King of irrelevant offensive statistics: pitches per plate appearance

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays

By Derek Helling

In every game played in Major League Baseball, each and every pitch is logged by several people in various ways to use in a multitude of statistical applications. Some of these stats are more effective at explaining the success – or lack thereof – of a particular player and/or team than others. The amount of correlation between a certain statistic and a player’s and/or team’s winning performances is usually what makes a particular statistic useful. If that is the measuring stick which statistics are held against, then the average number of pitches seen per plate appearance (Pit/PA) could be considered the least relevant stat kept in baseball today.

The object of a baseball game is to win the game. A team wins the game by outscoring its opponent in the time it takes to record the necessary number of outs. Therefore, runs scored, run differential and winning percentage are three numbers that are of a high priority when evaluating a team.

Considering Pit/PA first on a team basis, the correlations between Pit/PA and the afore-mentioned numbers of importance is very weak. Seven MLB teams currently have Pit/PA numbers which are in the top five of the game.

  • Boston Red Sox 3.97
  • Chicago Cubs 3.97
  • Cleveland Indians 3.92
  • New York Yankees 3.88
  • Los Angeles Dodgers 3.87
  • Oakland Athletics 3.87
  • Seattle Mariners 3.87

These seven teams are all over the runs scored per game (R/G) rankings, however. The highest R/G in this group goes to the Yankees, who are currently second-best in baseball in that category. The A’s and Dodgers are 12th and 14th in R/G. The Indians are 20th, while the Cubs come in at 24th and the Mariners bring up the rear of this group at 27th.

The same thing can be said of these teams when considering run differential. These teams fall in several different spots in the category’s rankings, from the Dodgers at fourth with a run differential of 62 to Seattle, who is tied for 27th with a run differential of -48. As a varied R/G and run differential accurately predict, the winning percentages of this group are also all over the graph (Dodgers .565 to Mariners .452).

The numbers have shown that a high Pit/PA has little correlation with winning, but a low Pit/PA still has to be considered. The current bottom five Pit/PA numbers are shared by 10 teams.

  • Chicago White Sox 3.74
  • Colorado Rockies 3.74
  • San Francisco Giants 3.72
  • Cincinnati Reds 3.72
  • Washington Nationals 3.72
  • Milwaukee Brewers 3.7
  • Philadelphia Phillies 3.7
  • Arizona Diamondbacks 3.68
  • Miami Marlins 3.68
  • Kansas City Royals 3.65

Again, the R/G and run differential rankings of these teams are spread out. Arizona is third in R/G, while the White Sox are dead last in R/G. Kansas City is third in run differential at 64, quite a distance from Philadelphia, which has posted a league-worst -155 run differential. The winning percentages present a great dispersement as well, with the Royals claiming the best in the American League at .607 and the Phillies coming in at .333, the worst in baseball.

Considering this statistic on an individual player basis has shown to be of little use as well. Chris Carter of the Houston Astros currently leads all batters who have made at least 1,300 plate appearances this season in Pit/PA at 4.34. Carter has a .185/.300/.380 slash line. Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is second in Pit/PA at 4.3, boasting a .307/.399/.611 slash line. Seattle’s Robinson Canó is last among qualified batters in Pit/PA at 3.55 with a .254/.292/.387 slash line. Prince Fielder of the Texas Rangers comes in just above Canó in Pit/PA at 3.56, but features a .338/.401/.514 slash line to this point in the season.

Another reason the Pit/PA statistic means little is because of the narrow variance of the statistic itself. From the team league-best 3.97 to the team league-worst 3.65, the difference is a mere 0.32. Putting that in practical terms, fractions of a pitch don’t exist. The Royals are averaging seeing a mere 14 fewer pitches per game than the Red Sox are so far this season, but are outperforming Boston in many offensive categories, in addition to winning at a higher rate.

There are a lot of offensive statistics that can explain a player and/or team’s offensive prowess or struggles, along with predict future difficulty or achievement. Pitches per plate appearance is not one of these statistics. When considering why your favorite player or team is having an All-Star season or plodding through a forgettable campaign, throw Pit/PA out.

You can find Derek on Twitter @dhellingsports and join in the discussion @CTBPod or on our Facebook page.

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