Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Evaluating Hitters - What Ratings Matter

What Ratings Drive Superb Performance?

Among the veterans of the game, conventional wisdom dictates that the OVR is not the best indicator of a player’s true value. I tend to agree. There are many components of the player’s overall rating (OVR) which do not seem to bear directly upon the player’s actual performance. SO from a pure hitting perspective, what ratings really matter? As it turns out, it’s exactly the ones we would most rationally expect – contact, power, splits and batting eye. NONE of the other ratings appears to have any true correlation to the quality of the hitter.

I looked over Mattingly’s three season history to see if there are some good predictors of a hitter’s performance as measured by the following five career hitting stats: batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, slugging + on-base percentages, and RC27 (runs created per 27 outs). We can debate the relative merits of batting average to on-base percentage and whether the runs created formula is valid. I wasn’t too concerned with any of that for now. I just wanted to see whether the very best players in the league over the first three seasons in those categories shared some common characteristics, and if so, to see if I could identify them.

Batting Average

The two ratings which indicate the strongest correlation to excellence in batting average are contact and batting eye. This makes some sense IF we assume the game engine uses batting eye in two ways – strike zone recognition (more walks) and hitting zone recognition. In other words, when a player has an excellent batting eye, he is swinging at strikes that he can drive as opposed to swing at strikes that he cannot handle as well. In real life, this is EXACTLY what great hitters are able to do.
So – our top five career batting average leaders are:

Sticky Ratliff[1]
.359 Avg
74 Contact
90 Power
89 Left
75 Right
83 Eye
157 Eye+Contact

Cap Glass
.346 Avg.
88 C
78 P
55 L
90 R
72 E
160 E+C

Graeme Hernandez
.342 avg.
96 C
73 P
73 L
96 R
64 E
160 C+E

Cookie Gonzalez
72 C
63 P
66 L
98 R
92 E
164 C+E

Benito Estrella
92 C
64 P
84 L
76 R
69 E
161 C+E

A few things really jumped out at me when I broke these numbers down a bit. First, power hitters seem to do better than pure contact hitters, but high power ratings weren’t great predictors here. There is a 30% difference between the top power rating and the lowest among these hitters. Splits also didn’t seem critical – which frankly surprised me. Obviously, the combined splits run from a high of 169 to a low of 145. Four of the 5 hitters had splits totaling 160+. So they are important - but not as important as other ratings. The two lowest splits against lefties are carried by hitters with 90+ ratings against righties. But look at the last figure – contact plus eye ratings. It’s uncanny how tight these combined ratings are among these 5 terrific hitters (157, 160, 160, 164, 161). SO – we are probably looking for hitters with 80+ contact and batting eye ratings as real superstars in terms of batting average, and 70+ is likely to yeild a very, very good batting average.

On-Base Percentage

Okay – it’s batting eye. Of the five top career numbers, 4 have batting eye ratings of 90+ and the 5th (Ratliff) plays in a hitter’s park and has an excellent rating of 83. Unlike the batting average comparison, extremely high contact ratings don’t seem vital. Of the top 5 career hitters, only one had a contact rating above 80, with the remainder in the 70’s. These are excellent ratings, but not in the 90’s like hitters with the huge batting averages.

Chance Goldberg
79 C
87 P
70 L
87 R
91 E
327 C+E+L+R

Angel Sanchez
73 C
92 P
79 L
94 R
97 E
343 C+E+L+R

Cookie Gonzalez
72 C
63 P
66 L
98 R
92 E
328 C+E+L+R

Sticky Ratliff
74 C
90 P
89 L
75 R
83 E
321 C+E+L+R

Paul Cho
86 C
81 P
67 L
77 R
99 E
329 C+E+L+R

The bottom figure for each player is the sum of the contact, batting eye and split ratings. The right handed splits tend to be consistently higher than the lefty ratings. Also, when these ratings are added together, you can see very small deviations between the players. So while splits in and of themselves aren’t necessarily indicators of success, the top hitters generally have higher ratings against right handed pitchers (there are many more righties – makes senses), and those splits need to be accompanied by good ratings in contact and batting eye. Id’ recommend looking for hitters with combined ratings in these areas of 280+ (70+ average) with 300+(75+ average) showing truly excellent potential for success.

Slugging Percentage

“It’s the power, stupid.” Okay – so this is a d’oh moment. But are there other ratings that need to be high to have a really great slugger? As it turns out, the answer is a little yes and a little no. Contact does not seem to be vital. Obviously, you’d rather not have a strikeout king, but a relatively low contact rating does not mean a player with a high power rating won’t hit for lots of power. He will. But it looks to me as though the sum of power and eye will be a pretty decent indicator of the sort of slugger you have.

Chance Goldberg
79 C
87 P
70 L
87 R
91 E
178 P+E

Ricky Cormier
68 C
87 P
55 L
78 R
87 E
174 P+E

Sticky Ratliff
74 C
90 P
89 L
75 R
83 E
173 P+E

Bo Finley
52 C
94 P
69 L
60 R
77 E
171 P+E

Sherman Darwin
56 C
86 P
98 L
84 R
72 E
158 P+E

Darwin is a bit of an odd hitter among the group. The sum of his power and batting eye is 11% off the top figure, but his splits are the best among the group. He does really well when you add power, the splits and batting eye together, but that leaves a gap among the top three and bottom two. So – this is an area where it looks like you start with the power rating (the higher the better), look for a good batting eye, and look for nice splits. Don’t get too worried about contact.

Overall Quality

Angel Sanchez 435

Chance Goldberg 414

Sticky Ratliff 411

Kevin Bravo 411

Paul Cho 410

Graeme Hernandez 402

Sherman Darwin 396

Cookie Gonzalez 391

Benito Estrella 385

Cap Glass 383

Ricky Cormier 375

Bo Finley 352

These are the 12 hitters that ranked among the top 5 in career batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, on-base+slugging and RC27 in Mattingly. The figure is the SUM of their respective contact, power, batting eye anad split ratings. Based upon this rather simplistic review, it looks to me like the two least critical ratings – in terms of predicting offensive success – are contact and the lefty split. Power looks to be the biggie with batting eye next and the righty split the third of these “more significant” ratings. Quite obviously there are more sophisticated ways to look at this. But this gives us a place to start.

400+ (average of 80+) across the board = a true superstar.
350+ (average of 70+) across the board = an excellent player, all-start caliber player.
300+ (average of 60+) across the board = everyday quality hitter
250+ (average of 50+) across the board = role player or with defensive excellence a SS/CF

[1] Sticky Ratliff shows up in every category. He is a terrific hitter, but he’s played all three seasons in a hitter friendly park.


Trevor Baxter said...

wow, that was amazing...good job

Tony said...

Great post. Wow. Too bad I moved Sticky to a more balanced park in Cleveland, but he'll still hit there.

Johnny said...

Wow that is deep but very useful --

Great Blog!!!