I can't help but laugh when I hear announcers say things along the lines of, "This guy is the best/worst and here's why..." There are various renditions of this, but what we're talking about here is using superlatives that aren't very specific. It's one thing to say that Jose Bautista is the best at drawing a walk because this can be backed up by numbers pointing out that, yes, he not only leads Major League Baseball in total walks, but also walks per plate appearance. It's a far different tale when the author is less specific and merely wants to point out that a player is the best at hitting based on subjective opinions.
As a reader of this esteemed blog you've come to expect more from an author. If we, as a community, want to know who are the toughest batters to get out we may refer to 1-OBP to get an idea of likelihood of making an out or looking at pitches per plate appearance to see how much of a grinder a batter is. These are fine ideas, but I wanted to submit to this community a look at the toughest, and easiest, batters looking at how well they handle each of the four main pitches that pitchers throw.
To that end I took a look at the accrued pitch value numbers for all batters with 1,000 plate appearances or more from 2008 - 11. I decided to focus on how they fared against fastballs, sliders, curve balls, and change ups since these are the major repertoire's of most big league pitchers. The sample size as well as these being the most common pitches should quell some of the issues that Fangraphs pitch value figures have in smaller samples relating to fielding bias and pitch classification. I've turned the values into Z-scores in order to see which batters are the toughest to get out based on having few weaknesses against these pitches. First off, let's look at table so you can see how all 295 of these batters ranked:
You can search for your favorite players in there, but I did want to include the top and bottom 50 guys:
This certainly passes the smell test as each of these batters is an accomplished hitter, but it's really interesting to see how so many of these guys just don't have a weakness. The toughest out according to this is Miguel Cabrera. We can see from this that he's the 31st best batter against a slider, but is top-15 against every other pitch and really mashes the change up. Each batter has a different profile of what he excels against, but amongst the top-25 or so these guys really don't have a hole. As we move down the list you see guys that start to either struggle against a certain pitch while excelling against others or being generally pretty good, but not great across the board.
A few names that surprised me a bit were the under-rated Carlos Gonzalez (11), Nick Markakis (24) whom has fallen off the radar a bit, Brad Hawpe (41), and Milton Bradley (44) amongst many others. I also wanted to show the bottom-50 which has probably just as many obvious choices as the list of the best:
Fans of teams that have, or had, some of these players probably aren't all that surprised. I know Dioner Navarro never really did it for me and Jeff Mathis is such a glutton for abuse that most shouldn't be surprised he's bottom-10 against all but the curve ball (where he isn't much better). The suddenly relevant Matt Wieters is kind of a surprise to me as I always figured he was putting up good at bats against other teams than the Rays. It's impressive that Michael Bourn has been able to carve out a very nice career despite not faring well against non-fastball pitches. As free agency season rolls around I'm sure many of these names will be out there, but despite having household names, you probably don't want most of these guys getting penciled into your starting lineup. Your thoughts?