There are many notions or perceived notions in baseball that are commonly false. For example, pundits throughout time have often suggested that a good hitter provides protection for another good hitter. Studies have been done on this and it is false. Another commonly stated notion, is that seeing a lot of pitches is a good thing. This notion is not only stated by former players, making constant sets of statements based on no evidence or facts, or by TV broadcasters who use a never-ending array of cliché lines, but also by smart sabermetricians.
But is this notion true? Does seeing more pitches really lead to more runs? First and foremost, I want to thank Owen Watson, who on September 30th 2014, came out with an article for The Hardball Times displaying that there is a correlation between seeing pitches and drawing walks (you can find his article here). This is basically where I got the idea for this study. The study was well done, however, I don’t think it was asking the right question. While yes, there is a correlation between seeing pitches and walks, and walks are good, this doesn’t necessarily mean that seeing more pitches leads to more runs or that seeing more pitches is necessarily a good thing. There are other factors that one must consider in order to be able to come to this conclusion (Watson’s article was on pitching efficiency, and I want to make it clear that I’m only focusing on this specific aspect of the article).
For example, the Red Sox in 2014 saw a lot of pitches yet they weren’t one of the top teams when it came to run scoring. Also, the Royals went all the way to the finals last year, and they don’t exactly see a lot of pitches. In fact they’re famous for having a bunch of free swingers on the team. Finally, while getting into deep counts leads to more walks, it’s also very possible that it will lead to more strikeouts. This is what made me question whether seeing more pitches is a good thing. While Watson’s study looked at the correlation between walks and pitches per plate appearance, it ignored several other factors that could contribute to seeing a lot of pitches being counterproductive.
Ok, now let’s get to the fun stuff. The way I constructed this study was rather simple and I basically used the same model Watson did for his study, I just changed the BB% to R/G (runs per game). Below is a chart that examines the correlation between Pit/PA (pitches per plate appearance) and R/G (runs per game) for every team, for the 2014 season. The X-axis represents the teams. Then you will notice two data points on the Y-axis — the blue represents R/G, and the red represents Pit/PA. Oh and if you don’t know what LgA is on the X-axis, that’s the league average.
So there it is. As you might be able to tell there is no real correlation between pitches seen and runs scored. The correlation coefficient, by the way, is R = -0.0486. If you are unfamiliar with correlation coefficients, all you really need to understand is a correlation coefficient of 0 displays no real correlation between the data. The correlation here is slightly negative but it’s too small or too close to zero to really be interpreted as a negative correlation.
You might, at this point, find this data hard to believe. Well, I would ask you to consider this; strikeouts as I’ve already mentioned, and can’t keep mentioning enough, are at an all-time high. Going deeper into counts therefore puts one at a higher risk of getting struck out. This may be one of the explanations for the data above. Also, seeing more pitches means you are wearing the starting pitcher out, meaning you are far more likely to face the bullpen. This is not necessarily a good thing! Bullpen pitchers are better than ever. Facing the bullpen, in today’s game, may actually be counterproductive.
Now let’s consider one final element. This study is not perfect and has a few flaws. Most notably, it only takes into account 2014. This after all may have just been a blip on the radar. I will therefore be looking at more of this data to truly examine whether this data is 100% accurate. I will also take a look at the correlation between pitches seen and K% to get a better and further understanding of whether it is beneficial to see a lot of pitches. I just thought that this data point was simply too interesting not to be shared especially as we head into a new season of baseball. Hopefully this will allow people to be more critical when they are watching the game and listening to pundits speak on TV. Remember, just because someone says something doesn’t mean it is true.