A Cursory Look at How Evan Longoria Was Pitched in 2010, Dependent on Batting Order Position

Steve Slowinski sent me down this path, so if this isn’t your cup of tea, blame him.  I thought Steve did an excellent job of looking at Longo’s balls-in-play distribution throughout his career.  He opined that:

I think we all know what Longoria’s money pitch is: a fastball in under the hands. Longo drops his bat on inside pitches and can crush them to left field, and it looks like pitchers have all but stopped throwing Longoria inside. Instead, they’re attacking him away, especially with fastballs high in the zone and with sliders down and away. He has a tough time laying off of either pitch – look at the location of his swinging strikes in comparison with his homeruns – and he’s not good at driving them.

The natural next step is to argue that if he had a bigger bat behind him then he might see more pitches he likes and less of those he doesn’t.  Well, since Longo only hit in either the 3 or 4 spot this season, then it’s pretty easy to remove his numbers from each spot of the team’s splits and come up with an idea of what the batters around him hit like.  When he batted 3rd we can see what the batters behind him did and when he batted 4th we can see what the sandwich around him looked like using this table (Click to Enlarge):

We can see that Longo had a much higher wOBA in the cleanup spot compared to when he batted third.  His batting average and slugging percentage were much higher in the 4-hole even though he struck out more and walked less.  If you remove his intentional walks from each he even had a higher OBP batting fourth (.358 vs. .362).  A quick glance at the team splits (in green) shows that our typical 4th hitter when Evan was batting 3rd wasn’t very good with a wOBA of .322.  Perhaps that is why Evan didn’t put up as good of numbers when he was batting 3rd.  However, if you look at the fifth hitter the wOBA is nearly exactly the same (.322 vs. .323) as the OBP for the 5th hitter is blown up by intentional walks that offset the roughly .050 increase in SLG.  So, the 4th and 5th hitter contributed basically the same, overall, but the cleanup guy was a better source of OBP while the 5th hitter was a better source for SLG.  This cuts to the core of the protection argument as it’s generally accepted that if you’re going to consistently walk one guy to face another then you are making a trade-off of increasing OBP to limit SLG.  So looking at the table, it appears that Evan thrives when he has a low-OBP/high-SLG guy behind him as opposed to the vice-versa.  Let’s look at the pitch data and see if anything bears out.

Intentional walks are a bit of a misnomer, because the pitcher may not have started off with that idea and may have missed his spots a couple of times and doesn’t want to groove a pitch.  It could also be that pitchers aren’t going to give a good batter anything to hit so they nibble and if they don’t get their call they probably won’t cave and will end up issuing an “unintentional intentional walk.”  If Evan is getting pitched around, then there should be a pattern in the data that shows this is happening more in one scenario than in another.  For this exercise, I have downloaded every regular season pitch that Evan saw in 2010 and then broken these out by whether he was batting 3rd or 4th and whether the pitcher was right-handed or left-handed.  First off, here’s a look at the number of pitches in each scenario:

Right off the bat we can see that when facing lefties, Longo sees more changeups, curveballs, and slightly more four-seam fastballs at the expense of, primarily, sliders when he’s batting 4th vs. batting 3rd.  This is pretty interesting to see pitchers basically substituting changes and curveballs for sliders based solely on where Longo is batting (and whom is batting after him to take it another step).  Against righties, we see more of the same as pitchers throw less sliders when he’s batting 4th, instead relying on incremental increases to their change, curve, cutter, splitter, and sinker.  A good follow-up question would be, “Why do pitchers throw Evan more sliders when he’s batting 3rd and is this normal?”

Okay, so now we know what pitchers are likely to throw, but are they more nibbley when he’s batting from one position or another?  To take a look at this, I’ve collected two different statistics from the pitch data.  The first is Z or Zone%.  This is the likelihood of each pitch being within .708 feet (8.5″) from the center of home plate and within the north-south of 1.83′ and 3.84′, aka Evan’s strike zone.  We know that this isn’t reality when it comes to umpires so I’ve also looked up the IWZ or In Wide Zone% that expands the horizontal range out to 1 foot from the center of home plate.  First, here’s the table:

Let’s breakdown Zone% before moving onto IWZ.  We can see that lefties threw Evan 1% less pitches in the normal zone, overall, but righties were exactly the same whether Evan batted 3rd or 4th.  Looking at specific pitches we can see that even though lefties through more changeups when Evan was batting cleanup, they missed the legal strike zone nearly twice as much.  So they threw a lot more changeups, but generally they would try to get him to swing at it.  I don’t think it’s too much of a reach to tie this back into the first table where Evan exhibited tendencies of whiffing more and watching less.  Perhaps their were scouting reports showing that when Evan batted 4th they didn’t need to throw as many strikes since he was more of a hacker from that spot and they could induce whiffs with good changeups out of the zone.  We can see that lefties attacked in the zone much more with their curves, fastballs of all types, and sinkers, but would go out of the zone that much more with their sliders when he was batting cleanup.  Against righties, we can see that almost the mirror opposite happened with the change and slider being thrown for more strikes with decrease in strike% on the curve and fastballs.

You can do this same analysis for the IWZ stuff that might be able to detect if pitchers were a little more nibbley.  Afterall, the point to nibble is to keep it on the edge of the called zone and hope you can steal a call in the wide zone.  Southpaw changeups appear to fall exactly into this sort of pattern.  Recall that lefties were missing a lot more often when Longo was batting cleanup, but looking at this tells us, that they weren’t missing by a whole lot when he was batting cleanup as most of the disparity has closed down and we see barely an increase when he’s batting third from Z to IWZ.  You can see that more curves were IWZ, but it’s about the same increase for both slots increasing 22% when batting 3rd and increasing 21% when batting 4th.  Sneaky cutters were more likely to be IWZ when he was batting 4th, while fastballs were basically the same going from Z to IWZ.  Pitchers were a lot more nibbley with the sinker when he was batting 4th while the slider followed a similar pattern as when it was Z.  Overall, we see that lefties threw a ball IWZ about 5% more when Evan was batting cleanup.

We can do the same for righties, where we see that, overall, right-handed tossers threw IWZ about 2% more when he was batting 4th.  The change ups stayed roughly the same, but we can see that the curveball is much more likely to be just off the plate when he’s batting cleanup compared to what we saw when he was batting 3rd and compared to his Z measurements.  Same with the four-seam fastball and especially with the two-seam fastball where it’s not in the legal zone even half the time to being nearly 2/3 IWZ when batting cleanup.  This is a sneaky pitch that they probably throw most of the time on the inner part of the plate hoping to back Evan off or to steal a strike.  This seems to run counter to Steve’s idea that Evan isn’t getting enough fastballs on the inner half of the plate.  If he is indeed getting more two-seamers inside, then that should be his ideal pitch as it’s not quite as fast as a four-seamer, generally, and the extra run inside should allow him to turn and burn.  Let’s look at the strike zone, graphically, for each of these scenarios.  First off, let’s take a look at how lefties pitch to him when he’s batting 3rd:

L3

L4

You can really see how lefties pound Evan away, especially with the changeup when he’s batting 4th.

R3

R4

Instead of trusting our eyes to look at these, here’s one last handy table that looks at whether a pitcher is pitching Longo inside (<=-.33), middle (-.33<=x<=.33), or outside (>=.33) based on pitcher-handedness and batting slot:

I apologize for not breaking this down by pitch type, but this has really eaten too much time, already.  You can see that lefties are more likely to pitch Evan outside when he’s batting cleanup, while righties are the opposite, preferring to pitch him away when he’s batting 3rd.  As with this entire look, this could just be random fluctuation due to a sample of only 2500 or so pitches or it could be that righties are looking to pound Evan inside when they think he’s a bit more of a free-swinger and lefties are working away when he’s in that similar mindset.

Anyways, I think this is some really neat stuff to absorb whether it proves one thing or another doesn’t really matter to me.  You can download the entirety of the workbook here and I welcome any and all questions, comments, etc… @SandyKazmir or in the comment section below.

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About Jason Hanselman

Rays fan.
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