On the most recent edition of Camdencast, found here, Mark and I were discussing Steve Pearce. I mentioned to Mark that Steve Pearce was one of the best hitters against the fastball in the entire league last season. By raw numbers alone Pearce put up 26.0 wFB last year, meaning when he was thrown a fastball he produce 26.0 runs above average (more on these numbers later). This was good for 6th overall last year.
However, since Steve Pearce only had 383 plate appearances he was not able to see as many fastballs as the guys above him, so Fangraphs also provides a per 100 pitches calculation. This allows us to compare batters that saw different amounts of the same pitch. Once the total numbers of pitches is controlled for, Steve Pearce was the second best hitter in baseball last year against the fastball only behind Troy Tulowitski. Pearce posted a 3.32 wFB/C. Which again means that every 100 fastballs Steve Pearce saw in 2014, he added 3.32 runs above the average hitter.
Pitch Values and Pitch Type Linear weights can be a little confusing and are not the easiest statistic to use. I will try to break down the idea behind the number and how it is calculated. Since the advent of PitchF/x all pitches can be tracked and analyzed. Pitch Values use this information to determine how effective a certain pitch is for a pitcher and how good a hitter is against a certain pitch. So depending on the count and the type of hit, a result has a certain run expectancy either added or subtracted.
For example, a fastball that is swung on and missed has a negative run expectancy value for a hitter and a positive one for the pitcher. Conversely, a hit achieves the opposite results. Each count and hit type has a certain run expectancy. Thus, we are able to assign a number value to a type of pitch for both a hitter and a pitcher. A score of zero is average, positive numbers indicate above average, negative ones below average.
However, a word of caution is needed. These numbers are mostly descriptive and notoriously fickle. What I mean by that is you can say "Steve Pearce was the second best hitter against fastballs in 2014" or probably more accurately "Steve Pearce achieved the second best results against fastballs in 2014." You cannot say with any certainty "Steve Pearce IS the second best fastball hitter in the MLB."
Those statements may seem not that different, but they are. These pitch values hold very little predictive value, no one can say for sure that Steve Pearce will have similar results in 2015. Also, these numbers can be difficult to use in small sample sizes as any bad data can easily manipulate the total value. All that being said, they can be a useful descriptor of what happened and give a glimpse to why someone was successful. Now, back to the action.
While looking over these numbers on the leader boards I realized that lots of Orioles showed up, including Nelson Cruz who was second overall in the raw number category with a 31.9 wFB. In fact, the Orioles had six regular hitters last year that posted a positive runs added on the fastball. Looking at the team overall, the Orioles were first in 2014 in both wFB and wFB/C. The Orioles added 80.2 runs on the fastball. This made me wonder how the Orioles have been since the Dan Duquette era. Since 2012, the Orioles have been 153.7 runs above average, behind only the Athletics and Tigers.
In comparison, from 2009 to 2011 the Orioles were 15th in wFB. Whether or not this is a strategy of Dan Duquette is hard to know, but the Orioles rise in wins has coincided with their ability to hit the fastball. That is most definitely a good thing, as fastballs are thrown around 57% of the time and fastballs are hit for home runs more often than other types of pitches. The rise in quality fastball hitters for the Orioles has also been met by a rise in home runs as the Orioles have lead the league in home runs the past three seasons and they lead the league in HR/FB rate from 2012 to 2014. Furthermore, the Orioles have hit the second highest rate of fly balls since 2012 only behind the Athletics. On top of that, since 2012 the Orioles have the best wRC+, which adjusts for both park and league, on fly balls.
Wrapping up, all this means is that under Dan Duquette the Orioles have been way above average at hitting fastballs. Also, they have hit more fly balls and those fly balls have gone for more home runs. Maybe the strategy for the Orioles has been to acquire hitters that are above average against the fastball with fly ball tendencies. Maybe this is all a coincidence of simply acquiring better players. Regardless, if the Orioles do one thing better than a lot of other teams, it is hit the fastball and hit it very hard.