There are several great stats out there that can tell how well a player is hitting, but they don’t tell us who is getting the hits when it matters most*.

For example, most stats will treat a home run hit in the 9th inning of tie game the same as one hit in the 8th inning of a game that is 12-0. And while both home runs are (for the most part) equally indicative of how well the player is hitting and will hit, clearly, one is more important than the other to the team.

That’s where WPA (Win Probability Added) comes in.

You can read more about WPA at Baseball-Reference.com. But in short, think of it as getting points for doing something good (e.g. home run) and losing points for doing something bad (e.g. strikeout). And the player gets more points or loses more points if the at bat comes at a time that will have a bigger impact on whether the team will win or lose the game.

We can then add up those points and see who has had the biggest impact in the first half, both positive and negative…

Matt Joyce has been the most important bat so far this season. According to WPA, his bat has contributed 1.58 wins in the first half. At the other end, we see Jose Molina and Will Rhymes have both cost the Rays about one win based on their bats.

Obviously some guys get more opportunities than others, so let’s scale these values per 100 plate appearances…

Now we see that Evan Longoria’s (no surprise) plate appearances tend to have the biggest impact. And at the other end, both Will Rhymes and Hideki Matsui (again, no surprise) have sucked.

Remember, WPA adds up all the positive and negative plate appearances. So let’s separate those and look at each players positive and negative contributions…

 

So while Carlos Pena has the second highest WPA, we also see that he has produced the most positive and the most negative results. That is, his good at bats have been worth 7.68 wins, but his bad at bats have cost the Rays nearly seven wins. So his net production has been just 1.02 wins.

Pena truly is a hot and cold hitter. And this shows us just how important Pena is to the success of the team. When he is hot, he truly can carry a team by himself. The key is minimizing the cold, and that hasn’t happened very much this season.

* Clutch is a bit of a controversy that many authors have proven to not exist. My own thoughts are that clutch is real, but that it is different from what most people consider “clutch.” I don’t think players get better in the clutch. But I do think there are players that are better at maintaining their normal ability. That is, some players get nervous in the clutch and suck. The players that are able to remain calm don’t get better, but it seems that way because other players don’t remain calm. Think of it like giving a speech in public. Some people get scared and can’t talk normally. Those that don’t get scared don’t talk better in public. But they are able to talk normal. To me, that is clutch.

All data via Fangraphs.com

 
 

6 Comments

  1. Joe says:

    I miss that guy who used to play 3B for us

  2. Jay says:

    Great stuff — thanks for posting.

    Couple of random thoughts:
    - what does this look like compared to a team that doesn’t shuffle the line up like we do? Do we tinker ourselves out of wins or into wins?

    This shows how streaky and schizo our hitters can be/are and explains how bad it can be at times and yet still stay in the hunt for a playoff spot. Lets all hope we hit a hot streak to start the second half.

    - man, have we missed the steadiness of Joyce and Longo in the lineup. Everyone else is capable but too unpredictable.

    - this points to a symmetry between the old and new school ways of approaching baseball — many fans will tell you Joyce has been our best player — and these numbers support what the eye sees. Maybe the nerds and scouts aren’t always at opposite ends.

  3. Jay says:

    Meant to also add that Keppinger has been another key steady factor who’s absence was felt.

    Makes me wonder how many other teams have missed their #1, #2 and #3 top WPA per 100 PA players for significant stretches.

  4. Joe says:

    Joyce could be back tomorrow. There’s at least a chance. I will not be surprised if it’s 2013 but if you think about if Evan does come back, the biggest holes would be SS and C and Elliot has been hitting, could platoon with Sean so its just catcher and we knew we were punting offense from the start.

  5. Dave L says:

    One other factor to consider is that Rays constant ‘tinkering’ with the lineup also ‘protects’ most of the players from having to face types of pitching they most often suck against.

    This in theory helps their numbers in that they are most likely to bat against pitchers who they tend to perform better against.

    The only players who aren’t protected, i.e. play most every day if they are healthy and rarely get lifted late for a PH are, in order- Longo (when healthy), BJ, Pena, Zobrist and DJ. They face everybody and are

    Everybody else platoons and sits against the types of pitchers they have bad splits against including Joyce (though less lately than in the beginning of the season and in the past).

    Thats what makes Rhymes and Matsui’s number especially bad.

    I dont know what sabermetric you could use to pro-rate the tinkering and lineup shuffling and platooning-against-pitchers-that-tend-to-kill-you and get a real sense of who is the most valuable.

    • Jay says:

      You said much better what I was thinking — that our shifting the lineup has two sides to it — it’s meant to protect our hitters against bad match-ups BUT when the platooners (like Rhymes & Matsui) are put in for “good matchups” and have horrid numbers, then I wonder if we matchup ourselves out of wins or into wins.

      I’m sure there is a spreadsheet somewhere… but it probably evens out. For every Brandon Allen move that gets you a win there is probably a Matsui 0-3 loss in the course of 162 games.

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