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Ten Wacky A's Splits

Split statistics keep an interesting record, even if the stories they tell often can mislead us. Here are ten weird ones from A's players in 2013.

Take it easy against his guy in the first inning, but after that...look out.
Take it easy against his guy in the first inning, but after that...look out.

Split statistics are quite interesting, because they present a picture of how a player performs in unique circumstances. In theory, this allows us to isolate their abilities more exactly than overall statistics do, as we can pinpoint strengths and weaknesses that splits tell us. However, splits are often quite overused (the two worst offenders have to be "With RISP and two outs" and "Against [Team X]"), as they often are too small-sample and randomly distributed to mean anything.

They're still fun to look at, though. Today, I'm going to present you with ten splits of A's players--five hitters and five pitchers--that are pretty surprising. I'll also provide brief contextualizations and analyses of each to assess if they really mean much of anything.

#1.) Brandon Moss is hitting .313 on fly balls.

Traditionally, fly balls are the batted ball type that tends to produce the most outs. This year, the American League is hitting .199 on flies. Brandon Moss, however, is hitting .313. His average is 99 points better on flies than grounders, whereas the league hits 41 points worse on them. Most of this is the product of a 20% HR/FB ratio, though his .135 BABIP on flies is higher than the league's .106 mark as well. Moss actually hit .380 (!) on fly balls last year, so it does seem that this is somewhere close to sustainable for him.

#2.) Chris Young is hitting .119 on ground balls.

The league is hitting .240 on grounders; Chris Young isn't even halfway to that mark. Young's poor showing on grounders is a big reason for his .206 BABIP and consequently putrid statline. He's got a career .246 average on grounders, so this seems to just be bad luck. It's only a sample of 42 at-bats, which doesn't sound like much, but give him five extra hits (10-for-42, a normal .238 average) and Young would go from a .191/.277/.376 to .219/.302/.405. Still not great, but actually a pretty solid statline for a fourth outfielder with good speed and defense. We can (and should, partially) blame the excessive popups and weak flies, but bad luck on grounders is another element in Young's struggles, and it should correct itself.

#3.) Josh Reddick is hitting .310/.392/.429 with RISP and .164/.244/.284 in all other situations.

Reddick's another guy who's struggled a lot this year, but at least he's made his hits count. Hitters actually do hit a bit better with RISP (.261/.340/.411 this year as opposed to .255/.319/.407 overall), but not like this. Including this year, Reddick's actually been a very poor hitter in RISP situations for his career (.219/.294/.374), and given the pile of evidence supporting the idea that "clutch hitting doesn't exist," it's safe to write this off as a fluke. A pretty valuable fluke, though, and you take those where you can get them.

#4.) Eric Sogard is hitting .333/.377/.474 against right-handed pitchers in the Coliseum.

It seems like at least half of AN posts nowadays feature comment threads containing extensive debates of Sogard's merits. Personally, I think he's quite good at his job, playing solid defense at second and hitting righties at a 95 wRC+ clip, including the interesting home numbers against northpaws (he's .243/.321/.270 on the road).

Hitters do hit better at home--this year, the AL's at .261/.326/.416 at home and .249/.313/.399 on the road--but because the A's play in a pitcher's park, they hit better while traveling (.251/.329/.407) than at the Coliseum (.242/.325/.396). Again, this is a fluke--Sogard was way better on the road than at home before this year, so his career road line is better than his home line even now--but it's nice that Oakland's #9 hitter hasn't been swallowed up by the tough hitter's environment the A's call home.

#5.) Jed Lowrie is hitting .175/.299/.211 against starting pitchers the first time through the order, .293/.369/.379 the second time through the order, and .358/.497/.547 the third time through the order. He's also hitting .315/.396/.427 off of relief pitchers.

Now here's an interesting one. The league as a whole makes incremental gains against starters--.253/.313/.406 the first time through, .259/.321/.422 the second time, and .270/.325/.433 the third. Yes, hitters get a better idea of what's coming, but there's also selection bias at play--if a pitcher makes it through eighteen batters, he's probably not pitching totally ineptly, so the pitchers ripe for feasting off of don't always get seen three times. Further, relief pitchers have held AL batters to a .242/.317/.382 line this year.

Jed Lowrie, apparently, pays no mind to that, as he goes from horrendous to quite solid to dominant as his plate appearances roll on, and he stays locked in against relievers. For his career, he hasn't showed much of a jump from his first PA to his second, but his slugging percentage is nearly 100 points higher the third time through the order. He also boasts a career .360 OBP against relievers--as a switch-hitter, he's a formidable foe for specialist types.

#6.) Bartolo Colon has a 54.9% groundball rate against righthanded batters, but just 36.5% against lefties.

Colon's split in this department was even more dramatic last year (35.1% to 57.4%), so it's safe to say this is legitimate. Consequently, 20 of the 24 homers he's allowed as an Athletic have been surrendered to southpaws. Colon uses his four-seam fastball more than his two-seamer against lefties, but turns to the two-seamer more against righties, which explains a lot of the difference. The flyball tendency to lefthanders is probably Colon's biggest drawback at this point.

#7.) Lefties are hitting .298/.394/.462 against Jarrod Parker in Oakland, but just .209/.258/.310 on the road; righties are hitting a meager .184/.231/.337 off Parker at, but a robust .296/.417/.478 on the road.

Obviously, this means nothing--if anything, it really just serves as a reminder that splits can say all sorts of weird stuff that doesn't make sense. But it is fun to look at. Well, half of it is, anyway.

#8.) With the bases empty, batters are hitting .192/.247/.291 off of Dan Straily; with runners on, it swells to .286/.356/.427, and with RISP, .340/.421/.479.

Dan Straily has a career 69.7% strand rate; his ERA, FIP, and xFIP are all within .2 of each other. However, both of his stints in the majors have led the numbers in wildly divergent directions. Last year, he stranded 90.7% of runners, leaving him with a pretty 3.89 ERA but an unsightly 6.48 FIP. This year, he's stranded just 58% of runners, leaving him with a relatively poor 4.97 ERA that masks an excellent 3.56 FIP (Both years, the xFIP has been in between the other two indicators, as his HR/FBs have overcorrected in the opposite direction, further confusing things.

So it's probably just noise. But one thing that's interesting about this split is that it actually reflects a physically different situation--the pitcher out of the windup vs. the stretch. I may take a look at Straily's Pitch F/X numbers in the windup and the stretch and see if there are any notable differences that point to continued struggles with men on base.

#9.) With the bases empty, batters are hitting .269/.298/.495 off of Tommy Milone; with runners on, it shrinks to .204/.264/.316, and with RISP, .165/.224/.253.

Speaking of luck evening out, Straily's luck was apparently all given to Milone, who apparently becomes Sandy Koufax when the pressure heats up. I mentioned earlier that batters do slightly better in RISP situations, and perhaps it's notable that Milone's career line there stands at .228/.299/.344. It's another area worthy of examination and research, though as with all runners on/RISP splits, one should go into the research process with the firm knowledge that many such numbers are often products of noise alone.

#10.) Batters have a higher slugging percentage off of A.J. Griffin when his first pitch is a strike (.387) than when it's a ball (.360).

First-pitch strikes are a good thing--after 1-0 counts, AL batters are hitting .265/.375/.441, while they're at just .230/.270/.351 after 0-1. Against Griffin, though, they're hitting .228/.328/.360 after ball one and .215/.241/.387 after strike one; seventeen of his twenty-four extra base hits allowed have come after a first-pitch strike. It's probably bad luck and small samples, but with a pitcher this young, it could also be indicative of some rawness in pitch patterning and an ability to finish hitters off. It bears watching how he'll fare in this department going forward.