Once again, Yanks among the best at working pitchers

Yanks offense can overcome the pitching problems
The RAB Radio Show: February 8, 2011
Probably looked at one too many that time. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Just like they did in 2009, the Yankees led baseball in team on-base percentage last year and it’s not particularly close. Only one team was within ten points of their .350 mark, and that was the Twins at .341. Quite the gap there. Unsurprisingly, the Yankees also led baseball in runs scored last year, again by a considerable margin. They put 859 runs on the board, and the Red Sox were the distant second at 818. The Rays (808) were the only other club over 800. Leading the league in OBP and runs scored is not a coincidence, folks.

As a group, Yankees batters saw 25,026 pitches last season, second only to the Red Sox (25,540). That works out to 3.92 pitches per plate appearance, fourth most behind the Sox (4.02), the Diamondbacks (4.01), and the Rays (3.94). Yankees batters reached base by something other than a hit (meaning an unintentional walk or a hit-by-pitch) a whopping 699 times, tied with Tampa for the most in the game. The only other team over 600 was the Braves at 635. If you want to add in intentional walks, since those are real baserunners that contribute to real runs being scored, the Yankees are in sole possession of first at 735 non-hit times on base (Tampa’s at 729).

If you’re reading this site, then you’re no doubt aware that the Yankees have long built their offense around high-OBP batters that take pitches and make pitchers work for every out. Last year was no different, and 2011 will certainly be no different. Sixty-two players spent 2010 with one team and saw at least four pitches per plate appearance (min. 400 PA), and five of them were Yankees. Boston and Arizona each had four such players, and a handful of clubs each had three, but no one besides New York had five. That doesn’t include Austin Kearns (4.03 P/PA) or Lance Berkman (4.00), who spent some time in pinstripes. If we drop our criteria to 3.90 P/PA, the Yankees still lead the way with seven players not counting Kearns and Puma.

The table on the right lists each 2010 Yankee who came to the plate at least 400 times, and the number of pitches they saw per plate appearance. I added in their 2008-2010 P/PA and 2010 MLB rank just for comparison purposes. Brett Gardner led the league in P/PA last season and by a wide margin. Daric Barton was second with 4.40 P/PA, so we’re talking about a difference of one extra pitch every 4.76 PA. That doesn’t sound like much, but over the course of 600 PA, it’s an extra 126 pitches. That a full start by a pitcher.

Curtis Granderson also ranks high up there, and his 2010 performance in this department was right in line with what he’s done the past few years. Jorge Posada has always worked the count well, so it’s not a surprise that he’s over four. Nick Swisher‘s another guy that has always walked a lot, but he saw 0.25 fewer pitches per plate appearance last season than he had in the past, basically one fewer pitch per game. Swish’s walk rate fell from about ~13% for his career to 9.1%, though he did trade some of those walks for hits. His OBP just about matched his career mark (.359 vs. .358) but fell from his 2010 mark (.373). Despite that, his wOBA went up two points (the league average wOBA dropped eight points from 2009 to 2010, so those two extra points are bigger than they appear) because of the extra power. If Swish can get back to his previous walk rates while maintaining his 2010 contact and hit rate, awesome, but if not, I’ll take the hits every day of the week as long as OBP stays around .360. The next walk that goes for an extra bases or over the fence will be the first.

Swisher’s drop was the most significant, though that’s relative to the rest of his career. Seeing more than four pitches per plate appearance is damn good. Derek Jeter‘s drop was considerable at 0.09 P/PA, though his 8.5% walk rate is better than the 7.8% he posted in both 2007 and 2008, when he had .388 and .363 OBP’s, respectively. It’s all about the base hits with the Cap’n, his eye and ability to get on base in other ways is still fine. Robbie Cano‘s always going to be well down there on the P/PA leaderboard (186th out of 205 qualified players in 2010), in part because he makes contact so easily. His 11.0% strikeout rate and contact rate are the 15th lowest and 13th highest in baseball since 2008, respectively. Robbie’s not going to change, he is who he is and that’s perfectly fine when you hit like he does.

All of those guys in the chart are coming back next year, and the one new face will be Russell Martin. He didn’t reach my arbitrary 400 PA minimum (387 PA before the hip injury), though he saw a healthy 3.84 P/PA in 2010, down a touch from his 3.90 mark over the last few years. He’s essentially taking the place of Frankie Cervelli, who saw 1,160 pitches in 317 PA last summer (3.66 P/PA). Martin was brought in for his defense, but if he even comes close to repeating that 3.84 P/PA mark this coming season, it’ll make the lineup that much tougher to go through.

Remember, seeing a ton of pitches isn’t just about drawing walks, though that’s certainly a benefit, but it also helps get guys into hitter’s counts and find a pitch to drive. Feasting on middle relief, often the weak underbelly of a club, is another Yankees trademark that stems from working the count. It can be a boring strategy at times, especially for fans who watch pitch after pitch go by, but it’s a devastating approach that has led to fantastic results for New York. I wouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon.

Yanks offense can overcome the pitching problems
The RAB Radio Show: February 8, 2011
  • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

    If only Nick Johnson had stayed healthy. He’d probably be ranked higher than Gardner.

    • Brian in NH

      Before i read Baseball Between the Numbers i used to flip out at Johnson back in the early 2000s when he’s basically looking at all those pitches. I just didn’t understand what he was doing…

  • Fair Weather Freddy

    Yanks and Red Sox are the best at working pitchers and wearing them out. Which umpire last year popped off about the Yankee-Red Sox games taking too long because of how they wait out pitchers?

    • FIPster Doofus

      Joe West

      • johnny

        I’m not going to say that Joe west is a fat piece of shit. I also wouldn’t call him an embarrassment to umpires everywhere. That would be rude.

    • Brian in NH

      its an abomination to the game is what it is!

  • vin

    “(the league average wOBA dropped eight points from 2009 to 2010, so those two extra points are bigger than they appear)”

    OK, time for a wOBA+ stat.

  • Dream of Electric Sheeps

    What’s martin’s P/PA? Also, like to see Jeter work some abs especially early in the game, but that could be just an perception since i don’t have factual stats to support that. Gardner should be leading off IMO.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      It’s in the post, second to last paragraph.

  • nsalem

    I wish that P/PA was somehow incorporated into WAR. I think Brett Gardner may be better than what his WAR numbers reflect

    • The Real JobaWockeeZ

      Except that a 10 pitch outing ending in a flyout is lss valuable than a 4 pitch walk.

      Wouldn’t make sense to put it into WAR really.

      • nsalem

        But a 10 pitch out (which rarely hsppens) against many good starting pitchers is 10% of their allotted pitches for the day.
        At one point in his prime the Yankees won 19 out of 30 games versus Pedro by running up his pitch count and getting him out of the game. This is while he was inflicting much pain on every other team in baseball. I disagree and think it is extremely valuable.

        • nsalem

          thats games that Pedro started not his won-loss record.

      • Ted Nelson

        The 10 pitch out wouldn’t have to count more than a 4 pitch walk, just more than a 1-9 pitch out. Likewise a 5 pitch single could get a slight premium on a 1 pitch single.

    • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S.

      Hey, he was 5.4 fWAR in 2010. That’s a shitload, all things considered. I don’t even thin he’s that good.

  • nsalem

    I also cringe a little when reading posts that Gardner is not aggressive enough at the plate. He is very aggressive at gettong pn base.

  • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

    I do believe Brett Gardner had the highest P/PA since 1997. Not too shabby.

    • mbonzo

      I really like Gardner… because he always improves himself. He was never a great baseball player going into college but showed up to the first practice even though he didn’t make the team, and eventually became a starter. The guy just seems like an incredibly hard worker with the athleticism it takes to be a ball player. Most people assume he’s going to degrade this year, and I think its because of his size, but he’s never degraded in his career before. Assuming his wrist is fine, I think we’ll see a 2011 from him that was more similar to his April-July “hot streak”. I know I’m in the minority.

      • MattG

        Well, he’s white and gritty, so even if he does decline this year, chances are the MSM wont notice

    • Dream of Electric Sheeps

      Don’t know when they start keeping P/PA as a stat. but two names came to mind… Rickey and Tony Philip… growing up I remember those two can work a pitcher with the best of them. I bet Rickey has a pretty P/PA. Tony Phillip became a tough out later on in this career I think.

  • nsalem

    Then there was the player with the highest OBP in MLB history. A very tough out due to his very small strike zone.

  • Mike Myers

    “Feasting on middle relief, often the weak underbelly of a club”

    “Look for the underbelly. There is always and underbelly Turtle.”
    -Johnny Drama

    • nsalem

      Red Sox middle relief in Pedro’s prime was had one big fat underbelly.

  • Dream of Electric Sheeps

    I read a story awhile about the owner of the Browns threaten Eddie if he even attempted to swing the bat there will be repercussions in the form of sharpshooter whom is strategically placed on the roof top the stadium. Verity aside, it certainly make a story.

  • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S.

    I hate to bring it back up, but…
    this is why Granderson > Jackson.
    Him and his .052 ISOd will look like crap when his average collapses.

    • nsalem

      Being tied up on a 110 degree day in the Arizona desert, having honey poured on you and watching vultures and insects devour your flesh is>than a Granderson Jackson discussion

    • Ted Nelson

      No, it’s really not. Granderson is better than Jackson because of his power.

      Jackson saw 4.01 P/PA vs. Granderson’s 4.12. Granderson’s BB% wasn’t that much better than Jackson’s either. Given his age AJax could become more patient pretty easily.

      I don’t see why people just ignore facts and make things up to make their argument. Especially when they have a legitimate argument.

      • nsalem

        Ted I agree with you. I’m just tired of hearing about Jackson, Coke and IPK every time Granderson’s name gets mentioned. If Granderson does what he did in 07 or the second part of last year it’s a good trade for the Yankee’s and it doesn’t matter what the other 3 players do. The traded players success or failure does not validate the trade,
        Granderson is our guy now and it’s what he does that counts. Personally I liked the trade and have no regrets about it. I am just offended by people who were judging it 2 weeks into the season last year.

        • Ted Nelson

          I know it’s old, I was just responding to the point above. It’s one thing to say what you’ve said above, but a lot of people go so far out of their way to validate the trade that they distort reality. A lot of it’s in response to premature condemnation of the trade, but a defense of the trade can be made while sticking to the facts. As you do above.

  • tim randle

    The more I hear about Brett Gardner, the more I hope he stays fast and learns when he should use that speed. He’s awesome.

    Can he bat leadoff this year please?

    • Jacob

      Exactly what I was about to write. Just more proof that Gardner should bat leadoff this year.