample sizes, guys always vary between being “clutch” and “not clutch”, over the course of an entire career, there hasn’t been a single “clutch” hitter.

        ….and the argument is the same. There has to be a reason for the expectation/narrative of clutchiness, what do you think that narrative is? Luck?

  4. baseballicious - May 9, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    “The other day, I was flipping channels and that Jodie Foster movie about life on other planets was on — Contact, I guess it’s called.”

    …Admit it! You loved it.

    • Francisco (FC) - May 9, 2013 at 12:06 PM

      Maybe he loved Jodie Foster… some people have been known to develop, er, fixations on Jodie before.

      • baseballicious - May 9, 2013 at 3:18 PM

        haha…I proudly admit to be one of them.

        I can’t explain it…there is something about her.

  5. blabidibla - May 9, 2013 at 10:43 AM

    Bonds was so good at hitting 3-0 counts he got on the list 2X.

    • unclemosesgreen - May 9, 2013 at 11:52 AM

      The Kid was actually 10th, just a typo.

  6. phillyphannn83 - May 9, 2013 at 12:09 PM

    OMG, that’s like, SOOOO freaking cool that Barry Bonds is both tied for 8th AND 10th!!! Let me guess…Barry Bonds is tied for 8th with… Barry Bonds! I mean, come on!! Who else could be 8th, 9th, AND 10th on this list? Its Barry freaking Bonds!!

    Wake up Joe.

    • unclemosesgreen - May 9, 2013 at 1:18 PM

      Repeat, #10 is actually Ken Griffey Jr. Take it easy phann – breathe.

      • Matthew Pouliot - May 9, 2013 at 6:28 PM

        Thank you. It’s fixed now.

  7. Matthew Pouliot - May 9, 2013 at 6:30 PM

    I couldn’t resist checking… Thome had two walkoff homers off Percival: a three-run shot in 1998 and a two-run shot in 2000.

    • unclemosesgreen - May 9, 2013 at 10:10 PM

      Yeah, Baseball Reference ate up a lot of my day too. :)

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