July 15, 2016

Houston pulls the ball

by Daniel Conmy

A couple days ago, I looked into Colby Rasmus, the league's most extreme hitter. Rasmus is a member of the Houston Astros and they are a fascinating team. The Astros have stormed back into the AL West race and stormed into a playoff push for the second half. They were picked by many projection systems as the winners of the AL West and they possibly can do that after a very sluggish start to their season. So, what has led to their success? It's likely scoring more runs than the other teams more often than not, but that's not the type of analysis we are going to do today. Instead, we are just going to look at how much they pull the ball.

Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, is a very interesting park given they have a high wall in left field that is very close to the field, giving right-handed hitters who pull the ball a short porch. Balls go to die given that Tal's hill is a very long way from home plate. With that in mind, let's look at how much players pull the ball.

Name Pull% Cent% Oppo%
Colby Rasmus 55.1% 26.7% 18.2%
Evan Gattis 50.6% 32.4% 17.1%
Marwin Gonzalez 48.5% 30.0% 21.5%
Luis Valbuena 48.4% 27.7% 23.9%
Carlos Gomez 47.0% 29.3% 23.8%
Jose Altuve 43.9% 36.1% 19.9%
Jake Marisnick 42.7% 30.3% 27.0%
Tyler White 41.8% 35.3% 23.0%
George Springer 41.3% 37.5% 21.2%
Carlos Correa 38.5% 33.2% 28.3%
Jason Castro 38.3% 37.4% 24.4%

These are batters on Houston with at least 100 plate appearances on the year. What we see is a lot of high pull rates. This is usually the norm when it comes to batters. It is easier to pull the ball, but the Astros lead the next team by 1.7 percent. As a team, the Astros pull the ball 44.7 percent of the time when they make contact in the field of play. That's great and all, but does this strategy work? You can argue any strategy works if you perfect it. Within this case and the case with the major leagues, pulling the ball is beneficial when those balls are in the the air. If they are in the air, then there is a chance that the ball goes over the fence. This is where the Astros struggle a little too much. Houston hits the ball in the air 34.4 percent of the time which is 13th best in the MLB. In the last 30 days, the Astros have pulled the ball 47.8 percent of the time, but even less in the air than the 2016 average.

This is not to propose that if they continue to pull the ball even more, they will have more success. This is more a note about the aspects of their field and the players they've decided to scout and bring to their team. Also of note, not all of these hitters are right-handed and, therefore, do not get the same advantages of a short porch on pulled balls. Dustin Pedroia has made a living peppering balls off the Green Monster and Wade Boggs did before him (albeit Boggs was a Hall of Fame player and a left-hander) it would be foolish if the Astros did not take advantage of their home field. After all, they play 81 games a season there.

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