Advanced Baseball Analytics to Measure a Great Hitter
Advanced stats, metrics. and baseball analytics. There are endless terms that can describe the latest craze in collegiate and professional baseball and softball. Coaching staffs and scouting departments have largely dismissed your more traditional statistical evaluation and instead focused on the “sabermetrics” aspect of the game.
For more information on some basic hitting stats, check out article 3 Basic MLB Hitting Stats that Define A Great Hitter.
Sabermetrics, a reference to the “Society for American Baseball Research” (SABR), a term brought together by the famous Bill James, was the intent of finding the “objective knowledge of baseball.”
James’ ideology was brought in to popular culture with the movie “Moneyball” which examined the Oakland Athletics organization and General Manager Billy Beane’s implementation of sabermetrics and advanced baseball analytics into their operations.
- Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA)
- Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA)
- Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+)
1.) Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA)
This is a version of the common on-base percentage (OBP) statistic that your everyday fan knows. wOBA states the value for each method of reaching base is determined by how much that event is worth in relation to projected runs scored. A double is worth more than a single, a triple is worth more than a double, etc.
FanGraphs.com, which does an outstanding job of statistical analysis, graphs and projections for Major League Baseball players, has a great breakdown of sabermetrics like wOBA. In summary, “all hits are not created equal.” Each season, the weights of each hit in relation to the wOBA formula changes.
For the current 2019 MLB campaign, a single carries a .870 weight, doubles possess a 1.219 weight and so on and so forth. FanGraphs.com has a breakdown of the year-by-year weights for the wOBA formula, here.
Similar to the more traditional OBP statistic, a breakdown of great hitters and their respective wOBA can be the following:
- .400-plus wOBA = Outstanding
- .370-plus wOBA = Great
- .340-plus wOBA = Above Average
- .320-plus wOBA = Average
Current-day comparisons are always fun to look at. As the second half of the MLB season is now underway, your top-5 leaders in wOBA are the following:
- .451 – OF Christian Yelich (MIL)
- .449 – OF Cody Bellinger (LAD)
- .443 – OF Mike Trout (LAA)
- .415 – OF Charlie Blackmon (COL)
- .410 – 1B Pete Alonso (NYM)
That list consists of the two frontrunners for the NL MVP race (Yelich and Bellinger), leading candidate for the AL MVP (Trout) and top contender for the NL Rookie of the Year (Alonso). So safe to say the top wOBA hitters in the major leagues are “great” at what they do? You better believe it.
2.) Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA)
This sabermetric primarily uses exit velocity and launch angle, which again are some of the hottest terms in baseball and softball hitters’ evaluation. Based on these statistics, every batted ball is given a single, double, triple and home run probability based on how hard it was hit, the angle of the ball off the bat and much much more. For more information on Launch Angle, check out the video below: Launch Angle is a Measurable.
xwOBA is argued to be more indicative of a given player’s skill than the more traditional wOBA listed above. This is because xwOBA removes defense from its final equation. Hitters obviously can influence exit velocity and launch angle of their swing, but don’t have any control of what happens to the batted ball once it enters play.
For example, a hitter may have a “low” wOBA but in reality his xwOBA is actually higher due to his high quality rate of contact. For example, 3B Evan Longoria (SF) currently possesses a .322 wOBA which as stated earlier would qualify him right around an “average” hitter. However, his current xwOBA is .363 which puts him just a notch below a “great” hitter as we defined earlier.
So what does that mean for Longoria’s 2019 campaign so far in this case. While he may not be producing the actual doubles, triples and home runs, his hard-hit balls and exit velocity is leading to a higher xwOBA. This suggests that this might be the case of bad luck in the first half. Don’t be surprised if his second half numbers prove to be far superior to his first half statistics, as his continued hard-hit balls should result in more success in the final box score.
3.) Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+)
Finally, this advanced baseball analytic takes the other sabermetric of “runs created” and adjusts that number to account for external factors such as the ballpark a player is competing in.
The simplest example would be a hitter for the Colorado Rockies versus an individual who hits for the San Diego Padres. According to ESPN’s “Park Factors” through July 11, 2019, Coors Field in Denver, Colo., is the top hitting ballpark in the major leagues, while Petco Park in San Diego, Calif., is the worst.
In short, a player who competes in his home games at a hitters haven like Coors Field is going to have a lower wRC+ in comparison to a player who posts identical stats at a “pitcher’s park” like Petco.
1B Carlos Santana (CLE) currently ranks ninth-best in MLB with his 149 wRC+. There’s no doubt Santana has had a good season, earning an All-Star bid with a .297 AVG, 17 2B, 19 HR and 52 RBI. In comparison, 3B Nolan Arenado (COL) ranks 46th in the major leagues with his 123 wRC+. Arenado has a higher AVG (.312), 2B (21), HR (20) and RBI (67) than Santana.
Shouldn’t Arenado than be classified as a better hitter than Santana? How could his wRC+ be THAT much lower than Santana? The answer lies within the MLB Park Factor as mentioned above. Carlos Santana’s home park of Progressive Field ranks 20th currently, while Arenado’s home yard of Coors Field ranks 1st. In summary, wRC+ considers the ballpark factor and makes outsiders think, “what would Santana’s numbers be if he competed in 81 home games at Coors like Arenado?”
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