Or "Fooling around with numbers to get nowhere"
Fangraphs did a nice little article yesterday on how Gio Gonzalez absolutely destroys the opposing team's pitchers when they come up to bat. This is something we noticed last year (and now I'm kicking myself for not following up) and can by itself explain why Gio took a step up to the top tier last season. As the author says, this is simply demonstrative, and it isn't meant to be dismissive of Gio. He pitches in the National League. You have to pitch to pitchers. To do that better than anyone else is a very good skill to have.
It did raise a question for me though. What if Gio pitched better to bad hitters and worse to good ones?
Now I hear you. OF COURSE that is going to be the case. Better hitters are better. Worse hitters are worse. But what I'm saying is what if he dominates the bad hitters more than the usual pitcher and gets hit harder by the good hitters than the usual pitcher as compared to their own baseline pitching. In that case Gio would bode poorly as a playoff pitcher (in a very broad general sense and against his own high level - it's not like you'd rather have Wang out there) because you usually face better hitters in the playoffs and while every pitcher would get hit a little harder, he'd tend to get hit even a little harder than that. You follow?
So I compared the baseline OPS given up by an NL pitcher last year to the OPS given up by batting order position and the did the same for Gio. Did I find anything to be worried about? Maybe...but probably not.
Overall, unsuprisingly the best hitters are 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th. (although this is bad planning because your 6th hitter will get up less than your 1st or 2nd - it's not really killing anything. As we've gone over, lineup construction has a surprisingly small effect on scoring). Gio has about the same ratio of "BOP OPS" (batting order position OPS) to overall OPS as the NL as a whole
3rd NL : 1.14 Gio : 1.10
5th NL : 1.05 Gio : 1.02
6th NL : 1.04 Gio : 0.98
Clean-up hitters do hit Gio harder than his baseline in comparison to the rest of the NL (NL : 1.13, Gio : 1.27) but given what we see above it doesn't seem indicative of anything. (A Note here - Gio's baseline of .582 is so much better than the NL's of .721 that even though #4 hitters hit him relatively harder, they still hit him a lot less than they do the rest of the NL. OPS NL : .818 OPS Gio : .739)
What about the rest of the lineup? Well here's where things are a little kooky. Gio dominates pitchers like none other but he also is a LOT better at facing #2 and #7 hitters.
2nd NL : 1.00 Gio : 0.74
7th NL : 1.01 Gio : 0.70
9th NL : 0.64 Gio : 0.39
But he's a LOT worse at getting out leadoff hitters and #8 guys.
1st NL : 0.98 Gio : 1.46
8th NL : 0.94 Gio : 1.20
What the hell does this all mean? Well I'm not sure. I could say that he's bearing down on the pitcher spot so much that he's actually hurting himself in the 8th and 1st spots. But then what's up with #2 and #7?
Really I don't want to say anything yet. There is some noise we have to get rid of here. Are there more lefties in the 2nd and 7th spots than in your average spots? More righties in leadoff and 8th spots? Are these spots specifically bad/good in the NL East? That could explain some of it. Or it could be just yearly fluctuation. Each position is roughly 1/9th of the batters Gio faces. That's not even a month worth of pitching. You wouldn't (well... you shouldn't) get overly excited by a month of good/bad pitching, so there's no reason to get excited by what we see here. If you asked me right now, that's what I would assume right now. It's nothing. A fluke of the limited data.
This is something to look at over the course of the year. It'll probably go away, or at least be really diminished by the time the season finishes up. If not, well then we can debate what it actually means and if whatever we decide really means anything in a practical sense because Gio's baseline is much better than the NL's baseline.