Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Polar Opposites of Pirates Pitching and Hitting in a Small Sample Size

The Pirates offense has been that bad so far this season that it has overshadowed some very good pitching. The season is still very young and much will change, even over the next week, and not much can be garnered from this small sample size. However, what the early season statistics do show is the polar opposites of the club’s pitching and hitting so far in 2013.

Starting with the offense, through the five games the Pirates have hit .117/.185/.145. Their weight on-base average is .154, which equates to a -4 wRC+ (that’s minus 4). The Bucs are the only team in baseball without a home run and have shown very little extra base hit power (0.28 ISO). Only the Astros have struck out more frequently than the Pirates’ 28.9 K%. Needless to say, the Pirates have the worst offense in baseball over the first five games of the season. The only positive is that they will get better.

While the offensive statistics provides miserable reading, the club’s pitchers provides some fun with the small sample size of the season so far. Pirates pitching has essentially been the complete opposite of the offense. As a team, the Bucs have a 2.09 ERA, the second lowest ERA in baseball; a 2.59 FIP, the third lowest in baseball; they have struck out 27.1% of batters faced, the third highest strikeout rate in baseball; and walked only 6.6% of batters faced, tied for the sixth lowest walk percentage in baseball. While the low ERA is partly due to luck, with a .221 BABIP and 83.8 LOB%, the strikeout and walk rates (totalling at 4.09 K/BB) have been impressive thus far.

Nonetheless, regression to the mean should be expected with both the offense and the team’s pitching when the small sample size of the season is considered. A player's start to the season is difficult to judge going forward as statistics have not began to stabilize. Russell Carlton’s research, via D-Rays Bay, gives an indication as to when statistics become stable at an individual level:
Offense Statistics:
·         50 PA: Swing%
·         100 PA: Contact Rate
·         150 PA: Strikeout Rate, Line Drive Rate, Pitches/PA
·         200 PA: Walk Rate, Ground Ball Rate, GB/FB
·         250 PA: Fly Ball Rate
·         300 PA: Home Run Rate, HR/FB
·         500 PA: OBP, SLG, OPS, 1B Rate, Popup Rate
·         550 PA: ISO

Pitching Statistics:
·         150 BF - K/PA, grounder rate, line drive rate
·         200 BF - flyball rate, GB/FB
·         500 BF - K/BB, pop up rate
·         550 BF - BB/PA
Offensively a hitter's Swing% the first to become stable; and the Pirates as a team currently have a 42.3 Swing% (which was 46.9% in 2012). The strikeout rate is the first to stabilize for a pitcher at 150 plate appearances, with Burnett just under a third of the way towards that total at 47 batters faced.

There is therefore very little that five games can show in terms of the full season; in fact the most telling lesson from the first five games is how unimportant a pitcher’s win-loss record is. A.J. Burnett has started the season 0-2, despite giving up just four runs over 11 innings; striking out 19 hitters in the process. The only reason why Burnett has been credited with two ‘losses’ has been due to the run support that he’s received over his first two starts to the season, with the Pirates failing to score while he’s been on the mound.

Five games into the season is not a time to overreact as much as it enough to believe that these results are the true talent level of a player going forward. The offense has completely overshadowed some very good pitching thus far, so the hope will be that the latter can continue. That said an offensive slump to begin the year is not what the management team needed, so it would be interesting to see how much patience the front office have going forward, other than Brandon Inge coming off the disabled list to replace Josh Harrison on the roster, as a player’s lack of options could play a part in any decision.

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