Baseball Judgments

Baseball Judgments |

High scoring teams usually beat low scoring teams? Not always


By Roger Weber


The average score of World Series games since 1984 is 5 to 2. This score not only contains a wider margin of victory for the winning team than does the average non-World Series game, but it averages to 3.5 runs per team per game, well below the 4 to 5 range we usually see anymore.


This has led many fans to assume that the best pitching teams get to the postseason and the best pitching teams win in the postseason. Note the cliché, "Good pitching always beats good hitting." So was Bill James wrong in saying that hitting is responsible for on average 45% of baseball and pitching just 36%? It might seem that way. If the teams that reach the postseason score fewer runs and allow fewer runs they must have poor hitting and good pitching, right? Well, not quite.


We are forgetting the other two pieces of the game that add up to James' 100% total. Fielding is almost certainly the most forgotten and most underrated area of the game, at least in terms of how we measure players and teams. Good fielding shows up in pitcher stats, as the balls that go in play are the fielders' responsibility, not the pitchers' (except of course for when the pitcher must field his own position).


Adding fielding and baserunning to James' averages, we see that the defensive side of baseball makes up 52% of the game and offense just 48%. So the cliché would make more sense if it said "Good defense beats good offense more often than not." It appears that pitching usually beats hitting because we forget how much defense adds to the game and influences pitching stats. We assume that if a team scored few runs it was due to a stellar pitcher.


In fact, using data from 2005, we can use correlation coefficients to show what statistics best correlate with wins. In Major League Baseball, there was a .51 "r^2" between team earned run average (which theoretically if not completely eliminates biases due to bad fielding on the pitcher's performance), and a .31 "r^2" between defensive efficiency rating and wins. So while fielding is clearly not as closely correlative there is a noticeable relationship between fielding and wins. That relationship usually shows up and is most noticed in pitcher stats and opponent's score, which is usually attributed almost solely to the pitcher. And thus, pitching beats hitting, at least as far as the media believe.


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