Writers and analysts are chomping at the bit to find meaning in the statistics from baseball’s first dozen games. The fact is many stats that people look at are useless right now because the sample size of the data is so small. Consider this, if Jayson Werth goes out tomorrow and goes 3 for 4, he’ll raise his batting average 43 points. Two days like that in a row, and he’s hitting .296, which would equal his average from last year. It’s early and most stats can’t tell us anything and realistically won’t be able to for months.
There is one area of the baseball statistics world where there’s already a lot of data and it bodes well for the Nationals season at the plate: the number of pitches each hitter sees per plate appearance. Early this season the Nats have some of the most patient hitters in the National League. Washington has three of the top 15 hitters in the NL in pitches per plate appearance (Zimmerman, LaRoche, and Werth are all seeing more than 4 P/PA). That leads the league in that category with the Dodgers, Giants, Reds and Cubs also strong in plate patience with two hitters apiece in the top 15.
In a league where there is a hawk-like watch over a pitcher’s pitch count, it’s important to see a lot of pitches in order to tire out a pitcher as early as possible and get into the other team’s bullpen. It’s also a useful skill in helping the team get into scoring opportunities. Eight of the top 10 players in the NL in pitches per plate appearance also were in the top 15 in walks in 2010. You hear managers talk about how it’s important to have skills that don’t slump like defense. Well, what’s easier than to take a pitch night after night?
It would appear that this was one of the things General Manager Mike Rizzo was looking for when trying to improve his team this winter. Jayson Werth led the league in pitches per plate appearance the past two seasons and takes pride in his development of that skill set. Yes, the Nationals lost Adam Dunn who is famous for his eye, but replaced him with Adam LaRoche who is nearly as good (in a quirky anomaly, he ranked 21st in the NL in each of the past two seasons).
Of course, seeing a high number of pitches is just the start for a team’s success at the plate. Ultimately, you’d like the last pitch the hitter sees to result in him getting on base, and just because he sees a ton of pitches doesn’t mean that he will. The Diamondbacks had three of the top 10 hitters in pitches per plate appearance last year and none of them recorded an OPS higher than .800.
The Nationals also would like to see more patience from their lineup top to bottom, especially from their leadoff hitter Ian Desmond. You’d like your leadoff hitter to waste a lot of the pitcher’s bullets since he usually sees the most plate appearances per game. Desmond is only seeing 3.31 P/PA. We’ll see if the Nationals patience at the plate helps reverse some of their other currently weak hitting numbers.