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By the Numbers: Does Taking Pitches Matter?

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Today I want to get into some numbers.  Since the Detroit series came and went, and including our disappointing drop of last night's game, I've come to wonder:  why aren't the Twins taking more pitches?  As a general rule there have been A LOT of first pitch swings, and outs, over the last four games, and it's got me thinking that's it's time to organize some numbers.  Here's my hypothesis:  If the Twins take more pitches, they're more likely to win their games.

When you first broach the topic, it's easy to think that the winning team usually takes more pitches.  You're scoring more runs, which means you're getting more at-bats, which means you're avoiding outs, which means the opposing pitcher should be throwing more pitches to record three outs.

This isn't always the case.  A winning team can take fewer pitches, especially in close games, but also in situations where the opposing pitchers are leaving the ball over the plate.  Every.  Single.  Pitch.  This sounds familiar.  Anyway, the reverse is also true.  Losing teams can take more pitches if they're failing to move runners along, or if the winning team's pitcher is throwing a number of single or low double-digit pitch innings.

In an effort to find out how the Twins have done when they've taken more pitches, here is the entire chart for the season, preceding tonight's game with Seattle.  PS=pitches seen.  Totals=total pitches in the series, Averages=average pitches seen per game in said series.  Games in italics are games in which the Twins took more pitches than their opponents.

                   Twins      Opponents   Game Result
Opponent            PS           PS

@ Toronto          112          154           L
@ Toronto          160          134           W
@ Toronto          127          131           L
Totals/Averages  399/133      419/140       1-2

@ Cleveland        138          158           L
@ Cleveland        111          135           L
@ Cleveland        129          139           L
Totals/Averages  378/126      432/144       0-3

Oakland            122          131           W
Oakland            135          100           W
Oakland            127          128           W
Totals/Averages  384/128      359/120       3-0

Yankees            158          114           W
Yankees            180          142           W

Yankees            142          154           L
Totals/Averages   480/160     410/137       2-1

LAA                136          115           L
LAA                190          157           W
LAA                174          143           L

Totals/Averages   500/167      415/138      1-2

@ White Sox        128          149           L
@ White Sox        157          159           L
@ White Sox        123          120           L
Totals/Averages   408/136      28/143       0-3

@ Kansas City      135          161           W
@ Kansas City      113          111           L
@ Kansas City      186          116           W

Totals/Averages  434/145      388/129       2-1

@ Detroit          130          183           L
@ Detroit          130          179           L
@ Detroit          108          121           L
Totals/Averages  368/123      483/161       0-3

Seattle            107          165           L
Seattle            ---          ---           -
Totals/Averages    ---          ---           -

The outlier in this data is the series versus the Angels; check it out.  We took more pitches in every game, and still dropped two of three.  This is primary damage to my original hypothesis that if the Twins took more pitches, they'd win more often.


Charting the differentials in wins and losses is the easiest way to start, since you can pretty much know what you're going to see:  the general rule that, of course, the winning team took more pitches.

In Twins Wins (9 games)
              PS   DIFF   AVG   DIFF

Twins       1393   +210   155    +24
Opponents   1183          131

In Twins Losses (16 games)
              PS    DIFF  AVG   DIFF

Twins       2065    -528  129    -33
Opponents   2593          162

In an "average" Minnesota victory, the Twins took 155 pitches to their opponent's 131, thereby seeing 24 more pitches.  This means an extra 6 to 8 at-bats per game.  In Minnesota defeats, on the other hand, the differential was -33, or 7 to 11 at-bats.  There's obviously some give-and-take in how many at-bats the teams would earn in the extra pitches, but the point is obvious:  the Twins were probably losing by a larger spread than they were winning.  If the Twins allow their opponents to get 10 extra at-bats per game, they're not going to win

When Twins See More Pitches (10 games)
              PS   DIFF   AVG   DIFF   W   L

Twins       1555   +303   156    +31   6   4
Opponents   1252          125

When Opponents See More Pitches (15 games)
              PS   DIFF   AVG   DIFF   W   L

Twins       1903   -344   127    -23   3  12
Opponents   2247          150

Minnesota has a winning record when taking more pitches; this is a result I expected to see.  It doesn't sound that great, but winning 60% of your games is going to put you in the playoff hunt.  When you consider that two of those losses came from the "statistical outlier" of the Angels series, the 5-2 record looks even better.  Unfortunately the Twins have a tendency to see fewer pitches, leading to winning merely 20% of their games when they do so.

It's hard to argue with the idea that when you take 31 extra pitches, and getting about 10 extra at-bats, you're probably going to win the game.  Same with taking 23 extra pitches for Twins opponents; an additional 7 or 8 at-bats will lead to some runs.

But if the Twins were losing by a larger spread than they were winning, and if they were still "only" 6-4 in games where they saw more pitches, then there must have been a major issue in games where the pitch differential wasn't quite as high.

I took an arbitrary number to take both ways:  20.  Twenty pitches was a decent spread, and while you could guess that the team with the +20 ratio would end up better off than the -20 ratio, you might assume that the extra five or six at-bats didn't make too much of a difference.  Unless you're the Twins.  Because we know how badly the Twins have done this season, we can assume that whether the differential was +20 or -20, Minnesota wasn't doing so hot.  Sadly it's all too true.

Totals for Games Within 20 Pitches (9 games)
              PS   DIFF   AVG   DIFF   W   L

Twins       1148    -46   128     -5   2   7
Opponents   1194          133

Not surprised?  You shouldn't be, if you know how the Twins have played this season.  Only twice in these games did the Twins have the + ratio, and they lost both games.  Thusly the Twins were 2-5 in games where they saw between 0 and 20 fewer pitches than their opposition.

In the end you can come to only one conclusion:  while the extra at-bats and pitches were helping the Twins' opponents, they weren't helping the Twins unless the margin was much larger.  If the Twins have a bad record when taking fewer pitches, and STILL have a bad record when taking up to 20 MORE pitches, this says Minnesota needs to see nearly the average of +31 to see a winning record. With this team, I have a hard time seeing that happen right now.

Bottom line here is that taking more pitches gives you a better chance at winning the ballgame. You're wearing pitchers out, you're taking walks, and you're probably getting more good pitches to hit (even if at the same rate of good pithces to hit versus bad, there are still MORE good pitches to hit). Just because (if through some act of a diety it should occur) the Twins take more pitches, it doesn't mean they'll win more games; they'll just have a better shot.

[EDIT: The Twins won tonight, yet still saw fewer pitches than the Mariners, 116:128. Was this primarily due to 12 strikeouts by Minnesota pitching?]