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Power vs. Finesse

It's SnakePit Day over at Purple Row, a result of our victory over evil Rox Girl in the Hernandez/Lopez bet, so I've posted my "Why we're going to beat them for the ninth time in ten years" piece over there. :-) Go check it out.

In the meantime, while browsing our batting splits over at, I noticed something that picqued my interest; Arizona's apparent struggles against power pitching last year. The site defines a 'power pitcher' as someone who strikes out or walks more than 28% of batters; a finesse one, in contrast K/BB's less than 24% of the time, based on the previous three years. In the National League last year, there were about 30,000 plate-appearances against power pitchers, and 41,600 against finesse pitchers - combined, that covers 70% of all trips to the plate.

On average, facing power, NL hitters posted a .241/.320/.387 line, striking out 21.9% of the time and walking 9.7% of the time. Against finesse, the line was .283/.344/.448 with a 14.2% strikeout rate, and a 7.7 walk rate. So, generally, power pitchers are a little harder to hit, which is probably what you'd expect. However, there were wide variations among teams: Colorado only hit finesse pitching for ten points more in OPS, while the gap for Cincinnati was 136 points. Arizona was not far behind at 124 points, with the following lines:
vs. Power: .219/.307/.373 = OPS .676 [NL average: .707]
vs. Neutral: .239/.306/.383 = OPS .689 [.757]
vs. Finesse: .280/.341/.463 = OPS .804 [.791]

The leap as soon as we reach the 'finesse' end of the pitching spectrum is startling to behold. It does tie with the empirical evidence we saw last season; apart from his last start, on short rest, we struggled badly against NL strikeout king Jake Peavy, managing five earned runs in 26.1 innings. Matt Cain, Jeff Francis, John Smoltz and Derek Lowe all also had an ERA of three or better facing the Diamondbacks in 2007, while striking out 6.6 per nine innings or more. [Though I admit, the definition of 'power' and its accuracy with regard to these men does vary somewhat]

Even more interestingly, we can separate things down by players, and see which of the Diamondbacks had the biggest differentials in this area. The following table lists the lines for all Arizona players who had 50 or more at-bats against both power and finesse pitchers. It's ordered by the final column, which is the number of OPS points better they were facing finesse pitchers:

                FINESSE         *          POWER
           BA   OBP   SLG   OPS *   BA   OBP   SLG   OPS 
Young    .291  .337  .577  .914 * .139  .197  .303  .500   +414
Callaspo .283  .302  .400  .702 * .170  .204  .170  .374   +228
Snyder   .287  .364  .500  .864 * .183  .278  .376  .654   +210
Hudson   .336  .411  .514  .925 * .255  .358  .389  .747   +178
                                      Diamondbacks Average +128
Hairston .238  .360  .317  .677 * .179  .258  .321  .579    +98
Byrnes   .320  .358  .523  .881 * .264  .365  .427  .792    +89
                                                NL Average  +84
Drew     .271  .340  .437  .777 * .252  .357  .371  .728    +49
Reynolds .284  .347  .490  .837 * .223  .327  .479  .806    +31
Jackson  .280  .382  .422  .804 * .282  .357  .444  .801     +3
Montero  .261  .299  .443  .742 * .209  .291  .448  .739     +3
Quentin  .235  .313  .376  .689 * .229  .316  .371  .687     +2
Tracy    .295  .340  .523  .863 * .267  .385  .480  .865     -2
Clark    .207  .256  .476  .732 * .292  .373  .625  .998   -256

A few things obviously standout, most notably Chris Young's disastrous results when facing power pitchers. That's not a mis-print: he batted .139, just 23-for-165, with a K:BB ratio worse than 6:1. That's more than double what it was facing finesse pichers. Callapso, Snyder and Hairston batted below the Uecker line against power pitchers, but two of those three will not be Arizona's problem in 2008. Orlando Hudson was also more than double the National League average for OPS gap, and in his case that's mostly because he tore it up against finesse arms, batting .336.

Moving down the list, Eric Byrnes is the closest thing Arizona has to average. Which is probably some kind of a first. :-) Drew struggled slightly less against power - or slightly more against finesse, you can pick your poison there. However, a number of our young hitters, including Jackson, Montero and Tracy, posted basically the same results facing both groups. That's what I would have expected before looking at the statistics: as players get older, reaction speed would decline, giving more problems with power pitchers, but they get more experience, helping them deal with finesse pitchers. Both of these would seems to lead to a tendency for the gap to increase with age.

None of this would seem to explain Chris Young, or perhaps even more surprisingly Tony Clark, who swatted power pitching to an OPS of .998, more than 250 points better than finesse pitching in 2007. Overall in his career, the figure is close to average at +73, but in 2005 [his last full season], he again hammered power opponents, with a figure of -207. Compare that to his first full season in the majors, back in 1997, when Clark returned a +144. It seems that Tony has simply learned how to hit power pitching as he has got older. There might be an interesting study as to how rare this is, but you won't find much data in the 2007 Diamondbacks. Byrnes and Hudson have five full seasons though, so let's see what we find for them:

        Hudson    Byrnes
2003     +177      -186
2004     +156       +89
2005     +135         0
2006     +155      +197
2007     +178       +89
Career   +125       +52

Hudson's odd career average is because his figure in his debut season was -269, skewing the numbers. Otherwise, he has been pretty consistent, solidly hitting finesse better than power. Eric's figures on the other hand appear to be inspired by his hair; moving all over the place, without apparent rhyme or reason. :-) I see B-R also have stats for ground-ball vs. fly-ball pitchers, so I'll take a look at those some other time.