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Fielding opportunities by position based on pitcher hand
Evaluating fielders based on
statistics like Total Chances or Range Factor (simply Total Chances per
game) has been shown to have some merit. That is, better fielders
typically make more plays per game.
One of the underlying assumptions in the evaluation is that all
fielders at the same position, over time, would be exposed to the same
number of fielding opportunities. One
flaw in this assumption which I examine below is that where balls are
hit is at least partially dependent on the pitcher's hand.
The conventional wisdom suggests
that with a left-handed pitcher on the mound, a manager would stock his
line-up with right-handed hitters thus increasing the likelihood of hits
to the left side. Against a
right-handed hurler, the opposite would be expected to occur.
Using the 1980 - 1983 Retrosheet
files to look at this issue leads to some
Table 1 -- First "Out"
Notes: the first out is
defined as the sum of (1) the first putout if there was no strikeout or
infield assist on the play and (2) the first assist if the first putout
was made by an infielder. All
table data consists of four year totals.
The infield results are intuitive:
with a left-hander pitching, 24.3% of the first outs are made by the 1B
or 2B. When a righty takes
the mound, this increases to 28.5%.
Conversely, a third-baseman's out percentage with a lefty pitcher
is 15.0% and only 12.4% when a righty pitches.
The outfield results on the other
hand seem counter-intuitive. A
greater proportion of outs to the left (rather than right) fielder
against righties? One would
expect the larger percentage of left-handed hitters to fly out to right
relatively more often. For another perspective I ran a table for which
position fielded the ball for hits.
Table 2 -- Hits Fielded By
Here the outfield totals make
intuitive sense. Hits are
relatively more likely to
left against left-handers and to right against right-handers.
As an aside, against right-handers, the left/center/right split
is almost exactly 1/3 - 1/3 - 1/3.
Summary: it seems the most
likely explanation for the reverse outfield data on outs is that these
opportunities aren't as solidly hit and hence have a higher likelihood
that they were hit the opposite way.
Balls hit hard on the other hand, i.e. those that fell in for
hits, followed the expected pattern.
As to the distribution of total
chances, I think it safe to conclude, for infielders at least, that the
handedness of the pitcher does affect a fielder's opportunities.
Some effect occurs for outfield opportunities as well but not as
one might expect.
Comments or Suggestions
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