MLB stats: Are pitches per plate appearance an MLB success key?

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MLB stats
BALTIMORE, MD – SEPTEMBER 28: Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Tanner Scott (66) hands the ball to manager Buck Showalter (26) during the game between the Houston Astros and the Baltimore Orioles on September 28, 2018, at Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, MD. The Houston Astros defeated the Baltimore Orioles, 2-1. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Reviewing MLB stats says one of the keys to getting a starter out of the game is pitches per plate appearance. However, with the rise in bullpen usage, is working the count deep really helping hitters and teams as much?

Pitches per plate appearance is a phrase that was rarely heard in baseball 50 years ago, hard as that may be to believe. Today, of course, one of the holy grails of the game is more pitches seen. For decades, however, it was rarely mentioned, not even by coaches, and certainly not before college level ball – if a player made it that far. It was never discussed by broadcasters of MLB games or noted in box scores among other, more notable MLB stats.

Oh, there were surely coaches who chanted “hit your pitch” at batters, and at higher levels of the game, it surely occurred to some their team’s chances would be better if a guy like Bob Gibson left the field. Did any team, however, try to wear out Gibson by making him throw more pitches in their general direction? You tell me.

For 120 to 130 years after professional baseball was born, about as far as thinking about taking pitches went was as follows:

  • Take pitches if you’re the first and/or second batter, so you can report something worthwhile to the other hitters on your team, and…
  • If a pitcher seems wild, make him throw a strike before swinging.

Of course, other things were picked up and acted on, but as general principles went, the points above were “it,” or if there was more, it was certainly kept quiet. A pitch seen for most of the 20th century was a discrete situation involving a ball moving towards a batter whose job was to evaluate the wisdom of swinging at it. The goal, ultimately, was hitting the damned thing. Most of the thinking about it involved doing that – propelling the ball somewhere it couldn’t be fielded. Whether or not it was in the strike zone was an academic point.

In the 21st century, however, more pitches per plate appearance became, in and of itself, an offensive positive. ( started counting pitches seen in 1999.)

But is seeing more pitches per plate appearance actually a good “thing”? And how can we tell?

Baseball involves specific measures of team and individual success. A team making the MLB playoffs is certainly deemed a success, but there are gradations involved there. A one-and-done wild card team is “barely” a success unless it was a dreadful, last-place team the previous year. The team winning the World Series is the “greatest” of team successes no matter where it finished the previous season.