I love reading about baseball on the interwebs, and so do you! Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here reading this.
Or would you?
No, this isn’t an existentialist piece, so we’ll dispense with those notions. Instead, I want to direct you to this piece. Originally, author Tim Finnegan was trying to find baseball players that might be targets for improvement in fantasy baseball by using Statcast information. While it is helpful for those purposes (I plan on utilizing it for my preparation), I was kind of blown away by Finnegan’s research. It made be want to apply it to the Phillies. Specifically, I wanted to see if we could identify a player who had a bad(ish) season and could stand to improve a little bit more.
At various times during this offseason, we have seen writing about how badly the Phillies need to improve its offense. It’s obvious that they do, but when these writers look at the team, they tend to leave out players that are already here who could see some improvement. It’s natural. National writers are always looking for readers, and after all, which article would you read:
“Phillies Considering Adding Jose Bautista”
“Cameron Rupp Will Slightly Improve on His 2016”
Whenever people use advanced statistics to try and find evidence for improvement, the number most frequently used is his BABIP (batting average on balls in play). Since it is a statistic that does involve a whole lot of luck, it’s easy to point to it when a player drops to unseemly levels and say “HE’LL BOUNCE BACK BECAUSE HE’LL HAVE BETTER LUCK!”
Tommy Joseph is a great example. His .267 mark is almost 25 points below the league average (.301) and makes one think he’ll be better simply by having better luck. This number is deceiving, though, because of what it tells us. Will he truly have a better BABIP simply because, by sabermetric orthodoxy, he has to get better? It’s possible. But consider: Joseph hit more flyballs (45.1%) than groundballs (37%) and that makes total sense. When we think of him as a hitter, “slash and dash” isn’t what comes to mind. His game is built around power, and by extension, he naturally would hit more balls in the air. When someone hits more balls in the air, they are going to be outs more than balls on the ground because there is less of a chance for external interference (pebbles, uneven grass, etc.). Therefore, it’s probably not safe to assume his numbers will improve simply because BABIP rules all and it means they have to get better. Instead, we’d have to go a little deeper to see if BABIP improvement is possible.
Now, let’s regulate what “improve” really means here. I’m not going to discuss Joseph’s walk rate, as that is a whole other article. I’m only talking about batted balls. His .505 slugging was a very good number, especially since we weren’t too sure what to expect from him. You might also think that that number is inflated because of how much he hit against lefties since he and Ryan Howard were platooned, but if you were paying attention, you’d know that Joseph had more plate appearances against righties than lefties. No, what I mean by improve is that his scoreboard numbers (batting average) will probably go up based on the evidence available. If his batting average goes up, naturally his on base and slugging will go up as well. How is this possible?
Let’s go back to the aforementioned article.
Finnegan talks about how line drives are more likely to, well, let me just let him explain:
Thinking about this, it’s easy to wonder about someone like Joseph, as his average was a little low when you consider how high his slugging was. Is he a candidate for improvement, based on these findings?
Here is a chart for Joseph’s batting average and isolated power in these same conditions:
|Exit Velocity||Batting Average||PA||ISO|
|Exit Velocity||Batting Average||PA||ISO|
|<70 mph||0.500||2 for 4||0.000|
|70-75 mph||1.000||1 for 1||0.000|
|75-80 mph||1.000||3 for 3||0.000|
|80-85 mph||1.000||1 for 1||0.000|
|85-90 mph||0.500||2 for 4||0.500|
|90-95 mph||0.400||2 for 5||0.200|
|95-100 mph||0.455||5 for 11||0.273|
|100-105 mph||0.750||9 for 12||0.833|
|105-110 mph||0.692||9 for 13||1.538|
|110+ mph||1.000||1 for 1||3.000|
Now, I inserted the amount of plate appearance he had at each level because of the small sample sizes we’re dealing with here, but you can see some of the possibilities for improvement. Specifically, let’s focus on those levels where Joseph had the biggest samples, those ones where Finnegan talks about the possibility of the ball being hit over outfielder’s heads.
When compared to the league, Joseph was way below average in zone where the ball left his bat somewhere between 95-100 miles per hour. There is almost a 120 point difference in batting average. He’s also way below average on balls hit between 105-110 miles per hour as well. Those kinds of discrepancies make one kind of stand up and take notice. But it’s also important to ask certain questions about this. Was he shifted against in the infield? Where were the outfielders playing him? Where were the balls hit to in the field? Here’s a spray chart for the 95-100 miles per hour zone:
Those balls hit to right field for outs could have been hits if not for a number of factors. Maybe next time, Joseph gets around on the pitch. Maybe the ball is hit in the gap instead of where the right fielders looks to be stationed to make an easy play. After all, look at the play the Adam Eaton had to make on Joseph to make one of these hits an out:
You can see why luck is usually involved in a lot of these hits.
Here’s another example. This ball, hit off of the bat at 106 miles per hour, happens to go right at left fielder Matt Kemp. Finnegan’s research shows that a ball hit like this should be a hit 83% of the time, but Kemp just so happens to be in the exact right spot:
I could sit here and look at the video for each of Joseph’s outs on his spray charts, but you get the point. There is a certain amount of luck involved in being a hitter and Joseph had some poor luck in 2017. If he is able to maintain his ability to hit the ball hard, his luck is bound to change. That should then begin to be reflected in his counting numbers, which could make bigger believers out of Phillies’ upper management. Whatever it is, Tommy Joseph seems to be a good candidate to give some improvement to a lineup that will surely need it come next season.
Many thanks go to Tim Finnegan for his awesome article at Baseball Prospectus that got me thinking in the first place.