Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Current Focus on Splits in Clint Hurdle's Line-Ups

Clint Hurdle’s line-ups so far this season have had a focus on spits (with a lefty-righty balance against right-handed pitching). For example, the clean-up spot has been filled by Pedro Alvarez against right-handers and Gaby Sanchez against lefties, with Garrett Jones and Neil Walker hitting second against righties and Russell Martin against lefties (although Walker will hit second against Clayton Kershaw tonight). The only consistencies have been Starling Marte leading off, Andrew McCutchen hitting third and Clint Barmes eighth.

When looking at the line-up in my last post, it stuck me how few above average hitters that the Pirates have that have provided an above-average contribution against right-handed pitching, especially when the focus is on-base percentage, as well as a lack of power when facing left-handed pitching. Nonetheless, setting up line-ups with a player’s splits in mind could help the club progress towards having a league average offense (despite the slow start).

The league average batting line in 2012 was .255/.319/.405 (a .315 wOBA), which dropped slightly to .254/.318/.400 in the National League. Against right-handed pitching, the average triple-slash line was .255/.320/.406 in 2102 (.255/.320/.400 in the NL), which dropped to .253/.317/.404 (.251/.314/.401 in the NL) against left-handed pitching.

There is good reason for this split focused offense. Looking at Pirates hitters when facing left-handed pitching in comparison to the league average batting line of .253/.317/.404 in 2012, the club had seven hitters with an above average on-base percentage, with just four above average sluggers (Brandon Inge, John McDonald and Michael McKenry would make it a group of seven) – with Travis Snider and Starling Marte’s statistics coming with small sample size warnings:



PA
BB%
OBP
SLG
wOBA
Andrew McCutchen
151
11.3%
.467
.677
.471
Travis Snider
34
2.9%
.382
.727
.469
Clint Barmes
110
11.8%
.373
.368
.331
Starling Marte
50
8.0%
.360
.682
.423
Russell Martin
149
15.4%
.356
.524
.379
Gaby Sanchez
111
11.7%
.333
.396
.316
93
8.6%
.326
.380
.313
Neil Walker
138
9.4%
.314
.288
.271
Pedro Alvarez
152
7.2%
.270
.379
.284
Garrett Jones
81
6.2%
.235
.297
.234
 
The larger sample size (link) offers similar results in terms of numbers; although it does highlight the potential contribution that Sanchez could provide when the club faces a lefty. Onto looking at Pirates hitters when facing left-handed pitching in comparison to the league average batting line of.255/.320/.406 in 2012, the Bucs have just four everyday players that provided an above average offensive contribution in 2012 (although McKenry would have joined the list if he was not Martin’s deputy behind the plate):


PA
BB%
OBP
SLG
wOBA
Andrew McCutchen
522
10.2%
.381
.518
.385
Neil Walker
392
8.7%
.352
.472
.356
Pedro Alvarez
434
10.6%
.334
.499
.353
Garrett Jones
434
6.5%
.332
.556
.374
Jose Tabata
281
7.5%
.312
.339
.291
Travis Snider
151
10.6%
.305
.290
.270
Russell Martin
336
8.9%
.290
.352
.287
Starling Marte
132
3.0%
.277
.350
.275
Gaby Sanchez
215
5.6%
.251
.315
.250
Clint Barmes
383
1.8%
.243
.308
.240

Looking at the larger sample size (link), Jose Tabata has had an above average on-base percentage; however that’s the only difference between the smaller and larger sample sizes when it comes to above and below average hitters against right-handed pitching. What both splits show is that the club has limited above average offensive options (especially when facing right-handed pitching), with fewer options when it comes surpassing a .350 on-base percentage against either sets of pitchers.

On the current 25-man roster, the Pirates have just five hitters that were above average overall in 2012 – McCutchen (158 wRC+), Jones (123 wRC+), Alvarez (112 wRC+), Walker (111 wRC+) and McKenry (108 wRC+) – and it’s the same number when looking since 2010, with McKenry replaced with Gaby Sanchez (103 wRC+). What the above splits prove is that McCutchen is likely to be the only hitter (health permitting) that should provide an above average contribution against both left and right handed pitching, with first base also a possibility if Hurdle reverts back to the Jones/Sanchez platoon.

The offense has had a miserable start to the season, with the club hitting just .127/.195/.161 through the first four games of the season (.164 wOBA, 7 wRC+). It should be noted that the club’s offense also had a terrible start to the season last year (offensively the club looked historically bad in late-May and ended up hitting .243/.304/.395 (.304 wOBA) as a team by the end of the season), I would consider a heightened appreciation of splits as a sign of progression. The only problem is that the Pirates currently do not necessarily have the options to provide the amount of improvement that is required for the offense to become league average; however setting up the batting order with a player’s splits in mind is a step in the right direction - with a heightened focus on platoon situations being the next step.

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