Locked In: The Most Value-Added at-Bat of Opening Week
Upon getting his first up-close look at his new center fielder, new Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa claimed he possessed some “Mike Trout-type talents.”
La Russa wasn’t alone. Former White Sox star and Hall of Famer Frank Thomas has called Luis Robert a “six-tool player.” The Cuban phenom has already had his share of productive at-bats this season, posting a raw value+ of 124 and a BIP+ of 181 while hitting safely in six of his seven games entering Thursday.
But Robert is worthy of further recognition for the only home run he’s hit so far in 2021. His five-pitch plate appearance that led to a two-run shot in Tuesday’s 10-4 win over the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park is our MVA (most value-added) at-bat of opening week.
Each week, we’ll dig into the data to find who had some of wildest hits, whiffs, home runs and at-bats. Some of those might include the craziest BIP+ hit, the worst swing and miss, the hit with the lowest probability of contact, the most unlikely home run and, of course, the best at-bat in terms of the most value-added.
So how did Robert come away with the first MVA at-bat award? We used raw value, which is essentially a cumulative measure of performance over each pitch of an at-bat instead of simply the end result, to calculate the total value added in each plate appearance.
For example, a batter gets credit for making good decisions and dinged for making bad ones (discipline+) on each pitch, a value for whether he’s able to make contact on his swing (contact+) and credit for how much damage he’s able to do once he makes contact (BIP+). Using all three of those aspects, we can measure how much value a player adds to his offensive line in a single at-bat.
With a man on first and one out in the top of the fifth inning, the best overall plate appearance of the first week of the season started out with Seattle left-hander Nick Margevicius getting a called strike on a pitch that appeared to be just off the plate. Because the average outcome of a swing on this pitch is worse than a take, Robert received a positive value to open the at-bat.
On the second offering, Robert got a pitch he could handle but he just missed a big hit down the right field line as it sliced foul. It was a pitch up in the zone that a great many players would punish. As a result, he ended up with a negative value on the pitch while falling into a hole in the at-bat.
In the following clip of the third pitch, Margevicius tries to get a chase on a higher-than-high fastball. It’s a textbook 0-2 pitch that has a very high whiff percentage, but Robert manages to foul it straight back to pick up a good amount of value by fighting it off.
And on the ensuing offering below, Margevicius comes back with a curveball that’s put in a good location with a late drop off the plate. It’s not only a strong take by Robert on a pitch that again has a high whiff percentage but it’s also a good sign in terms of his development considering he finished 2020 with a discipline+ of 79 – well below the league average of 100.
Below, Robert battles his way back after being down 0-2 in impressive fashion and gets a gift for his efforts. The young slugger takes advantage of a mistake from Margevicius, crushing a hanging breaking ball for his 12th career home run in 61 games. Robert ended up with a well above-average BIP+ of 145 over 56 during his rookie season.
Here, he racks up a positive value for his decision to swing, his ability to make contact and, of course, major points in BIP+ for his two-run homer that breaks a 3-3 tie.
It leads to both a White Sox winner on Tuesday and a Robert winner in Week 1.
Data modeling and analysis by Lucas Haupt.