by Matt Spiegel
Host, MCNEIL AND SPIEGEL ON 670 THE SCORE
Sunday Baseball Columnist, THE DAILY HERALD
I was first cognizant conceptually about the patience of great hitters via Wade Boggs, who famously almost never swung at the first pitch. A lifetime .415 OBP for a non-power hitter isn’t bad. But familiarity with a favorite offensive stat, Pitches per Plate Appearance (P/PA) has enriched my understanding of discipline and its effects.
When we hear phrases like “wait for his pitch,” or “work the count,” we assume what the goal usually is. The hitter wants to gain control of the at bat, force the pitcher to bend to his will and throw him something he can drive. Guessing fastball, and getting one, in a fastball count can lead to a lot of well hit balls.
But by taking a lot of pitches, many other peripheral benefits come. You might walk. The pitcher has to show you more of his arsenal, letting you and other teammates gain comfort and knowledge. And he may tire earlier, leading to decreased velocity and/or an early exit.
Look at the top ten in P/PA in the National League, and you’ll find some of the season’s best hitters. Shin-Soo Choo. Paul Goldschmidt. Joey Votto. Justin Upton. Matt Carpenter. You’ll also find some prolific strikeout guys. Dan Uggla. Jay Bruce and Pedro Alvarez are just outside the top ten. “Three true outcome” hitters make these leaderboards often. Mike Napoli, Adam Dunn, and Mark Reynolds top the A.L. list.
There of course have been, and are, free swingers who got on base a lot. Vlad Guerrerro and Kirby Puckett come to mind. Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran are in the bottom ten of P/PA in the NL in 2013.
But overall, the more pitches you see, the more chances you have to get one you can crush. And a lot of other good things can happen.
Team-wise, the effect of several hitters like this in a lineup can be enormous. Starting pitchers leave earlier. Vulnerable 7th and 8th inning relievers get used more over the course of a series and season.
3 of the top 6 teams in P/PA in MLB would make the playoffs if the season ended today; Boston, Oakland, and Pittsburgh. 8 of the top 12 teams have winning records.
Courtesy of Beyond The Boxscore (http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2013/4/24/4243578/do-teams-who-see-more-pitches-win-more-often-and-perform-better), we can look at the decade between 2002 and 2012. The average P/PA for a team was 3.79. There were 84 teams that averaged 3.85 P/PA or above in that span. Their average win total was 84.
The Red Sox and Yankees have both finished in the top 3 each of the last 3 years in team P/PA, which isn’t a surprise if you’ve watched one of their 4 hour games. They’ve both also been decent offenses to emulate. The Yankees this year though have struggled; they sit 23rd in runs scored, and not coincidentally 19th in P/PA.
Last year the Cubs were 25th in MLB with 3.77 P/PA. This year, they’re 16th with 3.82.
We know Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer want the Cubs as a group to see more pitches, but we don’t know how fast the team can improve.
But we do know why they want it.