I’ve long believed that most fans vastly underestimate the impact of randomness and luck on results in baseball, both on a team level and on an individual level. We’ve all seen a player have a great at-bat and absolutely smoke a line drive – but right at a defender. Conversely, we’ve all seen a batter swing at three pitches outside the zone, just to (barely) make contact on the third one and have the ball land softly on the grass in between an infielder and an outfielder. Well, I’m of the mind those things happen to varying extents far more often than most people realize, which is why I love “expected” statistics.
For example, we all (hopefully) agree that hitting a line drive is better than hitting a pop-up or a soft ground ball. We also know that drawing a walk is good while striking out is bad. What if we had a stat that graded players based on those things instead of whether or not a ball rolled to a stop on grass somewhere? I.e., measured how good of an at-bat they had – line drives and walks are rewarded, while toppers, pop-ups, and strikeouts accrue penalties?
That is expected weighted on-base average, or xwOBA: The quality of the AB is graded rather than the result. The important part of this is that we can – to a certain extent – see which players have had better ABs than their results suggest, and which players may have been the beneficiaries of good luck so far by comparing their expected results to their actual results.
To that end, let’s take a look at the Yankees to see who’s been on the wrong and right ends of good fortune so far in 2022, and with that, perhaps get a better idea of how the rest of the season will go as luck has a tendency to even out over 162 games.
The unluckiest hitter so far in 2022 on the Yankees has been Kyle Higashioka. In fact, the difference between Higgy’s wOBA and xwOBA is the 12th largest among 312 qualified MLB hitters, so he’s been one of the unluckiest hitters in MLB. This might (“might”) mean that as much as we all love seeing Jose Trevino behind the plate, maybe we shouldn’t give up on Higgy too soon. Yet, somewhat ironically, Trevino has been even more unlucky than Higgy, but doesn’t have enough PA to qualify. Either way, that’s good news as the Yankees should expect better results from the catcher position as the season wears on.
The biggest beneficiary of good fortune on the team thus far has been Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Although to be fair, his expected results and actual results haven’t been enormously different, so we can expect a slight regression, but nothing drastic. If you’re curious, Tim Locastro and Marwin Gonzalez have been even more fortunate than IKF, but don’t have enough PA to qualify.
Of note, of the 312 MLB players with enough PA to qualify, after Higgy, Joey Gallo has been the 27th unluckiest batter, while Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres come in at 63rd and 64th respectively.
On a team level, the Yankees have the best xwOBA in MLB, and they have the fourth largest disparity between their actual results and their expected results – i.e., even though the results have been good, they’ve actually been better in the batters’ box than their results suggest.
To be fair, the Yankees have faced weaker competition than just about every team so far, and it’s a LOT easier to have good at-bats against bad pitchers than good ones. And before you start typing nasty things to me, that’s not a criticism – opponents can’t be chosen and the Yankees have played well – but it is a reality not to be dismissed.
Is all the above a prophecy? No, of course not. There are always other variables, and all players go through hot and cold streaks. But it can be useful information, and at the very least, interesting information.
Did I miss something? Let me know.
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