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One of the hallmarks of the 2010 Braves was their ability to make opposing pitchers work for every out. This year… not so much.
I have been playing around with this JunkStat called Pitcher Fatigue Factor (PFF) for a while. The basic concept is to measure how much a batter makes opposing pitchers work for each out, relative to the league average. It’s pretty simple, really. You take the number of pitches the batter has seen and divide that by the number of outs he has made (counting DPs as 2 outs, not counting ROEs, etc.); then, you simply scale that Pitches/Out figure to the league average.
Like with OPS+ and other stats, I set 100 as the league average, so that the amount above/below 100 is equal to the percentage above/below league average. So if it takes 10% more pitches to get a batter out, on average, then his PFF would be 110. If it takes 8% fewer pitches to get him out, then his PFF would be 92.
Anyways, last year, the Braves put up a team PFF of 103, or 3% better than the league average. This means that they saw around 700 more pitches on the year than the average MLB team, or about 4.5 more per game. And they did this despite carrying several regular players with well below-average PFFs. Here’s a breakdown of the PFF values for the Braves’ main hitters in 2010:
One important thing to notice about this graph is the fact that 4 of the 5 Braves with below-average PFFs are no longer with the team: Matt Diaz, Yunel Escobar, Omar Infante, and Melky Cabrera. That leaves only Alex Gonzalez as far as players you would expect to bring the team’s average down.
The Braves’ 2 biggest additions in the offseason were Dan Uggla, who had a fantastic 119 PFF in 2010, and the rookie Freddie Freeman. Going into the 2011 season, I thought that if Freeman could simply hold his own with an average PFF, the Braves could easily lead the league in that metric. It seemed likely that pitchers, especially mediocre ones, would have a hard time going deep into games against the Braves.
Well, last night, Jon Garland pitched a complete game against the Braves, so… yeah, things haven’t gone as planned. In fact, the Braves’ team PFF is 95, so pitchers have needed about 5% fewer pitches to get them out. That adds up to about 7 or 8 fewer pitches per game than average, or about 12 fewer pitches per game compared to 2010.
So what has been the problem? Or rather, who has been the problem? Let’s break it down:
The drop has been nearly across-the-board. The lone bright spots are Brian McCann, who has ridden some good luck on balls in play to an excellent start, and Freeman, who has looked surprisingly mature and disciplined at the plate.
The rest is pretty ugly. Gonzalez has dropped from terrible (91 PFF) to abysmal (86 PFF) at making pitchers work. Nate McLouth has dropped from 4% above average to 2% below, and Chipper Jones has dropped from 8% above to 4% below. Martin Prado and Jason Heyward have both seen declines of more than 1 pitch/out (nearly 20 points of PFF). Even worse, Dan Uggla has cratered by nearly 2 pitches/out, from 19% above average to 13% below average.
The big consolation for Braves fans is that much of this will improve. Uggla is a notorious slow-starter, so his numbers are not really even that surprising; he’ll get it together before long and end the year above-average in PFF. Most of the other drops aren’t too worrisome, either, because they are fairly small or influenced by the vagaries of BABIP (or both). I do worry a bit about Prado, because I feel like he may have crossed the line from “free-swinger who can work the count” to “straight up free swinger”. Hopefully I will be proven wrong and his OBP will rise into acceptable territory soon.
The player who Braves fans seem to be most worried about right now is Heyward, and the numbers in the above graph are not likely to make them feel any better. However, I believe that Heyward’s relatively low 103 PFF (still above league average, remember) is merely the product of a slump. Check this out.
Heyward’s first 13 games: 126 PFF (7.00 pitches/out)
Heyward’s last 6 games: 63 PFF (3.50 pitches/out)
(Weird that he’s made pitchers work exactly half as much lately…) Assuming that he’s not hurt, there’s no reason to expect Heyward to keep up his current slump. Once he finds his plate discipline again, he’ll go right back to being the 120+ PFF hitter he was last season and in the first 2 weeks of this season.
It’s just poor fortune for the Braves that so many hitters seem to be struggling to put together good at-bats at the same time. Fundamentally, this is an above-average offensive team, both in general and in terms of PFF. We’re only about 1/8 of the way through the season. By the time we’re halfway through, I’m guessing that we will have largely forgotten about the offense’s early-season troubles.
Tagged with: Braves Bring Back TP Dan Uggla Freddie Freeman Jason Heyward Martin Prado Pitcher Fatigue Factor
This blog is devoted to the invention and use of unusual baseball statistics. These Junk Stats are designed to reveal the not-so-meaningful quirks that make baseball so fascinating.
JunkStats is written by Jacob Peterson, who also writes for the Braves blog Talking ChopBeyond the Boxscore
For more about the site or the author, read the About page
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