Saturday, March 16, 2013

Giving Pitchers Credit for Infield Flies with EO%

Much has been written about fielding independent events - strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen and homeruns - over the last several years.  Those are things which a pitcher controls with minimal contribution from fielders.  No event is totally independent of teammates of course.  For example, an outfielder can reach over the fence to prevent a home run.  Additionally, recent research on framing pitches suggest that catchers can have some influence over strikeouts and walks.  Still, pitchers do control these events for the most part.

Another event which is mostly responsibility of the pitcher, and could be considered fielding independent, is the infield fly.  While there are certainly fielders involved in getting outs on infield flies, there is not a lot of difference among major league infielders in their ability to catch infield flies.  Regardless of the pitcher or the team, when you see a pop up in the infield it almost always leads to an out.  Table 1 below shows that batters hit .023 and slugged .027 on pop ups in 2012.   These rates are much lower than those for any other batted ball type including ground balls.

Table 1: Batting Statistics by Batted Ball Type, 2012

Batted Ball Type
BA
SLG
OPS
Ground ball
.241
.260
.501
Infield fly
.023
.027
.050
Outfield fly
.273
.741
1.014
Line drive
.722
.975
1.697

 Data source: Retrosheet.org

The notion that infield flies are essentially fielding independent events is not not a new one.  Dave Cameron and Tom Tango have both suggested adding infield flies to the Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) statistic similar to how strikeouts are already included.  It's true that infield fly ball rate is less predictive of future performance than strikeout rate, but predicting the future is not the only function of FIP.  It is also used to evaluate past performance.

Since infield flies lead to outs almost as frequently as strikeouts, I have combined the two into a statistic I call Easy Out Percentage - EO%   It is simply strikeouts plus infield flies divided by batters faced.  As mentioned above, this could also be incorporated into FIP, but I'll keep it simple for now.  Table 2 below shows that Tigers right hander Max Scherzer led the majors with a 36.0 EO% in 2012.  Teammate Justin Verlander was third at 35.5%.  The National League leader was Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals (35.8%).   

Table 2: Easy Out Percentage (Strikeouts and Infield Flies), 2012


Pitcher
Team
BFP
K
IFFB
EO%
Max Scherzer
Tigers
787
231
52
36.0
Stephen Strasburg
Nationals
653
197
37
35.8
Justin Verlander
Tigers
956
239
100
35.5
Yu Darvish
Rangers
816
221
61
34.6
Clayton Kershaw
Dodgers
901
229
74
33.6
R.A. Dickey
Mets
927
230
81
33.5
Chris Sale
White Sox
772
192
64
33.2
Cole Hamels
Phillies
867
216
71
33.1
Cliff Lee
Phillies
847
207
72
32.9
Matt Moore
Rays
759
175
71
32.4
Phil Hughes
Yankees
815
165
93
31.7
Felix Hernandez
Mariners
939
223
67
30.9
CC Sabathia
Yankees
833
197
60
30.9
David Price
Rays
836
205
52
30.7
Gio Gonzalez
Nationals
822
207
45
30.7
Bruce Chen
Royals
827
140
111
30.4
Jake Peavy
White Sox
882
194
70
29.9
J.A. Happ
- - -
627
144
43
29.8
Lance Lynn
Cardinals
744
180
41
29.7
Matt Cain
Giants
876
193
67
29.7

Data source: FanGraphs.com 

The majority of pitchers rank similarly on K% and EO%, but there are some exceptions.  One such outlier was Bruce Chen of the Royals who ranked 73 out of 103 pitchers (with 600+ batters faced) in strikeout percentage, but 16th in EO%.  Another was Tigers right hander Rick Porcello - 95th in K% and 52nd in EO%.  The reason for the disparity was that Chen (17.6%) and Porcello (15.8%) ranked one and two in infield flies per batted ball even though they didn't whiff a lot of batters,

It is important to keep in mind that the ability to to induce popups has not been shown to be a highly repeatable skill for most pitchers.  For example, Porcello's rate in 2012 was by far the highest in his career.  In his four years, he gas posted rates of 4.9%, 7.7%, 10.5% and 15.8%. The increasing trend may or may not be a fluke, but the huge jump in 2012 in particular probably was.  Regardless, his infield flies in 2012 added value and he should get credit for it.   

3 comments:

  1. I like this and thanks for giving the pitchers some specific credit for their EO%!

    ReplyDelete
  2. TSE, I knew you'd like that stat :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah it has a really catchy name!

      Sometimes baseball isn't so complicated beyond just understanding the sweet and sincere simplicity of vowels. It really is just that easy, and a better way to appreciate the game than banging one's head against a wall like the old fashioned analysts.

      Delete

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