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Thursday, November 27, 2003

Patience and Its Effects

Interesting article on patience on Baseball Prospectus. Basically, the author concludes that the difference between teams that take alot of pitches (Red Sox, A's) and teams that don't (Devil Rays, Tigers) doesn't really have much effect on wearing out pitchers and causing extra relievers to enter the game. Although this is the reasoning that you'll sometimes hear a manager use when talking about plate discipline. Two comments:

First, I was most impressed by the author's comment which hits the nail on the head:

"If a team's intent is to seize on the minor advantage of facing middle relief, it's important to realize that getting more pitches is never more important than hitting those pitches. And that's what good hitters do: work the count in their favor, so they can reach a favorable hitter's count and whack the ensuing fat pitch. The best-hitting teams are the ones that pile patience together with batting ability. Sounds simple, yet too many teams still struggle with the concept."

In other words, its not overall patience that matters but "patience with a purpose", i.e. to hit cripples. My brother brought this point to my attention last year when he noted that what impressed him most when sitting right behind the dugout at a major league game was the difference between good hitters taking bad pitches and bad hitters swinging at bad pitches. All major leaguers can hit pitches in the sweet zone, some hitters are simply better at getting the pitchers to throw those kinds of pitches. Ted Williams in The Science of Hitting was of course right on when he labeled the locations within the strike zone with averages ranging from .240 to over .400. Second to getting good pitches to hit (and in some ways simply a by product) is the extra walks piled up by patient hitters that serve to not consume outs and put more runners on base leading to more runs.

Second, while the overall effects of team patience don't support the idea of using it soley or even primarily as a means of wearing out a starter, the small differences between teams (3.9 pitchers per plate appearance for the Red Sox and A's versus 3.6 for the Devil Rays) are likely masked for three reasons. 1) Having some players who take alot of pitches and some players who don't take very many. 2) A high number of walks may not be that strongly correlated with seeing a lot of pitches. Some players who strike out alot see alot of pitches because of the number they swing through. For example, Jose Hernandez, who struck out 177 times this year and walked only 46 saw 3.95 pitches per plate appearance, a very high total. 3) Some patient hitters, who even though they walk alot, don't see an extremely high number of pitches since they don't run alot of 3-2 counts. Bonds of course is the extreme example since he gets intentionally walked so much and almost always puts strikes in play hard somewhere.

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