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Pitches per plate appearance- the forgotten offensive stat

Amid all the discussions of offense, one key stat that is very frequently forgotten is pitches per plate appearance.  Why is this so important?  Because the more pitches each batter can take, the faster we can get opposing starters out of the game and get to the (usually) weaker bullpens.  The faster our lineup can get starters out of the game, the more pitchers we can make opposing teams go through, not only making it so we face the strong starters for less innings, but also helping to wear down the bullpen by the end of a 3 game series. 

So obviously, seeing a lot of pitches is important to do, and it's a well known fact that the Red Sox are one of the main preachers of plate discipline out there, so let's see how exactly the 2010 Red Sox are going to stack up in this oft-forgotten stat.

After the jump, we'll look at how the starting 9 performed in this category in 2009 and see if we can pinpoint any particular trends.

Here are the specific PPA numbers for each of the 2010 starting members of the Red Sox:

Jacoby Ellsbury: 3.77 (best)

Dustin Pedroia: 3.95 (best)

Victor Martinez: 4.05 (best)

Kevin Youkilis: 4.41 (improved from 2008, best was 4.42 in 2006)

J.D. Drew: 4.12 (best was 4.16 in 2008)

David Ortiz: 4.19 (best since joining the Red Sox)

Adrian Beltre: 3.56 (injured, career average 3.77)

Marco Scutaro: 4.06 (best)

Mike Cameron: 3.96


Now, first of all, the average number of pitches per one time through the starting lineup is 36.07.  That number is phenomenal and means that it should be very rare that any starter can make it through our full ineup 3 times or more in a game.

For my notes on the side, let me explain- the ones who say (best) next to their name (please note that this is 4 out of the 9 players) had more pitches per plate appearance in 2009 than any previous career year.  These are players who have been trending upwards- there are no numbers that look like extreme outliers here, just like improved plate discipline.  From these players, I expect to see them all either progress in 2010 or stay around where they are.

Of the other players, none of them have been trending downwards- even Ortiz, in his terrible year, saaw more pitches per plate appearance than he has since joining the Sox.  Youkilis had his best year since 2006, when he was essentially at the same number as 2009.  Cameron had a down year, but has not shown himself to be trending downwards apart from that year- in 2008 he had an outlier very good year, seeing 4.21 pitches per plate appearance.  Beltre was terrible, seeing a mere 3.56, however, it's a given that during his injury year, most of his stats are lower than usual.  His career average is 3.77, and his numbers outside of 2009 are generally closer to there.

One very positive thing to note, is that while Martinez posted a very respectable 4.04 for the year, he actually saw 4.28 per plate appearance since joining the stronger Red Sox lineup- while we can probably expect that number to fall a bit, we should expect to see great things from him on the Sox in 2010.

Overall, the numbers to me appear to be trending upwards, and I expect to see them improve further in 2010; this Red Sox lineup could well be the most patient lineup in the majors- if not, it's certainly amongst them.


But then, we are replacing players such as Bay, who was known to walk quite a bit, so is this actual improvement over the 2009 team?

The answer is a simple, unequivocal yes.

The players who are being replaced and their numbers for 2009 were:

Jason Bay: 3.99 (replaced by Cameron, 3.96)

Nick Green 3.44 (replaced by Scutaro, 4.06)

Mike Lowell: 3.67 (replaced by Beltre 3.56, career 3.77)

Jason Varitek: 3.80 (replaced by Martinez, 4.04)

Overall for 2009:

League Average PPA: 3.84

2009 Red Sox PPA: 3.94

This lineup in 2009 would have seen: 4.01

as we can see, the Red Sox downgraded a little in two areas, both of which appeared to by low outlier years for the players replacing them (Beltre and Cameron).  In reality, looking at career trends, I expect Cameron and Beltre to see almost exactly the same amount of PPA in 2010 as did Bay and Lowell, respectively, in 2009.  In addition to this, Martinez and Scutaro are massive improvements over Varitek and Green (who I chose because he saw the most PAs for the Sox at short, I know Alex Gonzalez posted almost the same exact PPA numbers during his time with the Sox). 

While some people may argue that the offense is weakened from 2009, I would argue back that there are more subtle stats than OPS and HR that can make a huge difference over the long haul of the season.  Facing more tired pitchers, and more weaker pitchers in general, should actually help boost the other offensive stats of the team.  This is a subtle difference that should add up to something pretty significant over the course of a season.