One of the many, many great articles that have peppered Beyond the Boxscore -- SB Nation's Sabermetric blog (and info-graphic capital of the internet world) -- recently was a piece from PITCHf/x guru Lucas Apostoleris. Lucas was expanding on an article penned by Bill Petti that looked at how hitters slugged the ball when they pulled it, went to center or the opposite field. Lucas' angle was to use Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) for contacted balls and ran the same things. This intrigued me because it combined two things I love: wOBA and lists that use the "adjusted" scale. By that I mean, the scale that puts league average at 100 and anything better or worse being above or below 100.
Luckily for me, Lucas gives the league average wOBA on Contact (wOBAcon) to the pull field, center field and opposite field which leaves me all the data I need to apply it to the 2011 season and come to some hard, fast, sweeping conclusions after two weeks of baseball.
First: why use wOBA? Well, read for yourself. It more accurately portrays the value of each outcome of a plate appearance. All of the weights are relative to an out, which has its value fixed at zero. If we were to use On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS), we'd be using inaccurate weightings for each of the outcomes -- OPS overvalues essentially every single outcome of a plate appearance and if you look at calculating OPS long-hand, it's much more convoluted.
All of that aside, I've used Lucas' formula and league averages from his article I linked to in the first paragraph. So let's move onward to the data as it relates to the Detroit Tigers.
The Pull Field
Here's how the Tigers hitters have done thus far (all data is through Sunday's game slate) while pulling the ball. List is sorted by wOBAcon+, which grades each hitter against the league average.
BIP is the number of balls in play to that particular field for the hitter. The league average wOBAcon to the pull field is .413. For context, the average wOBA overall has been around the .330 mark the last couple of seasons. What that means is that the average player hits like Albert Pujols does when they pull the baseball.
Obviously, it's small samples given we're paring down the batted balls to three different buckets and we're just a few weeks into the season. Pay no mind to Casper Wells -- no disrespect but his BIP count is just too small relative to the rest of the list. But how about Alex Avila? He's crushing the ball when pulling it to right field. He's got 6 hits in 12 at-bats when pulling the ball including a double and three long balls.
Miguel Cabrera is above average. Ho hum. But, what if I told you that Cabrera's 2008-2010 wOBAcon to the pull field was .542 which is substantially higher than his wOBAcon has been this year? Yeah, there's a good chance he's going to improve when pulling the ball as the year goes on. Scary. Scary good.
Going up the Middle
Miguel Cabrera is good at baseball, this much we know. However, the good regression he should see in pulling the ball will likely be mitigated by the bad regression he'll likely have in driving the ball to center field. His three year average coming into this year was .399 wOBAcon to center and, as you can see, he's sporting a .466 wOBAcon to center this year. Victor Martinez has put up 103 wOBAcon+ to both the pull field and to center field. This is something you'd like to see increase, and I'll bet that it will, so long as his groin injury doesn't persist.
Ryan Raburn ... Yikes.
First, note the league average to the opposite field is .296. That means when the average batter puts one in play to the opposite field, they essentially hit like the Alberto Callaspo in 2010. That's, how you say, "not good." Secondly, note that the difference between the pull field wOBAcon and opposite field is .117 points, which is the difference between Josh Hamilton last year and Jonny Gomes/Jeff Keppinger/Lyle Overbay. Very substantial.
Now, as you can see, the Tigers don't go opposite field much, but that's not too big of a deal. In fact, the Tigers have put 428 balls in play this year with their splits being 177 (41.4%) to the pull field, 130 (30.1%) to center field and 121 (28.3%) to the opposite field. According to Lucas' article, the breakdown on the player level is 43.8/37.5/18.7% distribution from pull/center/opposite fields.
With the Tigers going to the opposite field more than average, their lack of production from the guys that do it most often has hindered the offense a little bit. But there's good news in that Miguel Cabrera has a wOBAcon of .402 to right field from 2008-2010 which indicates his current league average mark will improve -- a lot.
Will Rhymes has gone up the middle or the other way more often than he's pulled the baseball and he's been below-average to any field he's driven the baseball. Obviously, small samples but he's been in a pretty decent funk to start the year. Meanwhile, Scott Sizemore continues to mash down in Toledo just waiting for the chance to get an extended look in Motown.
Austin Jackson and Brandon Inge have both been abysmal in hitting to right field this year, as well.
Absolutely none. It's barely after Tax Day and there's what feels like an endless (in a great way!) amount of baseball to be played, so this is meant to be more fun than conclusive. Does this match up with what you're witnessing when watching the games? It's something I'll be looking for from now on.