It’s awards season in the baseball world. Over the next few days, probably two to three weeks later than makes sense, all the myriad trophies will be handed out to variously deserving candidates. From Cy Young to Hank Aaron, the already awarded Roberto Clemente and newly formed Willy Mays Awards, all the big ones but the MVP have the name of a legend attached. That might change, and should because baseball loves history, but right now, that doesn't matter.
No, another award needs giving, a new one I created because of the amazingness of one singular player. So here we are, the first and hopefully annual awarding of the Vladimir Guerrero Award!
When you talk about Vladimir Guerrero, you’re talking about a future Hall of Famer, a former MVP, perhaps the greatest Expo of all time. You’re talking about excitement, a man with the ability to blow the mind at any given moment. But more than anything, you’re talking about a man with telephone poles for arms that could turn a pitch that most would consider a pitchout or intentional ball into a base hit. Like this:
It’s not exactly good what you’d call good (or even extant) plate discipline, but it’s probably a skill. Being able to just put the bat to the ball with any level of authority on a seemingly unhittable pitch needs recognition. Now, with Baseball Savant’s “Detailed Zones,” we have quantifiable evidence of this like never before. Nobody will ever approach Vlad in raw ability, but we can hand out a Vladdy to the man who does the most damage on pitches that, by all rights, should be ignored.
It took some thinking on how to quantify the winner for this amazing and austere award. Should it just be for damage done on balls out of the zone? Or more general batting average and whatnot of pitches that were offered at out of the zone? What if I just considered batters who reached across the plate to get a hit? But this seemed wrong — after all, clobbering a pitch way, way inside is just as impressive as smacking one in the other batter’s box. So I looked wide, merely selecting all the furthest most outsize zones on this graphic:
Which means zones 21 through 29. (Yes, they do skip 25. I’m not sure why, either.) After doing that, I isolated contributions for only lefties and then only righties, because otherwise switch-hitters would be too unfairly considered — for them or others, I’m still not sure which — in the query. So for righties, the leaders in batting average, slugging, and wOBA on offered-on final pitches of an at-bat are:
Top left-handed out of the zone hitters, sorted by wOBA
Interesting. Some quality names there. And for righties, the top five are:
Top right-handed out of the zone hitters, sorted by wOBA
Interesting. Not at all the development I expected. Perhaps a Cespedes, a Baez, some kind of wild-swinging and powerful phenom. Nope. Somehow, some way, a man who batted .255/.324/.372 and was worth -0.6 wins by bWAR and -1.1 by fWAR led the way. Somehow Victor Martinez was the best at hitting bad balls in 2017. What a world to live in.
To be honest, I’m still not sure what kind of conclusion to jump to here. It’s not as though Martinez did a ton of damage on those pitches. But then, nobody does. That's why pitchers throw out there. Here’s his Plate Appearance Results on balls firmly out of the zone as a lefty:
That home run at the top of the zone is amazing, especially considering the guy is like 60 years old. And here’s what he did right-handed:
There's a lot of singles, but also a home run that he somehow got around on. Really quite amazing to see done. Martinez has always been a great bat-to-ball guy — his 88.1 percent contact rate over the last five years is 22nd-best in baseball over that span, while his 82.3 percent contact rate on pitches out of the zone is sixth-best. He's a big guy with long arms, much in the mold of the great Guerrero.
He doesn't chase out of the zone all that much, as his 32.7 percent O-Swing rate since 2012 is 117th in baseball. Not quite as extreme as, say, Salvador Perez (sixth-highest at 62.8 percent) or Yoenis Cespedes (36.2, 55th), two players who fell short of the finals, but not exactly Votto-esque in his patience either. V-Mart goes out there after pitches, and he does damage — especially this year. It might make sense that he was chasing more, thus given more opportunities to hit more balls that are out of the zone, but this season, he actually had his lowest O-Swing rate in five years, at 30.2 percent.
I have no trophy for V-Mart, whether digital or real. But the recognition for this is enough. If anything, it's his fault for not negotiating additional bonuses for inane and awards created years down the line when he got that ridiculous deal.
Perhaps in the future, we can award guys for "Best Inside Pitch Hitter", and give it to Mark Trumbo for hitting like three home runs that were under his armpits, or "Best Reacher", and hand it off to Brian Dozier for hitting a handful of doubles and a dinger on pitches way off the plate. But that will develop in time. For now, tip your cap to Victor Martinez, your 2017 Vladdy winner! May his reign be long and absurd, just as Vlad's own swing could be.
Merritt Rohlfing writes baseball at Beyond the Box Score and Let’s Go Tribe, exploring the best sides of the greatest of games. He rambles on his podcast Mostly Baseball. Follow him on Twitter @merrittrohlfing.