28 April 2008
Eating Crow 2.2: Murray and Ripken
Posted by Jon Shepherd
Before launching into this exercise, I'll recap the previous Crowley entries. In the first one we evaluated his patience and contact rate as a player. We found that his contact rate was higher than league average, but his patience was league average. In the second study, we tried to discern whether changes in pitching coaches altered patience and contact rate on the Orioles. It did appear that batting approach did change slightly toward being less patient during Crowley's stay. It also appeared that the talent level may not have been high enough to make that approach work as contact rate was somewhat below average.
A conservative way to go about determining if a hitting coach affects the hitting approach of his team may be to focus on the team's star players. It follows reason that star players are those who are the most likely to retain their previous approach because, in their mind, it is what made them a star in the first place. I would assume that these established players would probably not pay much attention to what their hitting coach would say. This is doubly true as both Murray and Ripken, the Orioles established stars, played with Crowley.
The hitting coach does not affect plate patience in established stars (Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.).
As used in the previous two exercises, we will use estimated pitches per plate appearance to measure plate patience. Contact rate will also be measured as it is a type of skill that works well for an aggressive approach. Murray and Ripken will be compared individually, to the team, and to MLB. The time frame we will use is from 1981 to 1991. This includes four seasons coached by Rowe, four by Crowley, and three by McCraw (except for Murray who was traded to the Dodgers for those final three seasons).
Eddie Murray was perhaps the best 1B in the game during this stretch. From 1981 to 1984, he was clearly the best 1B in MLB and perhaps the best player. He was never a prolific homerun hitter, but he had plus power, plus contact, and good patience at the plate. During this time, he scored 156OPS+ every year during this stretch. That is consistency. Crowley was hired for the '85 season and Murray's performance eroded. Murray was healthy and should have been in his prime (Age 29), but he may have just peaked early. His next four years were 149, 136, 120, and 136; which is still quite good. It is interesting to see his strikeouts and walks decreasing along with power. Typically, when walks and power decreases . . . strikeouts increase as pitchers are testing the batter. It is a sign of reduced bat speed. He would never regain that tendency to walk as he had during that amazing four year stretch.
Cal Ripken seems like a guy who has little faith in his hitting coaches or way too much. Going to a game was often to provide you with a myriad of batting stances. One thing I am not too sure of is whether this was true very early in his career. He second and third best offensive seasons were 1983 and 1984. He won the MVP in '83 and should have won it in '84. His best season came in '91 where he once again won the MVP. Cal was not like Eddie. He has always seemed to be a bit more aggressive at the plate. Anyway,you all should be well aware of his exploits, so I'll move on to the results.
Pitches per Plate Appearance
Murray's numbers were above average in terms of plate patience prior to Crowley's arrival. After his arrival, Murray's patience was league average for the entirety of his remaining years with the Orioles. Cal's patience was somewhat below average, but decreased even further during his first two years under Crowley. His final two years under him shows a marked increase in patience. This trend would not continue into the McCraw years. It is interesting how plate patience decreased once Crowley began coaching. It also seems that in '87 and '88 Cal began taking a different approach. I can't really blame talent level on Cal's progression as he had Eddie performing above average behind him. I doubt people were pitching around Cal. Also, Cal typically did not come up with anyone on base. This is especially true in '88 when Frank Robinson was all hopped up on pills and let Billy "Gold Glove, Lead Bat" Ripken take in 540 PA, primarily, in the 2 hole. That is 207/260/258 for the year and we think Luis Hernandez is bad (sorry, that is another topic). Anyway, it looks like Cal changed his approach in '85 and '86 to be more aggressive.
I at least don't see much of interest here. You can tell when guys are patient and when their skill levels increase. They are both players who could do well with an aggressive approach as they both do a good job with making contact. For Eddie, it looks like a change in his approach. For Cal, it looks like his growth as a hitter.
Well, like last time, the data is somewhat confusing, but it appears that Crowley's philosophy about aggressive hitting was embraced by Eddie all four years and by Cal for two years. I think that is more definite about Cal. Eddie may have just seen a regression in his abilities, but losing the ability to take a walk so soon after establishing it as a hitting trait seems unusual. That is why I think this data indicates that they listened to him. So, if established stars are listening to Crowley . . . I imagine the rookies and those desperate to stick on with the team are also listening to him. I think players probably stick with their approach until they think they are in a slump and then seek out advice. A hitting coach is supposed to know what he is doing, so they listen. I think Crowley's suggestions may work for some, but I don't know if we have found who yet.