Tom Verducci has struck again. In an effort to pound home his theory that baseball’s decline in offense is in large part related to the more patient approach adopted by modern hitters, the senior SI columnist has once again run the numbers and, despite evidence to the contrary, run wild with his conclusions.
Last month, Verducci dipped his toe into the waters of statistical analysis and concluded that patience, among hitters at least, may not be a virtue. In his eagerness to prove that taking too may pitches has led to more strikeouts and fewer runs, Verducci made a lot of sloppy claims. For example, he compares last year’s league-wide performance in 3-0 counts to 2012, and, by showing a deficit of 29 hits, concludes that this “automatic take” is depressing offense. However, Verducci doesn’t mention several pertinent facts, including the 1,024 additional 3-0 counts that took place in 2002.
League Wide Splits in 3-0 and After 3-0 Counts, 2002 vs. 2012
Note: tOPS+ is a comparison of OPS in each split to the league’s overall rate. Above 100 is considered above the baseline.
Although a higher percentage of plate appearances were decided on 3-0 in 2002 (i.e., did not progress to 3-1), the difference is not nearly as significant as Verducci implies, and that’s without considering the number of times the at bat progressed because of a foul ball or swing and miss (i.e., not passively taking a called strike). What’s more, if Verducci’s overall claim is correct, we should see lower offensive production, not only in 3-0 counts, but plate appearances decided thereafter. Once again, there is no such evidence. In fact, performance in both splits was superior in 2012.
Another dubious claim made by Verducci in this April column was the correlation he implies between swinging at the first pitch and striking out. To support his argument, Verducci provides a chart displaying the two rates in five year intervals that seems to show a clear connection. “Do the math”, he triumphantly writes. However, as many have noted, including mostly recently Dave Cameron at fangraphs.com, there are several holes in Verducci’s theory. Using a variety of plate discipline rates, Cameron convincingly shows that several other factors could be influencing the increased number of strikeouts in the game today. To be fair, Cameron’s analysis doesn’t necessarily “debunk” Verducci’s claim, but it does provide a more thorough, and plausible, theory to explain the decline in runs scored.
Unbowed by the criticism he received for his original treatise, Verducci has once again tried to shoe horn his theory into another article on SI. Although it isn’t likely to sway him to the contrary, below is an itemization of the evidence Verducci offers along with either a rebuttal or necessary context that mitigate the weight of his implied conclusions. Continue Reading »