Tag Archives: Pinch-hitting

NPB managers and pinch-hitters

Having examined what happens when individual batters come off the bench to hit in NPB, and knowing that pinch-hitters, as a whole, are less productive in that role than they are when taking their regular turn in the batting order.

While the pinch-hitting penalty described by Tom Tango, Mitchel G. Lichtman and Andrew E. Dolphin in “The Book” does not appear to be nearly as extreme in NPB, their advice holds. Because they calculated that pinch-hitters wOBA is .034 less than when they bat in other contexts, they recommend managers only hit for position players using guys off the bench who are significantly better hitters.

Even if the pinch-hitting penalty is only .006 points of OPS2, it would behoove managers to at least use pinch-hitters who are somewhat better, because some managers don’t even do that.

In terms of the OPS2 managers have sacrificed and production gained during the period studied, here are the NPB managers who gotten the most mileage out of pinch-hitting for position players:

ManagerFranchisePH for pos playerPH season OPS2PH OPS2replaced OPS2PH GainPH expected gain
NPB managers with largest average gain in OPS2 when pinch-hitting for positon players from 2002-2018, minimum 200 PH appearances.

The next table gives the 20 managers who’ve replaced one position player with another at least 200 times between 2002 and 2018 and who got the least mileage for their changes.

In these lists, a few managers are given twice — for results with individual teams and for all the teams they managed during this period combined.

Least productive managers when pinch-hitting for position players

ManagerFranchisePH for pos playerPH season OPS2PH OPS2replaced OPS2PH GainPH expected gain
HoshinoT & E total5050.3110.2570.295-0.0380.016
Nashida totalKB & F & E16780.3200.2990.2990.0000.021
NPB's least productive managers from 2002-2018 when pulling a position player for a pinch-hitter, minimum 200 pinch-hit appearances.

So the most successful employer of pinch-hitters in recent years was a playing-manager, Motonobu Tanishige, who often delegated bench decisions to his head coach, Shigekazu Mori, while No. 2 was Hall of Fame manager Akira Ogi, who was manager for only one year during the study, 2005, before his untimely death.

At the bottom of the table is the late Koji Yamamoto, who managed the Lotte Marines before Bobby Valentine took over the reins in 2004. Another Hall of Fame manager, Senichi Hoshino, finishes second worst with the Rakuten Eagles, and third worst for his time with both the Hanshin Tigers and Eagles combined.

And then there are the managers who’ve chosen, on average to replace position players with pinch-hitters of lesser value. The good news for Marines fans is that while Iguchi made some ostensibly dreadful choices last season, they did not hurt his club, since the pinch-hitters exceeded anyone’s expectations — except perhaps the skippers’.

Silly pinch-hitting choices

ManagerFranchisePH for pos playerPH season OPS2PH OPS2replaced OPS2PH GainPH expected gain
Recent NPB managers who've used pinch-hitters of lower quality than the players they've batted for.

NPB and the pinch-hitting penalty

In “The Book”, Tom Tango, Mitchel G. Lichtman and Andrew E. Dolphin estimated that hitters coming off the bench to pinch-hit do not perform up to their expected levels. They calculated a .034 average drop in wOBA for hitters from their season norms when pinch-hitting, and found no evidence of pinch-hitting specialists who were even as good as in their other plate appearances.

If this is part of the nature of the game, such as the platoon differential, then it should manifest itself in Nippon Professional Baseball as well. While the evidence suggests pinch-hitters do lose something coming off the bench in Japan, the drop in performance does not appear to be anywhere near as severe as the effects Tango, Lichtman and Dolphin observed in their major league data.

NPB as a whole

Because I don’t have the tools to compute wOBA for players in Japan prior to 2017, I’m opting for the poor-man’s substitute, OPS2, calculated as: on-base percentage x 2 + slugging average ) / 3.

This allows me to look at all seasons for which we have results for each plate appearance. My current data set has every regular season plate appearance in NPB from 2002 to 2019.

For simplicity’s sake we’ll omit the current season and look at 2002 to 2018. During this stretch, 47,499 players were announced as pinch-hitters and 46,848 of those actually completed a plate appearance.

Those batters had an average OPS2 of .313 in all their plate appearances in seasons, and a .308 OPS2 as pinch-hitters, a drop in expected performance of about 1.8 percent.

Individual variation

During the 18-year span from 2002 to 2018, eight players had 300 or more pinch-hit plate appearances, discounting sacrifice bunts, which don’t count for anything in OPS2.

Two of the eight were somewhat better as pinch-hitters during the period of the study, and one, Kenji Yano, was significantly better. In 390 pinch-hitting appearances in which he didn’t successfully sacrifice, he posted an OPS2 of .363. In all other PAs, his OPS2s during the study was .342.

Five batters were worse as pinch-hitters to the tune of .001 to .010, while one batter, Shinjiro Hiyama was far worse. Hiyama had 607 pinch-hit appearances, the most in the study. During those seasons in which he appeared as a pinch-hitter, Hiyama posted a .360 OPS2 as a regular, .315 as a pinch-hitter.

So this doesn’t refute the claim that there is a cost to pinch-hitting, it does open the door for the possibility that some batters in some circumstances have an affinity for it – which Tango, Lichtman and Dolphin rejected.

As for how different NPB managers have fared in their use of pinch-hitters for position players, that info is HERE (paid content alert).