Adjusting For Opponent In The 2011 MLB Season

CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 04: Jay Bruce #32 of the Cincinnati Reds celebrates with teammates after driving in the winning run in the Reds 3-2 victory over the Houston Astros at Great American Ball Park on May 4, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

People love baseball statistics. People have always loved baseball statistics, but people might love baseball statistics now more than ever. Maybe because there's such a broad selection that everybody is free to pick whichever numbers they want. It doesn't matter if batting average and wins don't appeal to you anymore. The people who love batting average and wins can stick with batting average and wins, and the people who don't can opt for anything from wOBA to UZR to OPS+. Mankind loves choices.

As we've come to better understand different ways of analyzing the game, we've also come to better understand the need to adjust our statistics for a number of different variables. The most obvious is ballpark environment. We know that we can't just compare someone's numbers in San Diego to someone's numbers in Colorado without making some kind of adjustment. Another is overall league context. If offense is up, or if offense is down, then this context must be considered when talking about what a player's statistics mean.

There are a few of these variables for which we usually remember to adjust. But there's one that still doesn't get the attention it deserves, and that's the quality of one's opponents. Players and teams don't face the same opponents over the course of a season. Some will face tougher opponents, and some will face easier opponents, and this will have an effect on the final numbers. But still, few people pay this any mind, which is weird since it's such an obvious thing to consider.

To be honest, the biggest obstacle might be that opponent quality statistics are almost impossible to find. It's hard to talk about something if you don't know where to find the data. Thankfully, Baseball Prospectus exists. There, they present data on which hitters and pitchers have faced the easiest and toughest opposition. And so to give you a taste, I'm going to present four 2011 leader boards.

Hitters who have faced the easiest opposition

(1) Jay Bruce, .753 OPS allowed by opposing pitchers
(2) Joey Votto, .752
(3) Kosuke Fukudome, .747
(4) Brandon Phillips, .746
(5) Drew Stubbs, .745
(6) Jonny Gomes, .743
(7) Paul Janish, .742
(8) Aramis Ramirez, .737
(9) Marlon Byrd, .735
(10t) Geovany Soto, .732
(10t) Brandon Inge, .732

Six Reds, four Cubs, and a Tiger. Related fact: the Reds and Cubs have played a lot of games against the Diamondbacks.

Hitters who have faced the toughest opposition

(1) Adam LaRoche, .654
(2) Wilson Ramos, .660
(3) Ian Desmond, .663
(4) Jayson Werth, .665
(5t) Jerry Hairston, .671
(5t) Danny Espinosa, .671
(7t) Ike Davis, .672
(7t) Yorvit Torrealba, .672
(9) Mitch Moreland, .676
(10t) Alex Rios, .678
(10t) Paul Konerko, .678

It's a leader board topped by seven Nationals. The Nationals have the lowest team OPS in the National League, but at least they have the excuse that they've played three-fifths of their games against the NL's four best pitching staffs. Things won't stay this bad. Or maybe they will. We're going to need to make a Phillies adjustment.

Pitchers who have faced the easiest opposition

(1) Wade Davis, .678 OPS for opposing batters
(2) Jeff Niemann, .689
(3t) Phil Coke, .695
(3t) R.A. Dickey, .695
(5) Bruce Chen, .699
(6t) C.J. Wilson, .701
(6t) Ricky Romero, .701
(8t) Rick Porcello, .705
(8t) Colby Lewis, .705
(10t) Brandon McCarthy, .706
(10t) Jeff Francis, .706
(10t) Jeremy Hellickson, .706

Of Wade Davis' eight starts, seven have been against the Orioles, White Sox and Twins. His 23/22 strikeout-to-walk ratio isn't the only reason to be concerned about what's to come. Also, a fun fact: Despite the ease of Jeff Niemann's schedule, he has a 65 ERA+. Whoops!

Pitchers who have faced the toughest opposition

(1) J.A. Happ, .770
(2) Brad Bergesen, .768
(3) Brandon Beachy, .767
(4t) Brett Myers, .765
(4t) Ian Kennedy, .765
(4t) Tim Stauffer, .765
(7) Barry Enright, .763
(8) Javier Vazquez, .761
(9) Wandy Rodriguez, .760
(10) Clayton Richard, .759

Another reason why Brandon Beachy is amazing. And a potential reason why J.A. Happ hasn't yet turned into Cliff Lee. Keep on keepin' on, Astros fans.

So there you go. If you're ever interested in quality of opponent statistics down the road, be sure to check out Baseball Prospectus, because their numbers are updated daily. And don't forget to take this into consideration when you're talking about a player's performance. While most players' opponents end up roughly averaging out over time, at the extremes it can still make a pretty big difference.

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