I’ve been meaning to do an article on pitches per plate appearance (P/PA) for quite some time. One thing that has concerned me over the last few years with Tony LaRussa is his philosophy of hitting the first good pitch that you see. I’m not a fan of anyone swinging on a 3-0 count against a starting pitcher, as the odds will also be in the favor of the batter getting a fastball on a 3-1 count. I know it works at times, swinging early and often, but I think patience is the best way to go. In my mind, Albert Pujols should lead the league in P/PA, and it shouldn’t be close. It’s not clear cut that the leaders in this area are all great players, but I think the argument can be made that hitters working the count are worthy.
My best argument for this is from Dave Duncan’s philosophy, which is pitch to contact to try and avoid long innings for the starting staff so they can stay in the game longer. Backed up by success from this over the years, why wouldn’t Tony LaRussa want the offense to make the opposing pitchers work? I think we all have seen too many games over the years where you can point to the fact that the Cardinals clearly lost against mediocre pitchers at best by being too aggressive early in the count. I remember hearing Mark McGwire talk about how he would like to see more patience from the team as a whole. It appears that Lance Berkman is going to help out in this department, and it appears that Nick Punto might as well. He may not get a lot of AB’s, but the ankles of David Freese may make him more of an everyday player.
In 2010 for players with 500 AB’s or more, Jayson Werth led the NL with 4.37 P/PA, while Brett Gardner led the AL with 4.61 P/PA. A couple of players you can find in the top 10 of this list most years are Bobby Abreu and Kevin Youkilis. In 2007, the Boston Red Sox had 7 players in the top 40 in P/PA. In 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies had 5 in the top 30. In 2010, the San Francisco Giants weren’t exactly patient as a group, as Andres Torres was the only Giant in the top 40, coming in a 4.07 P/PA. I think the Giants won it doing a lot of things that make you question what might have been for the Cardinals though. The Cardinals 2004-2006 teams featured Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen showing good patience, along with a few others.
On the flip side, you will rarely see Pujols among the leaders in this category. I don’t think many can argue with the success of Pujols. His way works, period. Maybe that’s part of the problem though. Maybe because Pujols can be so aggressive early in the count, it gives LaRussa a reason to believe everyone should do it that way. That’s a giant leap on my part, but I’ll make it anyway. I think Pujols should draw more walks than he does, and I think he should lead the league easily every year. Hopefully with a deeper lineup, he will not feel the need to be so aggressive. The three years he won the MVP were top 5 years for Pujols in P/PA. So, here’s a link to ESPN site I’m using for this analysis.
Here is a list of the probable 2011 Cardinals starters and their 2010 and career P/PA. I’m adding Punto, our new super-sub to the list. From their career averages, it appears that McGwire’s insistence on more patience might be starting to set in from looking at career averages to last year’s totals. Many of you may find this irrelevant. Hopefully some of you see the value in patience and what it could bring if it is done collectively as a team.