Identifying The Least Intimidating Batter Of The Last 5 Years

SAN FRANCISCO: David Eckstein #22 of the San Diego Padres is congratulated by teammates after he scored on a walk to give the Padres a 2-0 lead over the San Francisco Giants in the first inning at AT&T Park in San Francisco California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

If we examine the numbers in the right way, we can figure out which batters scare pitchers the least. So which batter has scared pitchers the least, since 2008?

The other day, I wrote about an attempted method to identify the least intimidating batters in baseball. The method considered each batter's rate of fastballs seen, and each batter's rate of pitches seen in the strike zone, and I applied the method to the 2012 regular season. What the numbers told me was that Chone Figgins is the least intimidating batter in baseball. It came as less of a surprise than this cup of coffee next to me on the table, and I just ordered that cup of coffee a few minutes ago. So, that cup of coffee was not in any way a surprise. Chone Figgins was an unsurprising result.

But something about applying this just to the 2012 regular season didn't sit well with me. We've played, what, five weeks of meaningful baseball? Five weeks of baseball is five weeks of baseball, and I don't like dealing with such small sample sizes. So what I've decided to do here is expand the sample size by considering everything from 2008 to the present day.

Why 2008? Because that's as far back as we have reliable pitch information and strike-zone information, from PITCHfx. There's other information available at FanGraphs, which comes courtesy of Baseball Info Solutions, but I don't trust it nearly as much. PITCHfx doesn't rely on human interpretation, and thus subjective interpretation, and thus flawed interpretation. Anyway, I don't need to justify this to you. I'm looking at the numbers since 2008 because of PITCHfx. I'm looking at batters who have batted at least a thousand times in that span. There are 310 of them.

As a quick and uninteresting refresher, this is based on z-scores. I have in front of me a spreadsheet with every batter's rate of fastballs seen, and every batter's rate of pitches seen in the strike zone. I have an overall average rate of fastballs seen and rate of pitches seen in the strike zone, and I also have standard deviations. If you know math, you can see where I'm going with this. If you don't know math, you already stopped reading this paragraph. I'm looking for the batters the most combined standard deviations above the two mean rates. Have I explained this well enough? I hope I've explained this well enough. Let's just get to the fun part.

Below, I will present a top ten. These are the ten least intimidating batters in baseball, since 2008, given a minimum of a thousand plate appearances, according to the method above. This skips over most bench players and all pitchers as batters, but I'm perfectly okay with that.

  1. David Eckstein, +5.9 total standard deviations
  2. Brett Gardner, +4.6
  3. Jason Kendall, +4.6
  4. Jamey Carroll, +4.5
  5. Juan Pierre, +4.2
  6. Luis Castillo, +4.2
  7. Denard Span, +3.9
  8. Marco Scutaro, +3.8
  9. Chone Figgins, +3.8
  10. Nick Punto, +3.8

It wouldn't make sense if this list weren't topped by David Eckstein. He hasn't played since 2010, but between 2008-2010, he batted 1,436 times, and he didn't get any respect. He got a little respect, but he got the least respect of all the batters in the sample pool.

Eckstein's fastball rate was 2.8 standard deviations above the mean - by far the biggest positive difference out of everybody. Eckstein's zone rate was 3.2 standard deviations above the mean - also the biggest positive difference out of everybody. On the one hand, it's somewhat surprising that Eckstein saw so many pitches in the strike zone, since he was officially measured at 5-foot-6 and was therefore actually 4-foot-6. On the other hand, it's not surprising that Eckstein saw so many pitches in the strike zone, since he was officially measured at 5-foot-6.

Pitchers were very confident about attacking David Eckstein with fast strikes. Every so often, Eckstein would make a pitcher pay for his hubris, as he did on June 7, 2009, facing a first-pitch Chad Qualls fastball in the bottom of the ninth.

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More commonly, Eckstein did not make the pitchers pay for their hubris.

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There was a reason pitchers were so confident going after David Eckstein, and it was a pretty good reason. One wonders what Eckstein's numbers might've looked like if he were pitched like Ryan Howard or Josh Hamilton have been pitched. We'll never know the answer, because it wouldn't make sense to pitch to David Eckstein like that, because look at him, he's David Eckstein, aww hey there lil guy, here have a fastball, try to swat at it. Oh my heavens look at him swat at it! He is the cutest thing!

David Eckstein hit 35 career regular-season home runs, and he knocked another two in the playoffs. I imagine the reaction was the same after each one. And I imagine the same adjustments were made after each one, which is to say, there were no adjustments. Just feed that guy strikes and see what he can do. David Eckstein did what he did for ten years, and that's just really terrific. Until the very end, David Eckstein got no respect, and he did enough to earn $20 million playing baseball. Eckstein put up with bullshit long enough to become very very rich, and in the end he had the last laugh. The last earsplitting, munchkin laugh. Little jokes! He doesn't get the last laugh after all!

***


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