More pitches per plate appearance equals more runs - - true or false?

March 21, 2006
Gotcha!  Interestingly, it turns out to be true and false.
Conventional wisdom for hitters is to be patient at the plate, work the count, see a lot of pitches and tire out the pitcher.  Does this hold up when looking at the stats?  We looked at team data to research this one and figured up team pitches seen per plate appearance.  The team leaders last year:
2005 Team Pitches Seen per Plate Appearance
Boston  3.86
Oakland 3.86
Cincinnati 3.85
Philadelphia 3.84
LA Dodgers 3.84
The three lowest:
Tampa Bay 3.61
Chi Cubs 3.61
San Francisco 3.56
Boston and Oakland at the top.  These are the two teams known to strongly believe in on-base percentage.  It's not a surprise to see them there.
In order to evaluate how pitches per plate appearance match up with runs scored, we grouped the teams into three groups of 10:  The 10 teams with the most pitches per plate appearance, the 10 teams with the least, and the 10 in between.   How do the average runs scored for each group of 10 come out?
Pitches Seen Per Plate Appearance compared to Runs Scored - 2005
Team Grouping Average Runs
Top 10 teams - most pitches seen per plate appearance 776
Middle 10 teams 738
Bottom 10 teams 719
The chart makes it clear: the teams whose hitters see the most pitches score the most runs, on average.  Our headline question is true.
Now let's look at it from the pitcher's perspective.   Here's a listing of team pitches per plate appearance based on pitches thrown:
2005 Team Pitches Thrown per Plate Appearance
San Francisco 3.86
Chicago Cubs 3.83
Milwaukee 3.82
Oakland 3.79
Texas 3.79
The bottom three:
Detroit 3.65
St. Louis 3.64
Minnesota 3.59
San Francisco and Chicago hitters were at the bottom of the hitters chart.  Now they're at the top of the pitchers chart.  Their hitters don't like to stay in to see a lot of pitches, while their pitchers throw the most pitches per plate appearance.  At first glance you would think this would be a terrible combination, and neither team wound up having a good win-loss record last year.  But let's do our 10-team groupings again and see what we get.
Pitches Thrown Per Plate Appearance compared to Runs Scored - 2005
Team Grouping Average Runs
Top 10 teams - most pitches thrown per plate appearance 725
Middle 10 teams 749
Bottom 10 teams 759
Amazingly, this chart comes out the opposite for pitchers.  While seeing a lot of pitches is a good thing for hitters, it's not necessarily a bad thing for pitchers to throw a lot of pitches.  It seems like a conundrum, but here's one reason why this happens: strikeouts.  Strikeouts lead to high numbers of pitches per plate appearance.  Hitters who strikeout often are generally power hitters.  Power hitters generate more runs than other hitters.  Pitchers who strike out batters are power pitchers.  Power pitchers are generally more effective than other pitchers.
The answer to the headline question is true and false.  Did anyone get that?  I wouldn't have before I looked at this.


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