Scott’s Miscellany – Quality of Pitchers Faced

The title of the article is an allusion to Schott’s Miscellany, which you should definitely check out if you never have and feel compelled to know that a group of larks is called an exaltation or that a member of the 32nd degree of Freemasonry is known as a Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret.

–Quality of Pitchers Faced–

Hunter Pence will start the 2015 season on the DL because of a fractured forearm, but there is a silver lining. Each week he misses is a week he doesn’t have to face Clayton Kershaw. Pence faced Kershaw 15 times in 2014, more than any other batter, and managed just one hit.

Pence’s misfortune from last season made me curious how much imbalance there is for hitters in a season in terms of the quality of the pitchers they face, and whether that imbalance might be consistent from season to season.

To start that inquiry, I first needed to classify pitchers. I did that by calculating their WAR per 1,000 pitches, which I also regressed by 1,000 pitches of neutral WAR to try to account for sample size outliers. I then grouped pitchers into three tiers based on arbitrary cutoffs that felt right to me; I used 0.80 and 0.33 regressed WAR per 1,000 pitches as the cutoffs. It may not be 100 percent rigorous, but the resulting groupings seem reasonable.

Pitcher Tier Members, 2014
Tier 1 WAR/1000 Pit Tier 2 WAR/1000 Pit Tier 3 WAR/1000 Pit
First Five Clayton Kershaw 2.05 Tanner Roark 0.79 David Buchanan 0.32
Corey Kluber 1.61 Ian Kennedy 0.79 Fernando Abad 0.32
Jake Arrieta 1.50 Mike Fiers 0.78 Justin De Fratus 0.32
Aroldis Chapman 1.41 Tyson Ross 0.77 Travis Wood 0.31
Phil Hughes 1.41 Ervin Santana 0.77 Alfredo Simon 0.31
Last Five Hector Rondon 0.81 LaTroy Hawkins 0.34 B.J. Rosenberg -0.52
Andrew Cashner 0.80 Gavin Floyd 0.34 Wandy Rodriguez -0.53
Chris Archer 0.80 Zeke Spruill 0.34 David Holmberg -0.55
Alex Cobb 0.80 Yohan Pino 0.33 Aaron Crow -0.55
Scott Kazmir 0.80 Chad Qualls 0.33 Anthony Bass -0.68

Kershaw is way out by his lonesome but is eventually followed by Corey Kluber, Jake Arrieta, Aroldis Chapman, and Phil Hughes. Tier 1 ends with the likes of Hector Rondon, Alex Cobb, and Scott Kazmir. Tier 2 begins with Tanner Roark, Ian Kennedy, and Mike Fiers and ends with LaTroy Hawkins, Gavin Floyd, and Chad Qualls. Tier 3 begins with David Buchanan and Fernando Abad and continues to the worst pitcher of 2014, Anthony Bass.

It follows expectations that the collective batter performance against Tier 1 pitchers was much worse than against Tier 2 and Tier 3 pitchers. From 2010 to 2014, batters hit 14 points higher when facing Tier 2 pitchers than when facing Tier 1 pitchers. They also hit more home runs and enjoyed more opportunities for runs batted in.

Batter Performance vs. Pitcher Tiers, 2010-2014
Pitcher Tier PA BAVG HR/600 PA RISP/600 PA
1 696140 .239 13.1 158.6
2 1381003 .253 14.6 173.9
3 1673384 .258 15.4 192.5

That’s pretty obvious. The important question is whether there is consistency from year to year for batter ratios of Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 pitchers faced. There is some consistency, but it’s weak.

Tier 1 Pitchers Faced Correlation

The positive slope of the linear regression line shows that players who face a higher proportion of Tier 1 pitchers in one year are more likely to face a higher proportion the next year. However, the correlation coefficient of 0.04 also indicates that the relationship is weak, and the results do not follow a clear trend.

Looking back to 2014, there was a pretty large difference between the batters who faced the highest ratio of Tier 1 pitchers and the batters who faced the lowest ratio of the same.

Highest Ratio of Tier 1 Pitchers Faced, 2014
Batter Team PA Tier1 Tier2 Tier3
Colby Rasmus Blue Jays 376 25.8% 35.1% 39.1%
Danny Santana Twins 430 24.9% 36.3% 38.8%
Adam Eaton White Sox 538 24.3% 37.7% 37.9%
Adam Lind Blue Jays 318 24.2% 28.9% 46.9%
Brock Holt Red Sox 492 23.4% 36.6% 40.0%
Melky Cabrera Blue Jays 621 23.2% 34.6% 42.2%
John Jaso Athletics 344 23.0% 36.6% 40.4%
Lorenzo Cain Royals 502 22.9% 34.3% 42.8%
Steve Pearce Orioles 383 22.7% 33.4% 43.9%
Edwin Encarnacion Blue Jays 542 22.7% 32.7% 44.6%
Oswaldo Arcia Twins 410 22.7% 30.7% 46.6%
Jose Abreu White Sox 622 22.5% 37.9% 39.5%
Jose Bautista Blue Jays 673 22.4% 34.2% 43.4%
George Springer Astros 345 22.3% 31.9% 45.8%
Dexter Fowler Astros 505 21.8% 33.5% 44.8%

Colby Rasmus heads the list of batters who faced the most difficult quality of pitcher. He is one of five Blue Jays in the top 15 of the list, so I am tempted to say that his moving to the Astros will be a positive one for his fantasy potential in this respect. However, when you really look at the specifics, I think it becomes clear why there is not much year-to-year consistency.

In 2014, Rasmus faced David Price, Hiroki Kuroda, and Jake Peavy six times. He faced David Robertson and Andrew Miller five times. All of those pitchers changed teams. Johnny Cueto (4 times) and Mike Fiers (3 times) were both interleague matchups that won’t repeat in 2015. Even if Rasmus had remained with the Blue Jays, his opponent pitchers would have been dramatically different.

There is more than one way to be an outlier, but it is somewhat nice to know that Danny Santana, Steve Pearce, Oswaldo Arcia, Jose Abreu, and George Springer had the success that they did despite facing a more difficult set of pitchers than most last season.

Lowest Ratio of Tier 1 Pitchers Faced, 2014
Batter Team PA Tier1 Tier2 Tier3
Kolten Wong Cardinals 433 10.2% 52.4% 37.4%
A.J. Ellis Dodgers 347 11.0% 45.0% 44.1%
Jon Jay Cardinals 468 11.5% 42.1% 46.4%
Bryce Harper Nationals 395 11.6% 44.8% 43.5%
Dee Gordon Dodgers 650 12.3% 40.9% 46.8%
Seth Smith Padres 521 12.5% 39.3% 48.2%
Gregory Polanco Pirates 312 12.5% 38.5% 49.0%
Yasiel Puig Dodgers 640 12.7% 40.2% 47.2%
Yasmani Grandal Padres 443 12.9% 37.7% 49.4%
Arismendy Alcantara Cubs 300 13.0% 40.7% 46.3%
Wilson Ramos Nationals 361 13.0% 41.3% 45.7%
Juan Uribe Dodgers 404 13.1% 43.1% 43.8%
Luis Valbuena Cubs 547 13.2% 40.8% 46.1%
Neil Walker Pirates 571 13.3% 42.9% 43.8%
Matt Adams Cardinals 563 13.3% 43.7% 43.0%

The opposite cases are Kolten Wong, Dee Gordon, and Arismendy Alcantara who did their damage against a relatively weak group of pitchers.

Taking a step back, it’s undoubtedly not a coincidence that all 15 leaders in ratio of Tier 1 pitchers faced were from the American League and all 15 trailers were from the National League. But that is a topic for another week.

We hoped you liked reading Scott’s Miscellany – Quality of Pitchers Faced by Scott Spratt!

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Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt

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Do you think these tiers are too wide? There is some pretty big differences between top and bottom of a tier. Also, is WAR/pitch at all a standard means of measurement?