AN Mailbag #8: Josh Reddick and… Bobby Kielty?!?!

This is for the ladies... - Jennifer Stewart

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Do you feel that Josh Reddick can improve on his RISP average? What types of things can he do to improve on this? Also, do you think he should remain the #3 hitter (Cespedes I believe took it over later in the year). Thanks.

-OdyMandrell

Here's the thing about RISP average: It's something that really shouldn't matter. This makes intuitive sense, because Reddick himself doesn't control if anyone gets on in front of him, nor does he control if they are in scoring position or not. What's more, he doesn't even control his position in the lineup (technically, at least), so his RISP opportunities vary as a function of the OBPs of the people hitting in front of him.

That's what my brain says, and it has plenty of analytical backup from others. It has been proven over and over that on average, players in general do not hit any better or worse with runners in scoring position than they do in any other situation. Qualitatively though, and applied to Reddick? He's horrible with RISP. Indeed, just glance at his RISP splits on Fangraphs. If you look at his wOBA (who cares about his batting average), he struggles when you look at it from the perspective of RISP or from the perspective of leverage. With bases empty, he commands a .373 wOBA, which is great! With runners on base, he drops to .270, and with RISP, he's at .280. By leverage, the difference is more noticeable: in low leverage situations he has a wOBA of .381, medium leverage .258, and high leverage .224.

Now, there are some things that work in his favor. He has a BABIP of .335 in low leverage situations, and it's at .166 and .231 in medium and high leverage situations. So, he's had his share of bad luck/poor contact that will probably rectify itself given more samples in each situation. Also, look at the PAs: He's had 388 low leverage PAs, 224 medium leverage PAs, and only 61 PAs in high leverage situations. No one can make any definitive statements about a player with only 61 PAs. Finally, if you look at his K% and BB%, there aren't any crazy differences here: he's hovering around 23% and 8.5%, respectively.

So, my official opinion is that this isn't anything to worry about right now. He shouldn't change anything unless there is a true mechanical flaw. Depending on his batting order position, and baseball randomness, his RISP batting numbers will probably regress back to the mean over time.

Question: Does switch-hitting make sense if someone hits much better right-handed (or vice versa)? It always struck me that Bobby Kielty shortchanged his career by being a switch hitter rather than just batting righty. He seemed to hit so badly left-handed that managers were reluctant to bat him left-handed anyway. It seemed he would have been better off hitting exclusively right handed.

Baseball Reference says his OPS batting lefty was .675 in his career vs. .881 batting righty, including a .503 slugging percentage. Would he or any other batter expect to have an OPS of over 200 points less just by facing a pitcher of the same hand as the batter (i.e., righty vs. righty)?

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?id=kieltbo01&year=Career&t=b

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=kurkjian_tim&id=5524029


-Stuart

I often wonder exactly what Kurkjian did - why bother? (Just not in his voice). There are a couple takeaways from the article:

  • Nobody naturally switch-hits. There is always a dominant side, and the non-dominant side will suffer if extra work isn't being put in to keep that skill.
  • Switch-hitting is something players did (read: natural left-handed hitters) to get more PAs in their amateur days. It helped propel some of them to major league playing time, so they stuck with it.

Given that, it's probably safe to assume that Kielty was a natural righty. The only thing I ever remember him doing positively from the left side was that monster extra-inning HR off of K-Rod in Anaheim. On the other hand, who switches from being a switch-hitter to a one-side only hitter? Well, according to this BtBS article... practically no one. At least, no one of any note; as the article mentions, that's basically a last-ditch effort to save someone's career. In Kielty's case, he never tried that, nor did attempting to come back as pitcher help, either.

I need to reframe your question a little, though. First, Kielty basically never hit against the platoon advantage. As an LHB, he hit exclusively right-handed pitching; as an RHB, he hit exclusively left-handed pitching. He only had 7 (!!) career PAs as a righty against a righty pitcher. Second, let's drop OPS and look at wOBA. If you look at wOBA splits for him, he has +.64 difference batting right-handed vs. LHP and batting left-handed vs. RHP. It looks like Kielty actually did the opposite of what others did: as a natural righty, he tried to give himself a platoon advantage (and probably preference for being in a lineup) by learning how to hit lefty. Except that that backfired, and he basically never hit right-vs.-right and consistently hit from his weaker side, gaining 1274 PAs like that.

Indeed, The Book by Tom Tango and Michel Lichtman, actually devotes an entire chapter to platoon splits and a section in that chapter to switch-hitters. And who sits at the top list of most extreme LHP-RHP wOBA splits amongst switch-hitters? None other than Bobby Kielty. In fact, The Book goes on to suggest that Kielty probably started switch-hitting because he was so bad versus same-handed pitching on his natural hitting side. His (non-)usage also suggests that.

In general, though, The Book shows that switch-hitters generally have zero platoon splits that can be reliably measured after 600 PA. So, Bobby Kielty was definitely out of the realm of normal, and your assumption is most probably true: he should have stuck to hitting right-handed (which would have in turn limited his use to a platoon player vs. LHP.) But, because there are more right-handers than left-handers pitching in baseball, he was unfortunately used more of the time against right-handers despite his limited left-handed hitting skill.

And that's more about Bobby Kielty than I ever thought I'd write for AN. Also, consider buying a copy of The Book. It's not really meant for cover-to-cover reading, but it's definitely handy reading.

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