Lindbergh: How pitch location reveals batter breakouts

From Ben Lindbergh at Grantland on April 30, 2015:

There was nothing auspicious about the box score for Kris Bryant’s big-league debut. Bryant, the former second-overall draft pick and reigning best prospect in baseball, broke in on April 17 after a seven-game, .679-slugging-percentage service-time sequestration at Triple-A Iowa. And with the eyes of every non-blacked-out MLB.TV subscriber upon him, the 23-year-old went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts against Padres starter James Shields and reliever Dale Thayer in Chicago’s 5-4 loss, spawning hundreds of almost identical Twitter jokes about the phenom being a bust.

In the same game, extremely un-hyped Cubs second baseman Jonathan Herrera went 1-for-2 with a single and a sacrifice bunt. By Win Probability Added, Herrera’s performance helped the Cubs almost exactly as much as Bryant’s hurt them, increasing their odds of winning by 18.5 percent while Bryant sapped them by 18.6 percent.

But it was only a matter of time until Bryant outhit Herrera. Not much time, as it turns out: Less than two weeks later, Bryant is batting .318/.455/.409 to Herrera’s .235/.257/.294. Let’s assume for a second, though, that we hadn’t known Bryant’s backstory or been aware that Herrera was a 30-year-old middle infielder with a career 69 OPS+. How might we have been able to tell that Bryant was a better player after one game, without even watching?

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Originally published: April 30, 2015. Last Updated: April 30, 2015.