John Dewan’s Stat of the Week™

Hitting from the On-Deck Circle

In his first week as a member of the White Sox, something incredible happened to Manny Ramirez. In two different games, while he was standing in the on-deck circle, a game-winning home run was hit. On August 31, it was A.J. Pierzynski who connected and the very next day Paul Konerko hit the game winner. Did those hitters see better pitches because Manny was on deck?

Back in the 1994 Baseball Scoreboard, we considered that question and found a 12 point increase in On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS) when a major threat was in the on-deck circle (a player with at least 100 runs created in 1993 and 200 runs created from 1991-1993).

Since I can’t even remember what I ate for lunch yesterday, let alone what happened in 1994, I thought it was high time to revisit this question. This time around we considered the top five players in OPS over the last five seasons to be the on-deck threat (or “the protection”). That means Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Manny Ramirez, Matt Holliday, and Joey Votto. The goal is to isolate a hitter’s plate appearances with protection (with one of those guys batting behind him) versus without protection (anyone else on deck).

We can’t simply add up On-Base Percentage (OBP), Slugging Percentage (SLG), etc. for all plate appearances without protection and all plate appearances with protection because of the uneven distribution of plate appearances. We fix this problem by using a weighted average. This ensures that Pujols’ stats in the “without protection” group count just as heavily as his stats in the “with protection” group.

Since Pujols and Holliday represent a unique situation where two of the top five hitters over the last few years are on the same team and hit back-to-back, let’s examine Pujols with and without Holliday batting behind him.

Albert Pujols With and Without Matt Holliday in 2010
  HR/PA BB/PA Avg. OBP Slg OPS
With Holliday .069 .120 .308 .388 .609 .997
Without Holliday .021 .229 .337 .490 .514 1.003
Difference .048 -.109 -.029 -.102 .095 -.006

 

Not surprisingly, Pujols sees fewer pitches to hit and gets walked a lot more when Holliday is not hitting behind him. When Pujols has Holliday hitting behind him, he gets an opportunity to swing the bat much more which leads to more home runs and a higher Slugging Percentage. But, his overall OPS is six points less.

Let’s take a bigger sample size, using all five players, and do the same calculation for every hitter who had at least one plate appearance in each group, using the weighted averages in the end.

Hitters With and Without Protection 2006-2010
  HR/PA BB/PA Avg. OBP Slg OPS
With Protection .032 .088 .282 .350 .459 .809
Without Protection .030 .102 .270 .349 .445 .795
Difference .002 -.014 .012 .001 .014 .014

 

As expected, without a dangerous hitter standing in the on-deck circle a player is more likely to see his walks increase. Without protection a hitter can expect around nine more walks per season. With protection, a hitter can expect more pitches to hit, which results in roughly one additional home run per season and an increase in OPS.

Overall, I think the effects of having protection are not as great as many analysts might expect, but the effect is clearly there and players perform better overall when there is a major threat lurking in the on-deck circle.

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Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week™, http://www.statoftheweek.com/.

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