Opposite field hitting: The key to success?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Does hitting the opposite way improve a team's chance to score runs? Let's take a look.

Want a good drinking game? How about every time Ray Fosse says "the hitter should look to go the opposite way here" have a drink. Be careful, you may quickly go through your stash of booze and/or get seriously inebriated. But a thought occurred to me after hearing Fosse say these words for the 10 trillionth time: could he be on to something? Does a team's ability to hit to the opposite field actually matter? Should EVERY SINGLE OAKLAND HITTER try to shoot the ball the opposite way? I thought I would try to find out.

Here's what I did. I took the weighted runs created (wRC) data for every ball hit to opposite, center, and pull fields since they started keeping the data in 2003. Then I compared how well wRC for these hits correlated to a team's ability to score runs. Here are the plots of the correlations.

Opporuns_medium

Centerruns_medium

Pullruns_medium

So we see that opposite and center field hits aren't really good predictors of how many runs a team will score. Pull field wRC is a much better indicator. If you want to score runs, you need to rack up some wRC to the pull side. Hmm. That's strike one on Fosse.

But maybe teams need to spread the ball around. You know, not hit too much to the pull side. Keep the defense honest. So let's correlate percentage of balls hit to all fields with runs scored.

Peroppo_medium

Percenter_medium

Perpull_medium

Nope. It doesn't seem to matter if teams hit more balls to opposite, center, or pull fields. Strike two on Fosse.

Wait a minute. Maybe opposite field contact is just better. Maybe that's the reason hitters should go the other way. Maybe opposite field contact is more valuable than any other type of contact. Ok. Let's find the average wRC for each ball hit to a field divided by the times a ball is hit to that field.

wRC/AB (pull)

wRC/AB (center)

wRC/AB (oppo)

0.191

0.137

0.099

Hell no. Balls hit to the opposite field suck. Balls hit to the pull side are worth nearly twice as many runs as balls hit to the opposite field. Strike three Fosse. You are out!

Let's give Fosse one more chance. How about just getting a hit. Runner on third, tie game, just need a hit. Should the hitter try to go the other way? Let's look at the batting average for balls hit to all fields.


Pull

Center

Oppo

AVE

0.346

0.335

0.286

Nope. The best chance of getting a hit is pulling the ball.

How about in terms of the Oakland A's? Are the A's constructing teams to hit more to the opposite field? Absolutely not.



AB (oppo)

wRC (oppo)

AB (center)

wRC (center)

AB (pull)

wRC (pull)

R

2013

MLB Average

1072.7

118.4

1552.5

202.1

1686.6

310.3

675.2

2013

Athletics

1016

88

1566

199

1760

374

767

2013

% Diff

-5.29%

-25.70%

0.87%

-1.55%

4.35%

20.53%

13.60%

2012

MLB Average

1072.9

121.9

1516.3

211.1

1704.7

319.0

700.6

2012

Athletics

948

62

1471

183

1721

393

713

2012

% Diff

-11.64%

-49.15%

-2.99%

-13.32%

0.95%

23.18%

1.77%

2011

MLB Average

1073.7

105.1

1546.5

199.5

1753.4

328.6

693.6

2011

Athletics

1061

75

1586

186

1711

280

645

2011

% Diff

-1.19%

-28.64%

2.55%

-6.78%

-2.42%

-14.80%

-7.01%

2010

MLB Average

1085.1

108.1

1554.0

200.6

1728.7

330.9

710.3

2010

Athletics

1084

84

1587

186

1716

309

663

2010

% Diff

-0.10%

-22.29%

2.12%

-7.28%

-0.73%

-6.63%

-6.65%

2009

MLB Average

1129.4

114.6

1483.1

200.4

1796.1

347.4

747.3

2009

Athletics

1290

115

1560

196

1688

306

759

2009

% Diff

14.22%

0.35%

5.19%

-2.18%

-6.02%

-11.92%

1.57%

2008

MLB Average

1161.5

119.9

1474.9

187.1

1824.5

360.6

752.8

2008

Athletics

1147

83

1398

172

1680

294

646

2008

% Diff

-1.25%

-30.76%

-5.21%

-8.05%

-7.92%

-18.47%

-14.19%

2007

MLB Average

1153.9

118.8

1533.3

201.6

1832.0

369.2

777.4

2007

Athletics

1091

91

1553

197

1814

350

741

2007

% Diff

-5.45%

-23.38%

1.28%

-2.30%

-0.98%

-5.19%

-4.68%

2006

MLB Average

1151.7

120.6

1532.4

204.2

1837.9

375.5

786.6

2006

Athletics

1208

80

1544

155

1772

385

771

2006

% Diff

4.89%

-33.67%

0.75%

-24.11%

-3.59%

2.53%

-1.99%

2005

MLB Average

1218.2

110.4

1358.2

188.2

1945.9

362.7

744.2

2005

Athletics

1275

85

1470

166

2062

361

772

2005

% Diff

4.66%

-22.98%

8.23%

-11.81%

5.96%

-0.48%

3.74%

2004

MLB Average

1243.3

110.0

1296.9

201.9

1976.8

376.1

779.2

2004

Athletics

1257

84

1279

210

2131

426

793

2004

% Diff

1.10%

-23.66%

-1.38%

4.01%

7.80%

13.28%

1.78%

2003

MLB Average

1289.6

108.8

1237.7

210.1

2008.5

353.8

765.9

2003

Athletics

1288

77

1272

215

2039

318

768

2003

% Diff

-0.13%

-29.25%

2.77%

2.32%

1.52%

-10.12%

0.27%

The A's haven't gotten much production out of hitting the other way, the last two years especially (division winning years I might add). If anything, Oakland A's hitters may be worse opposite field hitters. Check this out.


wRC/AB (oppo)

wRC/AB (center)

wRC/AB (oppo)

Oakland Average

0.1893

0.1280

0.0731

MLB Average

0.1908

0.1372

0.0993

% Difference

-0.80%

-6.70%

-26.35%

Opposite field contact by Oakland hitters is worth far less than MLB average opposite field contact (Oakland also has the lowest oppo batting average at .261). This could mean that the last 10 years Oakland's hitters have been below average at going the other way. (Interestingly, despite Chili Davis' approach to get the hitters to go the other way, Oakland has been bad going the other way the last two years with .0764 runs per opposite way contact.)

Or it could be that the Coliseum is a difficult place to go the other way. Considering the Coliseum is a difficult place to hit period and that hitting the other way is intrinsically more difficult, I might go with the latter. Especially since opposite field contact tends to produce flyballs (55%), flyballs that find gloves in the spacious Coliseum (great article on why opposite hits tend to be flyballs here). Or both, and Beane and Co. know this and have constructed the team accordingly. Take a look at the players on the team the last couple of years and their career wRC to all fields.

Name

wRC (oppo)

wRC (center)

wRC (pull)

Jed Lowrie

24.5

55.8

137.5

Coco Crisp

71.1

159.6

338.4

Alberto Callaspo

33.5

92.1

165.3

Brandon Moss

16.8

75.6

111.9

Derek Norris

4.8

13.6

36

Eric Sogard

14.9

5.3

26.9

Yoenis Cespedes

12.4

62.4

75.2

John Jaso

24.8

29.3

62.6

Nick Punto

86.1

94

82.5

Daric Barton

18.9

58

94.2

Josh Donaldson

30.6

37.8

57

Josh Reddick

11

46.5

105.8

Craig Gentry

4.9

25.8

45.1

Chris Young

-8.5

82.3

354.7

Nate Freiman

4.1

9

7.9

Seth Smith

29.9

102.9

146.3

Total

379.8

950

1847.3

%

11.95%

29.90%

58.14%

MLB Average %

17.20%

30.20%

52.50%

Yep, it looks to me like Beane is constructing the roster with guys who can pull the ball. Or maybe it is just a coincidence. Regardless, if a hitter is going to be successful in Oakland, hitting the other way is fine, but he better be able to pull the ball. No matter what Ray Fosse says.

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