Thursday, January 7, 2016

Pitcher Vs Pitcher

So I’ll admit up front, it’s been a while since my last blog post. The 2015 season review series wrapped up in December with Stephen Strasburg. We got you all caught up on the holiday Hot Stove Nationals’ news on the most recent podcast, plus a bonus year end awards edition. I guess I could blame it on the holidays. It’s always a hectic time. But really, it meant I had more free time than usual, including during my three hour delay spent in O’Hare airport. But no, all excuses aside it’s really because I’ve been binge watching the Netflix series Making a Murderer and that has kept me from writing. I guess it’s just another thing to falsely blame on Steve Avery.

All excuses aside, today’s post takes a look at pitcher versus pitcher match ups. It’s actually an overlooked part of the game, unless you count the yearly debate (usually spurred by a pitcher getting hurt running the bases) of whether the NL should adopt the Designated Hitter. But it truly is a big differentiator between the NL and AL. Obviously it changes managerial strategy, but it has a major impact on pitchers as well. This is the reason why pitchers moving from the AL to the NL are expected to improve, and vice versa, as pitchers in the AL have to face 8 position players plus a DH (theoretically a player whose best attribute is their bat) while pitchers in the NL face 8 position players and the pitcher.

Good teams and good pitchers can take advantage of the fact that the 9th opposing hitter (or 8th if you are facing the Cubs) hits only .130 on average. In 2015, the Nationals were middle of the road in facing opposing pitchers. In the National League, the Nationals rank 6th in batting average allowed with a .122 batting average, although a ways behind the league leading Dodgers who allowed opposing pitchers to hit only .083. The Nationals also ranked 6th in walks given up to pitchers with 8, trailing the league leading Cubs who gave up only three walks to opposing hurlers. Walks to opposing pitchers at bat are bad, but no one was worse in issuing free passes to pitchers in 2015 than the the Rockies who walked the opposing pitcher 19 times, trailing the league as the next closest team allowed only 12 walks.

Among the Nationals starters, the results were mixed. Joe Ross, Stephen Strasburg, and Max Scherzer really took advantage of the weakest hitting members of their pitching fraternity, allowing batting averages of .048, .061, and .083, respectively. Imagine what Strasburg’s first half stats would have looked like had he not been able to get one free out every time through the line up! Strasburg and rotation mate Gio Gonzalez really attacked opposing pitchers, deciding that the best bet was to strikeout opposing pitchers rather than fall victim to a duck snort as a result of an excuse me swing from their counterparts. They struck out pitchers at a 49% rate for Gio and a sky high 54% rate for Strasburg. My guess would be that pitchers really struggle when facing Strasburg’s heat and Gonzalez’s diving curveball, and they were able to take advantage in 2015.

Conversely, Doug Fister’s struggles in 2015 spilled over to his at bats against pitchers as well. He allowed opposing pitchers to hit 70 points better than their average on the year as they hit .207 against Fister. That’s above the Mendoza line and a higher batting average than new Nationals player Stephen Drew hit in 2015! (I guess that might be as much an indictment on Doug Fister as it is on the Nationals pick up of Stephen Drew, but I digress). It’s not so surprising that pitchers hit well against Doug Fister. The last time most pitchers picked up a bat to face live pitching in a real game was likely back in high school. And in 2015, Doug Fister’s pitchers were slower and had less movement than at any point in his career and it probably looked to opposing pitchers a lot like the fastballs they saw in high school.

Dominance against opposing pitchers isn’t a given year in and year out, though. In 2014, the Nationals allowed only a .110 batting average when facing pitchers, so 2015 was really a step back in that regard. Pitchers are getting more and more specialized as pitchers and spending less and less time working on their swing, but they are still freak athletes capable of doing damage with the bat. It's a small part of the game, pitchers hitting, but if baseball truly is a game of inches, it's an area where teams can make up some easy outs.

1 comment:

  1. Just fyi, scroll down to "Q. Nats" That was me asking Tom the question.