Bigbie and the Bat

The new #2 hitter?

One odd stat about the Cardinals' new left fielder leads to more.

Dave Studeman's report in The Hardball Times on Thursday noted that Larry Bigbie has hit just one infield fly in his entire career.

I can't even fathom that. Does it mean there might be some unusual bat control in the person of Mr. Bigbie? Or, does it mean that he just makes a lot of ground ball outs?

Perhaps others more inclined will drill down into this seriously, but I did a quick, superficial look at the numbers. There are some other potentially-interesting stats here.

I will start with ground balls and come back to fly balls.

Ground into double play (GIDP)

In 1,339 career total plate appearances (TPA) to-date, Bigbie hit 511 ground balls. Of them, just 14 resulted in a double play. That is just over 1.0% of all his plate appearances.

For this back of the envelope analysis, I selected the guys who hit in the #2 hole much of last year, Jim Edmonds and Larry Walker, for comparison. Bigbie seems to avoid the double play better than either one of them. In 2005, Edmonds ground into a double play in 1.1% of his plate appearances (1.4% career), while Walker's rate was 2.5%, one of the poorer season marks of his 17 years as a major leaguer (1.9% career).

A likely competitor for Bigbie in the #2 hole is Junior Spivey. Not surprisingly given his speed, Spivey has ground into only 30 double plays in his career. However, they represent 1.7% of his plate appearances, a rate significantly more frequent than Bigbie.

While Bigbie's speed has been characterized as only slightly above average, it appears he is able to better avert the worst possible result when at the plate – two outs from one at-bat – than the three comparison players.

With 14 GIDPs in 511 career grounders, Bigbie's rate of GIDPs/ground ball of 2.7% is less than half the rate of Spivey (5.8%), Edmonds (5.7%) or Walker (5.6%) over their careers, despite all of these players being considered good baserunners.

This is another supporting point for the assertion that when Bigbie does hit the ball on the ground, he doesn't seem to make two outs in the process very often.

Ground ball/fly ball ratio (GB/FB)

Bigbie's lifetime ground ball/fly ball ratio is 2.23. Is that good or bad?

Edmonds' career GB/FB ratio is just a tad under one, meaning he has hit slightly more fly balls than grounders, which certainly seems consistent with recent observation. In fact, over the last three years, this has become more pronounced. Since 2003, Edmonds' ratio is less than 0.75, with 127 more fly balls hit than ground balls during that time.

During his playing days, Walker's GB/FB ratio was 1.50. At the end of his career, as a Cardinal, that had jumped up to 1.66. Perhaps Walker was adapting to his home run power waning while battling injuries as his career came to a close. Spivey's career GB/FB mark is at 1.18, pointing out that he probably should try to hit down on the ball more often.

None of the three approach Bigbie's GB/FB ratio. Is that a predilection to the grounder or an aversion to the fly ball on the part of the Cardinals' newest Larry? Or, are they one and the same?

Fly balls

Overall, Bigbie has hit fly balls in 17.1% of his career plate appearances. That compares to 25.1% for Edmonds, 24.5% for Spivey and 22.5% for Walker.

When Bigbie does hit flies, other than them going to the outfield as Studeman points out, what happens with them?

Sacrifice flies (SF)

Of those 229 fly balls Bigbie has lofted, nine of them were sacrifice flies (3.9%). Initially, I thought that looked low, but it isn't.

Career numbers for Spivey (3.0%), Edmonds (3.3%) and Walker (3.6%) are all lower, though I am not sure there is an overwhelming difference. That might indicate that while Bigbie's fly balls are to the outfield, he brings runs home only slightly more frequently as a result.

Another way to look at this is that if Edmonds had maintained Bigbie's 3.9% sac fly ratio over his career instead of 3.3%, it would have meant only 11 more sac flies for Edmonds, or fewer than one per season.

Bigbie as a #2 hitter?

Long before Bigbie came to St. Louis, some observers stated that he is better suited to hit lower in the order where there is less pressure on him.

Does any of the above data support that contention or is there something here that makes Bigbie a more appealing #2 hitter – beyond his obvious left-handedness, that is? On the surface, splitting leadoff man David Eckstein and #3 man Albert Pujols, both right-handed hitters, with a lefty batter has inherent value. But, how suitable is Bigbie?

Bigbie certainly hits a lot of grounders and when he does, he doesn't hit into double plays as often as others. He doesn't hit infield flies. When he hits outfield flies, he doesn't drive home substantially many more runs than others.

Did we lose sight of the main point here?

All things considered, with respect to the selection of the #2 hitter, I suspect the above points are secondary to which player shows he can just hit the darned ball better. After all, the #2 man will make somewhere around 70 more plate appearances over the course of the season than say, the #7 man in the line-up.

In the past, Tony La Russa has proven his preference is to insert his better hitters earlier in the order, whether or not they have demonstrated "traditional #2 hitter skills" (handling the bat, working the count, not striking out, etc.) in the past.

So, let's watch what happens in spring training.

Still, if someone else digs into the numbers a bit deeper, please share your thoughts on our message board.

Source data:

Career TPA SF GIDP GB FB GB/FB
Bigbie 1339 9 14 511 229 2.23
Edmonds 6488 53 91 1610 1627 0.99
Walker 8030 65 152 2714 1808 1.50
Spivey 1785 13 30 515 438 1.18

Career % GB GIDP/GB FB/PA SF/FB
Bigbie 1.0 2.7 17.1 3.9
Edmonds 1.4 5.7 25.1 3.3
Walker 1.9 5.6 22.5 3.6
Spivey 1.7 5.8 24.5 3.0

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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