Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Team Hitting Personalities

One of the fantastic things about being a baseball Fan today is the amazing amount of data we have available to us. Would you like to know who saw the most pitches per plate appearance last year in the American League? Sure. It was Kevin Youkilis (Nick Swisher was second). Organizations like Retrosheet and data collectors like and other sites like FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus give us just about everything you ever wanted to know about what happened at a game. Considering all of this, the Fan wanted to know if you could gauge a team's hitting personality by looking at the statistics. Sure, some teams hit more homers, some have higher On Base Percentages. But does it go beyond that and can the data even show us a team's hitting philosophy?

The Fan was pondering this question and came across a database with the unwieldy name of, "2009 American League Pitches Batting." This database collects information about teams and individuals and what they do with the pitches thrown their way. It's quite fascinating. Click here if you want to see it for yourself. The Fan started with the American League and a couple of things jumped out of the database that seemed to provoke some hypotheses.

First, the Fan wanted to see if the numbers showed any difference of approach between the Red Sox and the Yankees. And there seems to be a difference. Both strive for high On Base Percentage and wearing the starting pitcher down. But the subtle difference seems to be found in two stats. First, the Red Sox (along with the Angels) had by far the lowest percentage of swinging at the first strike in 2009. Those two teams along with this year's Mariners, again are way below the average when it comes to swinging at the first strike. This smacks the Fan into thinking those numbers indicate a team philosophy and emphasis.

The Yankees swing at more first pitch strikes, but they also had the highest percentage in 2009 in striking out looking. And this year is the same thing, except it's incredibly higher than everybody's percentage. The hypothesis here is that the Yankees emphasize waiting for the right pitch to swing at. In other words, they try to work the count with the philosophy of getting a good pitch to hit. For further indications of this philosophy, the Yankees had the lowest swinging strike percentage last year and the same is true this year. In other words, when they finally do swing, they don't miss what they are swinging at.

The Rangers, on the other hand, are aggressive in their approach. In 2009, the Rangers had the highest percentage of swinging at the first strike and also the highest swinging strike percentage. This year, those numbers are about the same and are only topped by the Blue Jays who have either changed their personality from last year, or more likely, have different players at several positions that have different approaches from the more patient 2009 Blue Jays.

What about the National League? One team that jumped out was the Giants. They struggled on offense last year and part of the reason seems to be that like Texas, the Giants are more aggressive than the rest of the teams. They had the fewest 3-0 counts (by quite a margin). They had the highest percentage of pitches swung at at 50%. The rest of the league averaged 45%. And they tied the Cubs for the highest percentage in the National League of swinging at the first strike. The Giants are doing better this year in all those categories but this year (so far) they have the lowest pitches per plate appearance in the National League.

The Mets apparently liked putting the ball in play. They had the fewest (by a lot) swinging strike percentage and the highest contact percentage. That this was an organizational philosophy was confirmed by the stories that came out concerning their deposed front office guy (whose name is beyond the Fan's grasp). Not surprisingly, after the man's ouster, the Mets don't have the lowest percentage in either category this year.

The Rockies easily led the league in pitches per plate appearance at 3.99. The closest were the Marlins and Dodgers at 3.88 pitches per plate appearance. That number is way down so far this year (3.66).

It's all interesting. It may bore you to tears. And that's fine. But for a stat rat like the Fan, it's Nirvana.

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