Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Emptiest of Batting Averages

I was listening to the Jonah Keri Podcast on Grantland recently, and he had Phillies beat writer Matt Gelb on the show.  Gelb talked about all the sad things that Phillies fans are already tired of discussing, but he did make a statement that I found particularly poignant.  He described Ben Revere’s season as something to the effect of “the emptiest batting average ever.”  By empty, he means that while Revere is hitting above .300, an impressive feat in this offense-starved MLB landscape, he does so with almost no walks or extra-base hits.   His value at the plate is almost entirely in the form of singles.  This comment got me thinking: Just how empty is his batting average?

As of this writing, Revere is hitting .314 with a .331 on-base percentage and a .371 slugging percentage.  For comparison, the average player has a substantially worse batting average (think .240) but with a similar OBP and a substantially better SLG.  To illustrate with normal stats, Revere has 27 total doubles, triples, homers, and walks this year.  So far in 2014, there are 42 players with at least 27 doubles, 8 players with at least 27 homers, and 144 players with at least 27 walks.

But how rare is it to have this single-happy nature with such a high average?  To look for players to compare to Revere historically, I looked for other player seasons since 2000 which had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title with a batting average at least as high as Revere's but a walk rate and isolated slugging (slugging minus batting average) below his.

But there weren't any, so I extended the search back to 1980.

Still nobody.  1960?




Now, to be fair, Ben Revere himself hasn't completed a full season, so let's use a more relaxed criterion of 400 plate appearances (Revere has 459).

OK, you get it.

In fact, since 1900 (it's not worth going earlier because seasons were much shorter then), the only player with at least 400 plate appearances that had as high of a batting average with as little other hitting value is ... Ben Revere.  That's it.  

I’m not really sure that there’s much to be done with this information, but it’s a pretty shocking finding.  As a member of a roster that’s overpaid and underperforming across the board, Revere’s limited skillset has been overshadowed by his more compensated counterparts.  However, I was fascinated to discover that on a team that has had plenty of notable failings, Revere has had perhaps the most “unique” and “special” stats of any of them, as long as you’re not taking annual salary into account. 

If you disregard his sub-par defense (especially compared to what you would expect from a guy with his speed), Revere really isn't a terrible offensive player.  If you took away all of his steals and instead turned that many singles into doubles, he’d have a slugging percentage around the league average.  The problem is, a single followed by a steal isn't as valuable as a double because it doesn't advance runners on base, so his value would really be something less than that of a player with league-average slugging.  Even if he posts a batting average way above the mean in any given season, he never walks or gets extra-base hits, so he has to sustain that mark against all kinds of luck and defensive factors in order to give the Phillies even passable offensive value.  It’s a game that the Phillies seem interested in playing, and it's defensible because of his obviously high average and stolen base totals, but I'm just not sure if they're going to win that way.

1 comment:

  1. If the Phillies are destined to be bad then at least they're uniquely bad.