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Just The Sports: Patience At The Plate

Just The Sports

Monday, October 09, 2006

Patience At The Plate

After the unexpected playoffs series loss by the New York Yankees to the Detroit Tigers, there are many theories floating around as to the cause of the Yankees' downfall. Rightfully so, there is a laundry list of complaints levied at Torre for some of the questionable managerial decisions he made: replacing Melky Cabrera with the statue that is Hideki Matsui, allowing Gary Sheffield to practice playing first base during the playoffs, yo-yoing an insecure Alex Rodriguez up and down the lineup, and thinking Bernie William's past success against Kenny Rogers was an indicator for future success when it is anything but. However, there is another theory that the Yankees' lack of patience at the plate resulted in the end of their season.

Before I discuss that, though, I would be remiss if I did not say that while I do think seeing numerous pitches per plate appearance is a good thing, I do not think it is really a certain indicator that a player will hit well. Taking pitches simply to take pitches is no better than Jeff Francoeur's method of swinging at pitches for the sake of swinging. Instead, a hitter should swing only at the pitches he knows he can drive and leave the rest alone, no matter where that pitch may come in the at-bat.

That being said, the Yankees were slightly less patient at the plate during their four-game playoff season (3.61 P/PA) than they were during their 162-game regular season (3.81 P/PA) so it was not as if they were swinging at everything that came their way.

To further show why pitches per plate appearance seen does not always tell the complete story, in Game 1 where the Yankees scored 8 runs, they only saw 3.43 pitches per plate appearance, the third-lowest total of the four games. Game 2 saw them see 4.16 P/PA and score 3 runs, Game 3 they saw 3.70 P/PA and scored 0 runs, and in Game 4 they saw 3.20 P/PA and scored 3 runs, not exactly a linear relationship.

Still, I want to focus on Game 4 because they were so impatient and seemingly so ready to have the game over. Since Jeremy Bonderman actually pitched the entire game, we can compare his season average (3.64 P/PA) to what he had to throw during Game 4 (3.20 P/PA) and see that he was saving .44 P/PA per batter so he had to expend a lot less energy.

Breaking down pitches per plate appearance per player, Hideki Matsui had the highest difference between his season average and playoff average, but he only played in 55 games so it is not clear where his true average should be. The same goes for Gary Sheffield, who had the third-highest difference between his season average and playoff-average. Bobby Abreu has the second-highest difference, but he hit .333 BA/.412 OBP/.400 SLG so make what you will of that.

The only Yankee who saw more pitches per plate appearance in the playoffs than the regular season while playing in more than one game was Jorge Posada who saw .17 more pitches per plate appearance.

All told, a lack of patience was probably the culprit for some of the Yankees problems, but it was not the only reason why they lost. One must remember that for the majority of the season, the Tigers led the major leagues in converting balls put into play into outs and they returned to form in the playoffs.


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