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Examining Raw Value: The Rare Pitch-by-Pitch Player Evaluation

 

In the first installment of a series on our advanced baseball metrics, we take a look at what Raw Value tells us about the new lineups in LA, where the 2019 AL Cy Young race went wrong and who should have gotten more love in the NL ROY chase.

By: Taylor Bechtold

By now, every analytical baseball mind knows there are countless metrics that evaluate performance based on the cumulative result of a player’s at-bats.

But what if one existed that took a closer look at how a hitter has performed on each pitch rather than how he did at the end of each plate appearance?

Stats Perform has formulated such a metric, one that not only assigns value to each pitch but also examines batted balls more thoroughly than anything else in the advanced analytics world.

Major League Baseball’s Statcast only looks at launch angle, exit velocity and the sprint speed of the hitter when assigning value to a batted ball. Stats Perform’s Raw Value considers launch angle, exit velo and sprint speed, but also factors in whether the batter was facing a defensive shift, whether he has a good eye (does he swing at strikes and let balls go?), the horizontal spray angle of the ball, and more.

The horizontal spray angle is basically the left/center/right location of the ball. Let’s say a ball is hit at a 30-degree launch angle and 100 MPH. If it’s hit toward one of the foul poles, it’s almost guaranteed to be a home run. If it’s hit to straightaway center, it’s much less likely to leave the yard. That’s something Statcast doesn’t take into account.

​It’s beyond the purpose of this introduction to Raw Value to reveal everything that goes into this proprietary metric. But we assign a value to all the different outcomes a pitch has instead of waiting for the conclusion of the at-bat. A batter gets credit for making good decisions and dinged for making bad ones. Because the average hitter sees about four pitches per plate appearance, RV allows for a quicker, more detailed breakdown of a batter’s abilities than more traditional statistics.

Our takeaway from the 2019 RV rankings is that the center of attention could be SoCal, where the Dodgers and Angels will provide must-watch offensive fireworks. And it could be that way for quite some time, especially if Mookie Betts decides that he loves LA well enough to stay.

Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger doubles against the Padres during a spring training baseball game.

The Dodgers agreed to a one-year, $11.5 million contract with 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger – the largest salary for a player eligible for arbitration for the first time. Bellinger is eligible for arbitration three more times before he can become a free agent after the 2023 season. The Dodgers also made one of the biggest moves of the offseason by acquiring Betts from the Boston Red Sox, though the 2018 AL MVP is expected to test free agency in 2021.

Down the road in Anaheim, the Angels have 2019 AL MVP Mike Trout, who hit .291 with a career-high 45 home runs, locked up until the 2030 season. They also landed the best offensive player available in free agency, signing Anthony Rendon to a seven-year deal. Rendon helped the Washington Nationals win the World Series by hitting .319 with 34 home runs and 126 RBIs – all career highs.

While there’s no doubt all four are great players, RV suggests that they were the four best offensive players in all of baseball in 2019 (minimum 500 plate appearances):

RankBatterTeamRV
1Mike TroutAngels60.5
2Anthony RendonNationals56.3
3Cody BellingerDodgers52.4
4Mookie BettsRed Sox48.5
5Jorge SolerRoyals47.0
6Juan SotoNationals46.9
7Nelson CruzTwins45.7
8J.D. MartinezRed Sox45.3
9Christian YelichBrewers45.3
10Alex BregmanAstros41.7

How did we come to this proclamation? The end result of RV equates to a cumulative way to measure how many total runs a hitter added relative to a league-average batter—that is, one with an RV of zero. So if the Angels did the unthinkable and replaced Trout with a league-average hitter, they would be expected to score roughly 61 fewer runs.

Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts during spring training in Phoenix.

Just how much of an upgrade did the Angels and Dodgers make by adding Rendon and Betts? We like to measure the unmeasurable, so we will try to answer that too. For both clubs, the gain is substantial. David Fletcher, who played 154 games in 2019, including a team-high 90 at third base for the Angels, finished with a 2.0 RV while Rendon topped the NL at 56.3 – that is, even higher than that of the MVP, Bellinger (52.4).

Betts is expected to take playing time – and the leadoff spot – away from Joc Pederson, who played 122 games in the outfield and 107 as the Dodgers’ leadoff batter in 2019. Pederson, whose numbers were somewhat inflated because he faced mostly right-handed pitchers, had a 13.3 RV. Betts, on the other hand, was second in the AL (behind only Trout) at 48.5.

Since RV is a cumulative metric, Betts and Bellinger benefitted from playing in 150, and 156 games, respectively. Enter RV (+/-), which, as a rate measure, arguably paints a clearer picture of how a batter’s performance helped his team relative to league average.

For example, an RV+ of 120 means that the batter added 1.2 times as many runs as a league-average hitter, who has an RV+ of 100. Here’s a look at the top 10 from 2019:

2019 RankBatter2020 Team2019 RV+
1Mike TroutAngels186
2Nelson CruzTwins174
3Anthony RendonAngels173
4Cody BellingerDodgers167
5Christian YelichBrewers167
6Juan SotoNationals160
7J.D. MartinezRed Sox158
8Jorge SolerRoyals158
9Mookie BettsDodgers157
10Marcell OzunaBraves154

​If you consider the rate measure to be more indicative than the cumulative one, the RV+ rankings again reveal why Rendon might have been a wiser MVP selection in the NL than Bellinger. Jorge Soler and Betts did fall below some others, while Nelson Cruz rose to second in the majors after hitting 41 home runs in just 120 games in 2019. Christian Yelich also moved to fifth after batting .329 with 44 homers in 130 games.

Much like it does with hitters, Stats Perform analyzes pitchers down to every pitch using RV. Pitchers are instead credited for coaxing batters into a poor launch angle, exit velocity or horizontal spray angle (Pop-ups are extremely valuable for hurlers but terrible for the hitter). RV also factors in whether a pitcher has the stuff to get a swing and miss on a strike or the command to lure a batter into swinging at a ball.

​Basically, pitchers get a boost for forcing hitters into bad decisions and dinged for allowing positive results. So RV is also a cumulative way to measure how many total runs a pitcher took away relative to a league-average hurler (RV=0).

In the case of our 2019 rankings below (minimum 500 PA faced), the New York Yankees won the biggest prize of the free-agent pitching market by locking up Gerrit Cole to a record-breaking nine-year, $324 million contract.

RankPitcherTeamRV
1Gerrit ColeAstros59.3
2Jacob deGromMets57.2
3Justin VerlanderAstros54.7
4Charlie MortonRays35.6
5Lance LynnRangers33.1
6Max ScherzerNationals32.7
7Luis CastilloReds30.6
8Stephen StrasburgNationals29.5
9Jack FlahertyCardinals27.2
10Liam HendriksA's26.8

An argument could be made that Cole should have been awarded the 2019 AL Cy Young Award instead of his Houston Astros teammate Justin Verlander. According to RV, Cole prevented nearly five fewer runs than Verlander over the course of the season. And if the AL champs had used a league-average pitcher instead of Cole, they would have been expected to allow approximately 59 more runs.

RV also shows that voters were justified in awarding Jacob deGrom 29 of the 30 first-place votes in the 2019 NL Cy Young race. DeGrom had a 2.43 ERA with 255 strikeouts in 32 starts and prevented 24.5 more runs than the Max Scherzer, who finished second in RV in the NL.

Similar to RV+ for hitters, RV- can be used as a rate measure of how a pitcher’s performance helped his team relative to league average. So an RV- of 80 means that the pitcher gave up 80% as many runs as a league-average hurler, who has an RV- of 100.

Here’s what our 2019 RV- rankings reveal:

RankPitcherTeamRV-
1Gerrit ColeAstros40
2Jacob deGromMets41
3Justin VerlanderAstros46
4Max ScherzerNationals61
5Charlie MortonRays62
6Luis CastilloReds67
7Lance LynnRangers68
8Chris PaddackPadres70
9Stephen StrasburgNationals71
10Jack FlahertyCardinals71

While Scherzer remains well behind deGrom, he ranks a bit higher when looking at RV as a rate metric after going 11-7 with a 2.92 ERA with 243 strikeouts in just 27 starts.

According to RV-, Chris Paddack probably should have gotten more love in the NL Rookie of the Year race. The right-hander was eighth in RV- after going 9-7 with a 3.33 ERA in 26 starts for the 70-win San Diego Padres, but he did not receive a single vote for ROY.

New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso won the award; after all, who can argue with a rookie-record total of 53 home runs? But two pitchers, Mike Soroka of the Atlanta Braves (RV- = 86) and Dakota Hudson of the St. Louis Cardinals (RV- = 112), received votes and neither had the impact on a pitch-by-pitch basis that Paddack did.

Advanced analytics and data analysis provided by Lucas Haupt