The Pinch Hitting Penalty
Conventional baseball wisdom tells us that players don’t hit as well coming in cold off the bench as they do when they’ve started the game. Andrew Dolphin wrote about this issue for Baseball Prospectus in 2006:
"Indeed, an average hitter being used as a starter will have a wOBA of .341, while an average hitter pinch hitting will have a wOBA of .320. That’s a 21-point drop in wOBA when pinch hitting (or, more precisely, a 6% drop), completely corrected for everything I can think of. For those who have read The Book, this is a familiar result. And indeed, we still find that the largest cause of this is a much higher strikeout rate (23% higher than when starting), though it’s also true that fewer batted balls are hits."
Further, Dolphin points out that this penalty hits pretty much EVERY pinch hitter:
"The current data also confirm the assertion made in The Book that all pinch hitters are equally penalized; there is no such thing as a “pinch hitting specialist” who is expected to hit just as well, or even better, as a pinch hitter than he would as a starter."
Most major league veterans tell you that it’s hard to get into the mental flow of the game after sitting on the bench for hours. Also, they don’t get the benefit of having seen live pitches in their previous at bats. While in many circumstances, pinch hitters will be facing relievers anyway so the third time through the order penalty might not apply, it seems to me that at least seeing pitches probably helps.
If nothing else, a player gets an idea of how the other team is trying to pitch you.
Now, let’s apply Dolphin’s pinch hitting penalty to Tuesday night:
Next: Applying The Pinch Hit Penalty To Cheslor Cuthbert