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Pitching by the Numbers: Offenses in the stream

Since we know that offenses/hitters generally control outcomes, it’s important especially when streaming pitchers to pick the most favorable matchups. Most of the time, that’s more important than picking the right pitcher.

Here’s an overview of where we stand on this, and I do respect the skeptics. While I’m citing just one study, I’ve confirmed this with multiple experts who are very careful with their numbers and their analysis since it’s gambling based. Here’s a link to “Who Controls the Plate” by Benjamin Alamar from the Journal of Quantitative Analysis of Sports.

Here’s the key takeaway:

The results of this calculation show that in an at bat between an average batter and an average pitcher, the batter should accrue 62% of the resulting expected (expected run value) and the pitcher should accrue 38% of (it). …The skill of the batter has a greater effect on the outcome and thus receives more credit for the outcome of the plate appearance.

Remember, these are academics. They are careful. Their work is peer reviewed. Reputations are at stake. I’ve also seen the effect estimated as high as 67%, but let’s be conservative and call it 60/40. So it stands to reason that, excluding the top pitchers (who are top pitchers because they are skilled enough to seize more control over these hitter vs. pitcher outcomes), we should really focus strongly on matchups.

The key is avoiding the really good offense and targeting the really bad ones. But how do we tell this?

Of course, there are runs per game (not quite earned runs, but good enough). I’m not sure the predictive value of runs per game at this point but I know it’s not bettable yet by itself. The stat I supplement it with is how each team ranks in strikeouts (so important in our game) per extra-base hit. The idea is that we want teams that strikeout a lot without leveraging those strikeouts into power. So I simply rank the teams in runs per game and in strikeouts per extra base hit. I weight those rankings equally into an index where the lower the number, the stronger the offense (and highest means worst).

Here’s what we come up with, through Sunday, top to bottom:

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I’ve highlighted the teams we want to target. No real surprises. I’m not going to argue with people who say the Braves offense is better than the Padres or the Mets. Who cares? We know they’re all bad and thus targetable.

Looking at the top, we know to avoid the Rockies at home. Away, they are 11th in runs (lower on a per-game basis) and in that gray area where we don’t target or avoid. Those teams are just there. But I believe the other teams can just hit, period. So I’m going to try to avoid the A’s, Tigers, Angels, Blue Jays, Yankees, Dodgers and Indians. Then there’s a gap to No. 9 (the Giants). Remember to look at the hitting power number (the combined ranking in the two categories, where lower means stronger), rather than just the ranking.

We’re into the season and I have no idea how many games the teams have already played in their divisions. But they play 76 overall. That’s a ton. Our numbers also allow us to rank the divisions by merely adding up this offensive power number for all the teams in the division. Again, the lower the number, the better the offenses in the divisions.

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

AL Central: 118 combined ranking points (strongest hitting)
AL East: 132
NL West: 133
AL West: 138

A pretty tight grouping but now for the two divisions that are heaven to face:

NL East: 209
NL Central: 239 (weakest hitting)

Makes me feel happy about trading for Gerritt Cole. But there are always streamable options against all the NL Central teams. The highest ranked NL East team is the Marlins (14th), but who is scared of them? Not me. You just can’t bypass a chance to face the Braves, Mets and Nationals. The Phillies are in the Marlins tier of mediocrity.

The NL Central though has terrible teams throughout. I have no idea what’s wrong with the Cardinals. Maybe things will change soon. It seems foolish to target them. But at the very least, don’t avoid them. The Reds of course now do not have Joey Votto or Jay Bruce, compounding their poor performance to date.

Note that having Padres pitchers is no bargain, outside of the home park. Take out the Padres and it’s the NL West that’s the strongest hitting division in baseball.

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