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A Few Inches On Pinch Hitting

The Brewers used a lot of pinch hitters in 2012, but can we learn anything from their results?


The Brewers enter the 2013 season with a fair amount of uncertainty on their bench, but if recent history is any indication the players who end up there are going to see a lot of action in the coming months. Brewer pinch hitters made 315 plate appearances in 2012, the second highest total in all of baseball:

Mets 323 .742
Brewers 315 .627
Cardinals 279 .532
Padres 278 .707
Cubs 273 .668

This is one of the easiest ways to highlight the differences between the National and American League games. The bottom 14 teams on the above list represent the entire AL. The Royals are 30th, having used just 59 pinch hitters all season. As an AL team in 1988 the Brewers used just 38.

The Brewers' .627 team OPS pinch hitting looks ugly, but was only a little below the .655 NL average. Brewer pinch hitters did lead the league with 42 RBI, but hit just four home runs and posted a batting line roughly comparable to the career marks of Cesar Izturis.

So who were these Brewer pinch hitters? These six players accounted for 191 of the aforementioned 315 PAs:

Travis Ishikawa 54 .260 .315 .340 .655
Nyjer Morgan 38 .194 .237 .278 .515
George Kottaras 27 .273 .407 .545 .953
Taylor Green 26 .143 .308 .429 .736
Norichika Aoki 24 .409 .435 .409 .844
Carlos Gomez 22 .300 .333 .550 .883

I'm showing you this list for two reasons:

  • Turnover. It's definitely worth noting that the Brewers' three most-used pinch hitters from 2012 are no longer in the organization. In fact, 180 of the 315 pinch hit plate appearances in 2012 came from eleven players that aren't with the team anymore.
  • Small sample size. Exactly one 2012 Brewer made more than 50 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, and only two made more than 30. Being able to hit off the bench is almost certainly a skill, but the numbers we use to attempt to identify that skill are often more noise than signal. Even when you combine all 25 players who made a pinch hit appearance in 2012, you still get a sample size of roughly half of a single position player's full major league season.

Continuing on the second point, Craig Counsell is the only player in Brewer franchise history with over 200 pinch hitting plate appearances (he has 207). There are only four others over 100 (Mike Hegan, Charlie Moore, Bill Hall and Gabe Gross).

So I guess we can break down my conclusion into three parts:

  • Pinch hitting is kind of important and even more important for the Brewers, who used pinch hitters a lot in 2012.
  • Most of the pinch hitters the Brewers used in 2012 aren't going to be with the team in 2013.
  • Being able to pinch hit effectively probably is a skill, but it's not one we can easily measure.

This post may or may not have been useful at all.