Yes, TTO hitters DO run hot & cold. It's just a different flavor. TTO players *require* excellent pitch recognition. So, they will continue to lay off balls -- and the walk rate typically won't slump. This is kind of like saying speed never slumps. While true -- the speedster cannot steal 2B if he isn't on first -- so a slump at the plate CAN (and will) reduce steals.
For TTO players, like anyone, they will have periods where they are "in the zone", and during such periods, they will cluster their HR counts -- AND their Ks will often ebb. When they aren't seeing the ball or swinging as well, the HRs vanish and the Ks rise. The walks are the most constant of the three -- but once the OPPOSITION smells the blood of a slump, they will nibble less. This is a self-regulating ballet, however -- as the less the pitchers nibble, the greater the odds that a HR will fly soon.
While I agree that Seattle needs SOME of these guys -- I have a growing belief that "variety" in a lineup has distributive value. I think ANY lineup that gets too mono-dimensional is likely to start having problems. I think Seattle's fixation on BIP machines *AND* Oakland's fixation on TTO players BOTH can become problematic when done to excess.
The simple truth is that if the opposition figures out a "winning" counter to EITHER lineup -- that counter is more easily applied to the ENTIRE lineup. I believe that Seattle having the fewest walks and fewest whiffs is ultimately detrimental, AND Oakland leading the league in walks and whiffs is similarly detrimental. This is one of those cases where I believe that "conventional" wisdom may have stumbled upon a truth that trumps pure INDIVIDUAL PLAYER analysis.
The best lineups consist of ....
1) High OBP guy with speed
2) decent average guy who can take a few pitches, or hit behind a base-runner
3) 4-tool player, who can mash, draw a walk, and hit for average
4) Slugger who may fan a lot, but scares you even when he's in the on-deck circle
5) versatile hitter with some power and maybe some speed
6) empty .300 hitter who can take a walk
7) empty .300 hitter who can't
8) fast guy with strange ideas about what constitutes a strike
9) whatever you've got left
The different TYPE hitters present a different set of challenges to the pitcher. This makes the pitcher's job more difficult. It also means that if you find something that works against hitter #1 -- it is LESS likely that the same thing will work against #2.
Heck, for years managers have tried to tweak their rotation based on the concept that facing different style pitchers on different DAYS could be beneficial. So how come nobody considered that facing different (or same) style hitters in the same game matters, (outside of righty/lefty)?
Q. What is the effect on a ballgame or a season …. if a player (or a lineup!) has a lot of K, BB, and HR?
A. He can't be defensed. And he can't be slowed down by a pitcher's park (relative to everybody else on the field).
Had you ever noticed that your Gold Gloves don't do you any good against Jim Thome?
TTO players don't get lucky*, don't need luck*, don't depend on BABIP, are not affected* by the fact that they're in Safeco Field or Dodget Stadium. It's them and the pitcher and everybody else can sit down. :- )
Also, they tend not to run as hot-and-cold.
As you've noticed here with the local club, players and offenses who don't walk, run hot and cold, because they rely on chance. But players and offenses that walk give more even returns over time.
Q. What if the whole lineup is a TTO? If the whole League is TTO?
A. Bill James pointed out that at the turn of the 20th century, defense was about 25% of the game -- but that as baseball evolved, defense became a smaller and smaller fraction of the game. Now it's only about 15% of the game.
Think about it. 4 K's, 3 BB's, and 0.4 HR's used to be a normal TTO for a pitcher. A Jarrod Washburn K/BB/HR ratio used to be typical for the best pitchers in the league. Pitchers used to need their defenses a lot more than they do now.
Sabermetricians have a new fad; they measure defense better than they used to, so they are telling us that defense is getting more and more important. In reality, with every passing year, defense affects the game less and less. The emphasis is going in the wrong direction.
As we get more interested in defense .... ironically, defense continues to affect the game less.
Granted, the Mariners of 2008 had some low-TTO pitchers and that warped our view of the world a bit.
As we published (with James) in the STATS Baseball Scoreboard … or the same OPS, offenses with more HR+BB (and fewer 2b and 3b) score more runs. The bases coordinate better; you have fewer LOB's.
Show me a player with a 115 OPS+ who has a lot of BB and HR, and I'll show you a player who changes the scoreboard more than one who has a lot of doubles.
Q. Are hitters good, or bad, if they have a lot of HR, BB, and K?
A. They are undervalued. As Wiki Gonzalez explains:
TTO players are greatly valued (overvalued?) by statheads, because none of the Three True Outcomes are measured very well by batting average, the historic measure of offensive performance. Walks are not in BA at all, strikeouts are no worse than any other kind of out (and superior to GIDPs), and homers only count as much as singles when measured by BA.
Theoretically, a TTO player would thus be underrated — cheaper than a high-average player, but far more productive.
Baseball purists are subconsciously offended by the strikeout. (They used to be consciously offended.) They see a guy who swings and misses a lot as "high risk," although of course every hitter is out most of the time anyway. A TTO player feels unreliable.
Q. Where do Branyan and Dunn rank on the TTO scale?
A. Here are the highest career % of TTO in the majors:
57.9% - Jack Cust (going into 2008)
53.2% - Russ Branyan (going into 2008)
52.1% - Dave Nicholson, 1960's
50.0 - Melvin Nieves, 90's
49.9 - Adam Dunn (going into 2008)
49.7 - Rob Deer, 1984-96
46.3 - Jim Thome, current
45.6 - Bo Jackson, 80's
45.4 - Mark McGwire, 80's 90's
44.3 - Mickey Tettleton, 80s 90's
44.1 - Sam Horn, 1987-1995
43.3 - Jay Buhner, 1987-2000
42.9 - Gorman Thomas, 70's 80's
The all-time single-season high used to be: 60.2%, by Branyan; I didn't check whether Cust has since exceeded that.
Get perspective on this, now: In over 50% of Dunn's and Branyan's AB's, the defense could literally have been playing with only the P and C. The defense could (theoretically of course) have walked off the field in the typical Dunn or Branyan AB.
Q. Why do TTO players get the bum rap that they can't hit a curve?
A. Because most of them will not, under any circumstances, swing at a ball outside the strike zone.
ML pitchers do throw guys like Cust, Branyan and Dunn blizzards of offspeed pitches. Watch a game sometime. There's a problem, though. Usually when a major league pitcher throws a curve, it is a ball or a sloppy strike that is dangerous to the defense. Which is why TTO hitters walk so much. Pitchers tend to nibble with offspeed stuff.
It sounds very easy to throw nothing but curve, change, curve, change – often they do. Sometimes that's a walk, sometimes a K. You think Dunn, Branyan, and Cust walk so much just because the bats are glued to their shoulders? You think Willie Bloomquist could go up, stand motionless taking pitches, and walk 100 times a year? :- )
But bear in mind too, that when you hang that curve, Branyan and Dunn will hit it out.
It's not that ML pitchers forget that they shouldn't throw Branyan and Dunn centered fastballs. It's just that when they get to 3-and-1 with those curve balls, and 1B is occupied, they are forced to come in and take their chances. That's why those guys average 40 homers per 550 AB's.
Q. What do you expect from a Russell Branyan in Safeco?
A. As follows:
109 - Branyan's career OPS+
120 - Branyan's OPS+ since he turned 28 (about the year Cust got good)
138 - Branyan's OPS+ last year
130 - Not a bad bet for 2009 in Safeco
You notice that Branyan spent the year playing for Jack Zduriencik, and Dr. Zoidberg got Branyan in here so fast you didn't even see Z's arm move. You gotta be bullish on Branyan for 2009.
Q. For Adam Dunn?
A. Nobody denies any more that Dunn is an elite hitter. He's got a career 130 OPS+ .... if you added 10 points for the fact that he'll now be in his ideal park, you'd be talking 140...
140 OPS+ ? That's Ken Griffey Jr's lifetime OPS+. It's Mike Piazza's, Reggie Jackson's and David Ortiz'.
Give Dunn that pitcher's park/TTO wind at his back and if he jumps up a notch, you've got a legit MVP hitter.
Q. Have the Mariners been friendly to Three True Outcomes players?
A. This has definitely been part of their problem. They're probably the most extreme "purist" club in the majors and as such, they hate K's (and undervalue BB's). Even if the old Mariners had a Cust or Petagine or Branyan available somewhere, they'd have loathed him. Oh, wait...
The old-school Mariners disliked strikeouts, and so they disliked deep counts and BB as well -- they avoided TTO players. ..., and so the effects of Safeco on their (contact) hitters was magnified.
HR/BB/K hitters are precisely the kind of hitter who isn't hamstrung by Safeco Field, or by any ballpark. ...Jack Cust -- a journeyman minor leaguer by definition -- went into that tough park in Oakland and immediately posted a 147 and 132 OPS+. Those are (post-2005) Vladimir Guerrero performances -- wind-aided by the fact that Cust was a TTO hitter in a pitcher's park.
The Seattle Mariners should grab every decent TTO hitter that they can get their hands on, and forget the strikeouts. Now that Jack Zduriencik is in charge, maybe they will.
No sabermetrician would say that defense is getting "more and more important" as in the time series is going up as each year passes. We're getting better at measuring defense and splitting defense between pitching and fielding and as we get better we realize more and more than JAMES WAS WRONG...that his figures were too low to BEGIN with. That defense used to account for 30% of the game and now accounts for "only" 22% if your analysis is not biased by initial assumptions as James' was.
Defense does continue to get less important with time, but please don't mischaracterize sabermetricians' arguments...we're not arguing that defense is getting more important in today's game...we're arguing that it ALWAYS WAS more important than previously thought. And I stand by that argument.
Speaking of defense, D-Wak says he loves it so much he might move Lopez to 1B for good. I was intrigued by that notion when we had slick-fielding and interesting lefty bat Luis Valbuena, and didn't have Branyan-Shelton on the roster.
Now, I don't really see it, and JZ's roster moves indicate that's not what he sees as the plan. Interesting (and positive), though, that the manager is looking hard at the connections between the defense and the pitching staff.
Back to offense, how do you classify guys like Mike Cameron, who walk and strike out a lot, but hit more doubles than HR? Two-and-a-half outcomes?
I ask because that is what Michael Saunders is profiling as, and as much as I like him, I'm not sure where that ends up without the great CF defense.
Whereas, Halman has the strikeouts and the HR, but not the walks (but he also has the speed factor).
The basic fact is that back in 1920 pitchers fanned about 4 per game -- 23 outs to the defense 4 to the pitcher.
In the past decade, it's just under 7-K per game for pitchers -- 20 outs to the defense 7 to the pitcher.
What is strange about the discussion of the relative importance of pitching versus hitting is that the discussion BEGINS with the contention that pitchers are 2/3 of the equation, (the initial Jamesian guesstimate).
From my perspective, it is brutally obvious that discussion should START with the defense being "responsible" for percentage of outs relative to the pitchers. In the 4-K 20s, 85% defense - 15% pitching. In the 7-K 21st century, (and it's really more like 6.5, but even numbers are just easier to quote and remember), 74% defense, 26% pitching.
That doesn't mean that tells the entire story -- but as a foundation block it's simple, direct, and 100% supported by the raw data, before the statisticians get their hands on it. But, if anyone were to even SUGGEST that fielding "might" be 74% of the defense/pitching ratio, they're going to get ridiculed right out of cyberspace.
Typically, there is the foundation argument that "most" outs are "routine", and that since anybody could get to them, they should be ignored. (However, for some reason we don't bother to differentiate the "routine outs" and the "defensive wizard outs" or the "pitcher is awesome" outs for the batters. In THAT arena, an out is an out, (except for those people who attempt to pry-bar the "productive" out into the equation -- but of course, they are largely ignored and ridiculed as well. Does somebody want to try and factor out the "routine" hits from all the offensive players and then attempt to convince us that the result is a MORE accurate representation of offensive players? We've got the BIP results -- so obviously if we give EVERY hitter a .300 BABIP and adjust their stats accordingly - we'll get a MUCH more accurate picture of how good players actually happen to be ... won't we?
Of course, the out ratio between pitchers and fielders is not a constant. But, the focus on the almighty K still tends to overhwhelm the conversation. Pitcher X doesn't get enough Ks - he's no good. Let's get a better pitcher, so our defense won't HAVE to be better. (The fact that a stellar defense actually helps EVERY pitcher, 7 days a week, while the stellar starter helps the team for 2/3 of a game every 5th start doesn't seem to ever gain traction).
Philly and Tampa met in the World Series. Philly was 11th in the NL in Ks - Tampa was 4th in the AL. Tampa happened to have the best DER in all of baseball. Philly was an offensively minded team, (2nd in runs scored), but they were 6th in the NL in DER while only 11th in Ks. (Just fyi - Tampa was 1st in the AL in Ks in 2007 - and last in DER and finished last in the East).
World Series Participant DERs in recent years: (overall DER - not by league)
1st and 10th in DER
2nd and 6th in DER
3rd and 7th in DER
2nd and 4th in DER
A truly massive offense can make the difference and allow a "modestly above average" defensive team to reach the Series. But, the general truth is this -- the fastest and easiest and most EFFICIENT way to lower runs scored is to improve your TEAM defense.
Nobody has a good feeling for HOW that is done. So, the focus of fans, pundits, and GMs, remains on pitching and hitting, while defense is mostly ignored.
Agreed with the spirit of that post entirely, Sandy.
I don't understand where James got his initial assumption about pitchers being 70% of the defense, but I think that's the one area where his intuition badly BADLY missed.
I've gotta agree with Matt and Sandy here.
Bill James is a legend, but where exactly did he pull this random 15% out from? Intuition is one thing, but you can't assume something like that.
Recent research seems to suggest more of a 50-30-20 split (20% being defense). Under that split, arond 30% or so of a position player's value is in his defense. Its not as important as offense, buts its pretty important and needsto be a big part of the ? when acquiring a position player.
Thats not to say I'm against acquiring Dunn. I think he makes a lot of sense in this market as a 1B (hes being more undervalued than I thought he'd be), but not as a LF in Safeco.
At $12-15mil per year and only 4 years hes a really nice get.
Indeed...and at first...Dunn isn't that bad. He's a little below average...he's just not fast enough to be an outfielder.
++ Yes, TTO hitters DO run hot & cold. It’s just a different flavor. TTO players *require* excellent pitch recognition. So, they will continue to lay off balls — and the walk rate typically won’t slump. This is kind of like saying speed never slumps. While true — the speedster cannot steal 2B if he isn’t on first — so a slump at the plate CAN (and will) reduce steals.
For TTO players, like anyone, they will have periods where they are “in the zone”, and during such periods, they will cluster their HR counts — AND their Ks will often ebb. When they aren’t seeing the ball or swinging as well, the HRs vanish and the Ks rise. The walks are the most constant of the three — but once the OPPOSITION smells the blood of a slump, they will nibble less. This is a self-regulating ballet, however — as the less the pitchers nibble, the greater the odds that a HR will fly soon. ++
Agree with that. We're mostly referring to the fact that a team that draws lots of walks isn't going to look as bad, for as long, as teams like the 2007 M's often will.
All athletes get in and out of the zone.
Personally, I'd have a harder time with "the zone" if I were a low-walks player hitting balls at people. But that's just noodlin'.
While I agree that Seattle needs SOME of these guys — I have a growing belief that “variety” in a lineup has distributive value.++
Oh, sure. In my world we don't deal Ichiro for Dustin Pedroia :- )
The Mariners have had virtually ZERO Cust-type players -- because they as an org have held such antipathy for the batting strikeout.
Gimme two or three or four of 'em and we're still going to have our share of Latin-style hackers.
Right...I don't think anyone disagrees with you that we need some more TTO batters to put the fear into the opposing pitcher and to get on base. I think it's a positive sign that the Mariners took Branyan this winter...I don't think Zduriencik shares the old guard's fascination with batting average or productive outs. :) You can almost count on the guy he grabs to plug the LF or DH hole being another BB+HR threat that's flying under the radar due to poor BA or bad luck or some other attribute that's negative (some issues with previous teammates, bad defense (I'm thinking in particular of guys like Dunn).