23 April 2008

Eating Crow: A Tendency for Aggression?

Terry Crowley is a name many Oriole fans despise. They complain about how he supposedly affects Oriole hitters. He preaches being aggressive at the plate. Others, myself included, think that hitting coaches do quite little at the Major League level beyond offering useless advice and acting as a guidance counselor . . . as in someone who is good to talk to, but doesn't really change things. In this piece I will try to determine if Crowley has a history of affecting his team's offensive production. This project will consist of four parts: Crowley as a player and Crowley's three stints as a MLB hitting coach.

Our working null hypothesis is that there is no difference between Crowley's performance and his team's performance against league performance as measured by pitch counts, a measurement of aggressiveness.

Part I: The Player

Terry Crowley was drafted by the Orioles in the 11th round of the 1966 amateur draft. He progressed quickly through the Orioles farm system: 154 games at HiA Miami, 55 at AA Elmira, and 2007 at AAA Rochester. He really didn't show much statistically until his second go around at Rochester in 69 where he displayed plus power. Once he reached the majors, he showed that he just was pretty average as a hitter. He never developed into anything more than a pinch hitter.

First we need to convert his statistical line to pitches per plate appearance. I do not have that data and I doubt they kept track of pitch counts by batter back then, so we'll have to estimate this. The basic formula is as follows:
[3.3*(plate appearances) + 1.5*(SO) + 2.2*(BB) ] / (plate appearances)
We will then compare his P/PA against the league average. This should be a decent indication of his aggressiveness as a player. It should be noted that we are dealing with a small sample size. The years with more than 100 AB are 70, 72-74, 78, and 80-82. Other metrics will also be compared: contact rate. Contact rate will relate to success of aggressiveness.

Based on the chart, Crowley was not a hacker. He was about league average. If you ignore the seasons where he had less than 100 PA, He excedes the league average his second year and toward the tail end of his career. During , his prime . . . league average. This somewhat backs up Bill James' often cited, but never conclusively evidenced theory of age and walk rates. Basically, it goes that as players realize their bat speed is gone, they compensate by taking more pitches and waiting for the right pitches to hit. The result is that a player will start walking at a higher rate until the opposition realizes that he can no longer hit. Then he will bottom out completely. That describes Crowley's tail end Oriole career and horrendous stint with the Les Expos.

Interestingly, Crowley's contact rate is predominantly better than league average. It typically decreases as the more patient he is, but not every year. His only years with over 100 PA, his contact rate was much better than average. Here is where the issue of his theory of aggressiveness may lie. His patience is somewhat fluctuating, but his contact rate is always exceptional during the seasons when he was given significant at bats. Even in his final year, he displays a very good contact rate, but he was unable to do anything with it.

So, let's revisit our null. Is there any difference between Crowley's and the league's P/PA? Crowley comes in with a 3.72 +/- 0.11 P/PA. The league comes in at 3.69 +/- 0.02 P/PA. Crowley's numbers are NOT different from the league over the course of his career and there seems to be no general pattern except that he seems more patient during the beginning and end of his career. When contact rate comes into play . . . things get a little hazier. The seasons in which he was rewarded with significant at bats were those that also we years where he was successfully aggressive. It seems as if, as a player, his approach was never based on plate patience, but looking for a pitch he could make contact with. Contact rates over the career also do not differ from league contact rates, but it appears that Crowley had focused on simply making contact.

Contrary to the current perception of Crowley, he was not an overly aggressive hitter, even though he had a notoriously violent swing. He was selective, but not overly aggressive. He was not a hacker. As we know from ex-players like Joe Morgan and Billy Beane, a lot of old ballplayers think quite differently about the game now than what they did back then. Joe Morgan is notorious for his stubbornly held views about run production and Billy Beane reached epiphany, realizing why he was such a horrible talent. It may be that Crowley has bought into the perception of himself being the free swinging buck who was very much aggressive at the plate. Why he would teach this to others? I have no clue as he was a pretty average ballplayer with a 104 lifetime OPS+.

Next Time
The next segment will analyze Crowley's affect during his first stint with the Orioles. This will include several sub-studies. The first one will be discerning whether the team as a whole was more or less aggressive than MLB as a whole. After that we will compare his affect on inexperienced players and experienced players as well as free agents. It will be interesting to see if he has designed his team to be selective, but target contact.

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