Jim Leyland provides plenty of grist for the mill of criticism, but loves his team and its fans. In the spirit of noting his strengths, and providing another Torii Hunter-sized hug, let's note a study presented this week at Fangraphs. Bradley Woodrum crunched the numbers on pinch hitters for 2009 through 2013, presenting the result for each team. The Tigers topped the list among all American League teams.
The results are presented in terms of wOBA, weighted on-base average. This is a measure of the value of a player's walks, hits, and hit-by-pitches. It is scaled to match on-base percentage, so a value of .400 is excellent, .320 is average, and .300 is poor.
Even though the results cover five years of data, and up to 1,444 plate appearances per team, there is wide variation from the best to the worst. The Tigers are in first place among American League teams with a .300 wOBA, and the Orioles come in last at .227. All teams come in below average, because if the typical pinch hitter were an average hitter, he would be a starter.
The National League teams use pinch hitters much more often, since the pitcher is in the lineup. Detroit was fourth in pinch hit appearances among the American League teams with 507 plate appearances; about 100 per season, or a little more than once every other game. Joe Maddon's Rays pinch hit by far more than any other team in the league, But Jim Leyland is choosing to pinch hit more than most managers and has the best results.
Does Leyland use more platoons, which provide a natural pinch hitting opportunity? Does he outsmart the opposing manager by forcing a pitching change, and then pinch hitting to maintain the platoon advantage? Does he rest his starters more, providing higher quality hitters for pinch hitting opportunities? Or is this just one more example of the magic that is Don Kelly on the bench?