Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Is "Pitching To Contact" Helping The Nationals?

The Yahoo Sports baseball page has a feature article on this. It says "New alphabet: Fewer K's, more W's for Nats: Washington's emphasis on pitching to contact is paying off in victories." The article then is Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty believes fewer K's equals more W's, and so far so good by Les Carpenter. I really don't see any statistical evidence offered to support this in the article.

This year the Nationals are 3rd in the NL in strikeouts per 9 IP with 8.3 and they have an ERA of 3.21. Last year they were 15th in the NL in strikeouts per 9 IP 6.5 and they had an ERA of 3.58. So it actually seems like they are striking out more batters and their ERA is lower.

This issue came up in April, 2011. See my post Can "Pitching To Contact" Lead To More Scoring? The Twins were supposedly benefiting from it. I was skeptical. Here is what I wrote:

"To look at this, I calculated the batting average and slugging percentage in the AL in 2010 on contact. For contact, I used AB - K + SF. I assumed that sacrifice hits (bunts) and their attempts rarely end up in strikeouts. So in the AL last year when a plate appearance ended in contact, the AVG was .320 and the SLG was .501.

How many runs per game might this lead to? To approximate this, I used the equation

R/G = 16.04*OBP + 11.595*SLG - 5.52

That comes from regression analysis based on the 2007-2009 seasons.

Last year the AL had a leage OBP of .327 and a league SLG of .407. The equation predicts that would lead to a runs per game of 4.44 (it was actually 4.45). But if we used .320 for OBP and used the .501 for SLG, we get 5.44 runs per game. That seems like a big difference.

I am not sure if this approximation works. It would be quite a different game with no walks and the denominator for OBP and SLG is not the same in each case. But even with that said, I am skeptical that pitching to contact (or not trying to cause batters to miss the pitch) is a good idea."

Jeff Sullivan of "Baseball Nation" has a good take on this. See Being Wrong, With The Nationals' Pitching Coach

Baseball Think Factory has an interesting discussion on this. See Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty believes fewer K’s equals more W’s, and so far so good


Devon Young said...

This is very interesting, 'cause it's almost unbelievable that any modern sports writer would claim such a thing. You pick it apart with stats quite easy too.

So you got me lookin' at the Nationals pitching splits right now... and I see that in their 49 W's, they're striking out 9.8 per 9 IP. But in their 34 L's, they're only striking out 6.7 per 9 IP. So, even lookin' at the straight up simple stats, there's just no way any serious journalist could claim that pitching to contact is increasing their winning ways. The Nats should fire McCatty if he believes it is, and get a pitching coach who will make these pitchers strive for better.

Cyril Morong said...


Great points! Thanks for taking the time to do that analysis and post a comment.


Millsy said...

I particularly like this quote:

"But they could probably strike out more. A lot more."

I wish they'd let Strasburg strike out more than 11.64 batters per 9. That's quite the counterfactual they have on the current outcomes...

Millsy said...

Note: The last time two starters finished with 10 strikeouts per 9 IP on the same team was 2003, with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior...

Cyril Morong said...

Right, like a team 8.3 Ks per 9 IP is not really high. Thanks for dropping by