Relating to baseball fans that are bored this time of year is difficult for this Fan of Major League Baseball. There is the constant speculation about what teams will do to improve themselves. There are manager hires and front office changes. But best of all, there is a full season of stats to pore over and if you love looking at numbers, what could be better than that? The stat this writer is having the most fun with lately is Fangraphs' pitch values. A couple of posts have already been written on the subject over at this writer's other home over at MLBDirt. The focus for those posts was on individual players. Today, the focus shifts to teams.
The thing to love about pitch value stats is that they can really show how good a team's hitters or pitchers are and conversely, how bad. Take the Red Sox offense (which Mr. Valentine will gladly do). There wasn't one pitch type the Red Sox didn't have a positive value against. It didn't matter what you threw the Red Sox, fastballs, curves, sliders, cutters, you name it and they hit it. Other teams like the Cubs could really hit fastballs but couldn't hit sliders. Alfonso Soriano would be their poster child for what was a team problem. And pitch values really underscore how bad an offense the Mariners were or how bad a pitching staff the Orioles were. The statistic can also show why some teams struggle against other teams. While it doesn't always hold true, the Yankees had trouble with the Red Sox in 2011 perhaps in part because their weakest link on offense was hitting the cutter and Boston's pitching staff had more pitch value with the cutter than any other pitch type. It's all fascinating stuff.
What do these numbers tell us? Pitch value is a number given a player and a team in sum for how many runs above average the player or team is against a certain pitch. For more information on how the stat works, click here. The Red Sox, when adding up all the value given all pitch types were 170.7 runs above average on offense, the best in the majors. As mentioned, they had no weaknesses against any pitch type. The Rangers were second at 159.1 runs above average. The Rangers struggled against the curve and the slider and had the best rate in the majors against the fastball. The Yankees were third with 125.3 runs above average. They hit the fastball well and were the best in the majors at hitting sliders. But as mentioned, they weren't good against cutters. The Royals came in a strong fifth and no National League team slides onto the board until the Cardinals come in sixth as the best in the NL.
One thing the statistic tells us is that in 2011, major league batters love them some fastballs. For a league total, MLB batters scored a total of 414.4 runs above average on the fastball. The most devastating pitch in baseball is the slider (or at least it was in 2011 - Fangraphs warns us not to use this stat as a predictive tool). The slider proved to be the bane of hitters and all hitters combined scored a -516.1 runs below average. As mentioned earlier, the Yankees were the best team against the slider and they scored a grand total of 8.7 runs above average against that pitch. The Giants were the worst team hitting the slider followed by the Cubs.
As much as baseball players love hitting the fastball, it then is puzzling how poorly the Mariners hit them. They were by far the worst team against the fastball with a score of -95.1. But then again, the poor Mariners didn't fare well against most pitch types and scored a combined -133.3.
On the pitching side of things, the Phillies had the highest total pitch value, which is really no surprise. The Giants were second followed by the Braves. In fact, the top six teams are all National League teams with the added benefit of facing the pitcher in the batter's box instead of the DH. The Rays scored seventh and were the highest pitch value pitching staff in the American League.
The Orioles had the worst pitching pitch values in baseball. They faced the devastating offenses of the AL East and completely fell apart as a staff. They were an unbelievable -108.8 throwing the fastball. With the Red Sox and Yankees second and third against that pitch in the majors (the Rays were sixth), having the poorest score on fastballs is not a good thing.
For your reading pleasure, the Fan has provided you some picture views of both batting and pitching by teams. Much thanks again goes to Fangraphs for providing this wonderful data and for being so generous in allowing us to export the data and play with it.