Boston’s Best Tools: Best Batting Eye

Under Theo Epstein’s tenure, the Boston Red Sox have focused on developing and acquiring hitters with a patient approach at the plate. As a minor leaguer, Kevin Youkilis was dubbed "the Greek God of Walks" in Michael Lewis’ now classic text, Moneyball. Since then, Youk has been the poster child for the OBP-driven offensive strategy embraced by the organization. So, while that has given Youkilis plenty of competition for the best batting eye award, can any one really challenge a God?

 

Name

PA

BB% 

K%

BABIP

OBP

O-Swing% 

SwStr%

P/PA*

Kevin Youkilis

1644

12.00%

21.60%

0.342

0.404

20.90%

6.30%

4.24

Adrian Gonzalez

2074

13.80%

20.80%

0.304

0.387

27.60%

10.10%

3.90

J.D. Drew

1541

14.30%

22.70%

0.301

0.379

17.90%

6.80%

4.12

Dustin Pedroia

1791

9.00%

8.50%

0.31

0.372

24.60%

3.20%

4.00

David Ortiz

1724

13.10%

23.90%

0.281

0.356

23.30%

9.80%

4.20

 

 

First and foremost in this discussion is on-base percentage. Plate Disipline means waiting for a pitch to hit and hitting it or holding out for that pitch long enough to draw the walk. More than anything else, good plate discipline should mean a high OBP. Of course, the top OBP goes to Youk. His .404 OBP is fourth best in all of baseball over that past three seasons; few hitters anywhere better at getting on base. However, in spite of the nickname, Youkilis is not the best on the team at drawing walks. His walk percentage trails J.D. Drew, Adrian Gonzales, and Big Papi.

 

Drew is actually 10th in all of baseball by BB% from ’08-’10. He manages to get on base less often than Youk and Gonzo largely because he does not do as well on balls in play. Batting average on balls in play is a tough stat to draw conclusions from but, given the large sample size here, we might infer that Youkilis, Pedroia and Gonzo are driving the ball a bit harder from these numbers. Drew also holds the second highest strikeout rate, behind Ortiz. This is especially surprising because Drew swings and misses less often than Ortiz and Gonzalez. Red Sox fans will be quick to point to all those looking strikeouts, and the data supports that. Drew swings at fewer pitches out of the zone than almost anyone (6th fewest in ML). His reputation for keeping the bat on his shoulder is not undeserved, but it isn’t such a bad thing in the end.

If Youkilis is the obvious choice now, David Ortiz would have been the obvious choice not so long ago. While Big Papi isn’t posting the .400+ OBP’s he once did, he is still a master at getting on base. His BB% has declined since his 2003-2007 peak, but he still walks at a higher percentage than Youk and he sees more pitches than any other hitter beside Youk. He strikeouts much more than our other contenders and swings and misses more than anyone but Gonzalez. He deserves credit though for retaining his selective eye even if his other skills are slipping away.

Adrian Gonzalez is as close to being a left-handed Kevin Youkilis as anyone in baseball. He walks just a hair more and strikesout just a hair less. Though his BABIP and his OBP are both lower, he has been hitting in a very unfriendly home field .The edge Youkilis has, especially the edge on BABIP, might be completely negated by the park factors. With his superior power, Gonzalez might well overtake Youk in both next seasons. On the other hand however, Gonzo sees fewer pitches and also swings and misses quite a bit more.

The only other player meriting consideration for best batting eye is little horse himself, Dustin Pedroia. He is fourth on the team by OBP, by he strikes out far less than any one else here. He swings and misses at an extremely low rate, even while swinging at more pitches out of the zone than the others. Pedey sees his far share of pitches as well, though is still falls to fourth here. Pedroia has better contact skill than anyone else here by a far margin, so he is different than the others. He is less likely to be pitched around and he depends more on putting the ball in play. He is second to Youkilis in BABIP among the group, and given that he has the least power, he certainly is waiting a good pitch and driving it.

Once again, the intuitive answer and the relevant data are in easy agreement. Arguments can be made for J.D. Drew or Adrian Gonzalez or David Ortiz, but they depend on putting weight on one measure or another specifically and overlooking others. Really if you were to consider all of baseball, only Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer and perhaps Joey Votto really belong to same level of batting eye as Kevin Youkilis. Even a masterful plate approach such as Gonzalez’s or Pedey’s fails short of Youk’s. In my mind, this is no contest.

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