Fantasy Baseball Tumbling Dice: Maybe hitting is just lousy?

by Lawr Michaels, on June 28, 2011 @ 10:15:57 PDT


Baseball HQ guru Ron Shandler and his family were in the Bay Area last week, so I arranged for five tickets to last Thursday's Twins/Giants game and we all went.

Minnesota Twins OF Michael Cuddyer
Twins' offense offensive

There has been a lot of talk this year that it is a great pitcher's year, and most of the folks I have asked seem to think that lack of HGH and other enhancing tools is the root cause of this.

Now, I could imagine this is so as far as home runs are concerned, but, it seems strange that on-base numbers could be worse as a result of this, for taking pitches, and even hitting singles, should not be nearly so impacted.

And, while we were watching the game, I noticed a stat that was sort of alarming.

Of the Giants' starting eight position players, only three - Cody Ross, Nate Schierholtz, and Pablo Sandoval - had an OBP over .300, with Schierholtz, barely, at .303. The same on the Twins' side with Michael Cuddyer, Alexi Casilla, and Luke Hughes over that baseline, with Hughes just making it at .308 (and, since, Ben Revere has raised his to exactly .300).

Equally interesting, the seven and eight hitters in the Twins' batting order were hitting a collective .358.

Now, these numbers are bad. Really bad. But, I am not really sure if these bad numbers are the result so much of improved hitting or lack of HGH as much as the fact that Matt Tolbert and Rene Rivera were the seven-eight hitters for Minnesota last week.

And well, with all due respect, neither Tolbert nor Rivera has much of a reputation for raking.

Conversely Jose Bautista, Ryan Howard, and Paul Konerko are all having solid years. Not to mention it was not that long ago that the same Konerko was struggling a la Adam Dunn this year.

Anyway, I decided to look at those on-base totals.

Now, I have to put a disclaimer out there, that being there are a million things we could look at in order to try an hypothesize what is going on with hitting this year.

At least, that is, if one really wants to roll up his or her sleeves, and dig into the numbers.

But, I try to limit myself to no more than 750 words in this environment, and well, there simply is not enough room - or time - to really do this justice. What I did do, though, is look at the previous five seasons and compared basic numbers: plate appearances, home runs, walks, hits, strikeouts, and OBP.

And, since we are about three games from the season's halfway point, I took numbers through yesterday, broke down the daily major league numbers for hits and home runs and plate appearances, etc., per game. I then multiplied the numbers by 15 (30 teams, 15 games) and by three and then doubled those half-year totals.

So, below, we have those numbers from 2007 to 2011.


Clearly this year's totals extrapolate poorly, with the lowest on-base percentage in the majors since 1988, when the majors had only 26 teams (that number expanded to 28 in 1993, and 30 in 1998).

As this year projects, everything is down commensurate to that OBP: plate appearances, hits, walks, home runs, and strikeouts.

Of course most of this makes sense. If pitchers are more efficient, they will indeed face fewer hitters, which means fewer hits, and theoretically fewer home runs.

But, the 1,372 drop in strikeouts from last year to this is curious, for it suggests the outs that are helping pitchers out are ground-outs or fly-outs.

Now, as I noted, to truly do this right, we should indeed look at pitchers and those ground-out/fly-out totals to batters faced and outs.

We would also likely want to look at more than just a five-year sample.

But, I think a five-point drop in OBP might be partially attributable to better pitching, but not completely.

I think helping, though, are two things. First, players with less minor league experience are being advanced more quickly than ever before, and pitchers are indeed able to take advantage of that.

But, I also think of the speech from Kevin Costner - aka Crash Davis - in Bull Durham, when he notes that one dink a week, one dying quail, one ground ball with eyes is worth 25 hits a year, and that is the difference between batting .250 and .300 over 500 at-bats.

They say good pitching will beat good hitting more times than not, and I think this year's pitching dominance is not so much that pitching is better. It is more because hitting is worse.

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About Lawr Michaels,

Lawr Michaels has been a player in the fantasy baseball industry since he began writing for John Benson in 1993. He has written for STATS, Inc, was the first fantasy columnist for CBS Sportsline, and has appeared in numerous journals and on websites. In 1996, he founded CREATiVESPORTS, a staple for serious fantasy players, which he merged into Mastersball in 2010.

Over the years, Lawr has participated in a wide variety of playing formats and won numerous titles, including AL Tout Wars crowns in 2001 and 2009. Along with his Mastersball duties, Lawr works for as a statistician. Fantasy Baseball

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