Just like skinning a cat, there are numerous ways to measure an at-bat. While likely not as brutal or violent as skinning a cat (oh God what am I writing right now?), some at-bats can look brutal. On the other hand, perhaps akin to rescuing a cat from a kill shelter, some at-bats can be beautiful and joyous. That will be my final sentence on cats for this article.
While the more common, some would say less advanced, measures of an at-bat can be displayed in the box score of a game (HR, RBI, going X for Y, K, BB etc...) there exists in the infinite workings of the internet more advanced stats. Now one can value a measurement more than another and Hawk Harrelson may have his own innate preference. He's not wrong, at least under his own personal belief, on how to judge an at-bat, and you could certainly create your own advanced metric to assess value.
Thankfully many websites have saved you that effort and have created more advanced judgement of an at-bat (note - I'm using at-bat and plate appearances interchangeably here so forgive me, I'm not Ruben Amaro).
In come two of my favorite metrics. WPA and RE24.
Life is about winning, and breaking that down further baseball is about winning. Just as in life, you need to do something to increase your chances of winning or win expectancy. In life you can go to school, get a good degree, get a good job, work hard, and make money (if that's winning to you because generally love isn't all you need actually). In baseball you can develop players who are good at baseball, field those players, and then hopefully win. Otherwise you can also get lucky and win the lottery, or in baseball have the other team drop a foul ball, wild pitch, or any of the other various outcomes that makes the other fan base groan. Either way, to win you need to increase your win expectancy. That's WPA in a nut shell. The percentage that a play increases/decreases a teams win expectancy (WE).
For example, say the Rays have a 45% chance of winning before Ben Zobrist comes to the plate. During his at-bat, Zobrist hits a home run, pushing the Rays' win expectancy jumps to 75%. That difference in win expectancy (in decimal form, +.30) from the beginning of the play to the end is Ben Zobrist's WPA for that play.
Simple enough right?
The other way we'll look at is RE24. This one is a little tougher to grasp, but it's not rocket surgery.
A long time ago Tom Tango wrote what is arguably the bible for sabermetrics called The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball (otherwise known as simply The Book). In that book he used extensive research to create a run expectancy table for given run environments throughout the years of baseball as the run environments changed (which can be viewed here).
Essentially he calculated the average number of runs scored give the 24 base-out states that exist in baseball...hence the name RE24 or Run-Expectancy per the 24 base-out states.
This in essence gives us an idea of the impact of a given event on a per play basis that either increased or decreased the teams chances of scoring a run from one base-out state to another. Those subtle changes make up an individual players RE24 for that event.
For instance, a runner on third with no out should yield 1.433 runs that inning on average. If the batter in that situation were to record an out and not score the runner the teams run expectancy would drop to .989 or a -.44 drop. So the batter would bank -.44 RE24 into his log for the game and then also for the season.
As you would guess, not every situation is the same, so not coming through in higher leverage situation (bases loaded no outs) generally results in a much more dramatic drop (-.76) than lower leverage ones.
With all that being said we can jump straight to the results.
5/18 vs Baltimore, Bottom 5th 2 outs, runners on 1st/3rd, down 2-3
Pitcher: Ubaldo Jimenez
Home run, Norichika Aoki scored. Billy Butler scored.
+.404 WPA (40%)
This would be the first of Gordon's three run home runs this day.
4/29 vs Toronto, Bottom 8th 0 outs, runners on 1st/3rd, down 4-5
Pitcher Brett Cecil
Alex Gordon struck out looking.
So in both the logs Gordon saw his team down by a run with runners on the corner.
4/9 vs Tampa Bottom 5th 2 outs, runners on 1st/2nd, up 4-1
Pitcher Jake Odorizzi
Home run. Eric Hosmer scored. Billy Butler scored.
+2.68 RE24 (RE was 0.41)
4/4 vs White Sox Bottom 6th 0 outs, runners on 1st/2nd, up 7-4
Pitcher Jake Petricka
Grounded into a double play to second. Eric Hosmer advanced to 3B. Billy Butler out at second.
-1.08 RE24 (RE was 1.41)
In the first log Gordon rings the death knell for Tampa and essentially puts the game away.
6/4 vs St Louis Bottom 9th 1 out, runners on 1st/3rd, down 2-1
Pitcher Trevor Rosenthal
Singled to center. Pedro Ciriaco scored. Norichika Aoki advanced to 2B.
+.253 WPA (25%)
The Royals would lose this game in 11 innings.
5/6 vs San Diego Top 9th 1 out, runners on 1st/3rd, tied 1-1
Pitcher Huston Street
Fouled out to first. Alcides Escobar out at home.
-.302 WPA (-30%)
With the chance to bring home the go ahead run, Cain would foul out and Escobar would get tagged out at home trying to tag up.
5/30 vs Toronto Top 8th 2 outs, runner 1st, up 4-1
Pitcher J Happ
Homer run. Billy Butler scored.
+1.87 RE24 (RE was 0.24)
Cain would send this ball into Syracuse.
6/16 vs Detroit Top 2nd 1 out, runners on 1st/2nd, tied 0-0
Pitcher Justin Verlander
Flied out to center. Billy Butler out at third.
-0.95 RE24 (RE was .95)
This was a tough one to figure out. FanGraphs says Butler was out at third, but the ESPN play-by-play says he was doubled off. I'm going to think it was a rundown Butler got caught in or he was doubled off second. Either way, Cain technically gets debited for both outs.
4/29 vs Toronto Bottom 8th 1 out, runners on 1st/3rd, down 4-5
Pitcher Sergio Santos
Doubled to left. Eric Hosmer scored. Jimmy Paredes scored.
+.412 WPA (41%)
Big swing there and the Royals would continue to beat up Santos and Esmil Rogers later that inning and would end up winning 10-7.
5/8 vs Seattle Top 9th 2 outs, runners on 1st/2nd, down 0-1
Pitcher Fernando Rodney
Reached on fielder's choice to shortstop. Eric Hosmer out at second.
-.136 WPA (-14%)
Perez technically reached on a fielder's choice, but the point is moot as Hosmer was the final out of the game. Either way Fernando Rodney does his stupid archery thing.
6/15 vs White Sox Top 3rd 2 outs, runners on 1st/2nd, Up 2-1
Pitcher Andre Rienzo
Home run. Billy Butler scored. Alex Gordon scored.
+2.68 RE24 (RE 0.41)
Perez would smash this home run over I-94 and into Lake Michigan.
4/16 vs Houston Top 1st 0 outs, runners on 1st/2nd, tied 0-0
Pitcher Dallas Keuchel
Grounded into a double play to shortstop. Omar Infante advanced to 3B. Eric Hosmer out at second.
-1.14 RE24 (RE was 1.51)
Tough early go here as Perez makes two outs in one swing and Butler would go on to ground out as well stranding Infante.
4/30 vs Toronto Bottom 7th 2 outs, runners on 1st/3rd, tied 2-2
Pitcher Drew Hutchison
Doubled to left. Jimmy Paredes scored. Salvador Perez scored.
+.307 WPA (31%)
5/29 vs Toronto Top 7th 2 outs, runners on 1st/2nd/3rd, down 6-5
Pitcher Aaron Loup
Alcides Escobar struck out swinging
-.141 WPA (-14%)
Big time hurt here as Escobar would strike out with the bases jammed
5/11 vs Seattle Top 2nd 1 out, runners on 1st/2nd/3rd, tied 0-0
Pitcher Roenis Elias
Home run. Danny Valencia scored. Alex Gordon scored. Lorenzo Cain scored.
+2.72 RE24 (RE was
Escobar would go full on Sexybar here. Befittingly on Mothers Day, Escobar would make the ball his mother then go full on Ptolemy X on it and kill it (too obscure?)
4/17 vs Houston Top 2nd 0 outs, runners on 1st/2nd, Up 2-0
Pitcher Scott Feldman
Grounded into a double play to shortstop. Billy Butler advanced to 3B. Mike Moustakas out at second.
Stay tuned for Pt II.