Number of Durable Hitters and Team Success

Last week, I posted the results of my research on how the number of 200-inning pitchers that a team has can affect its success in the regular- and post-season. (Short summary: more inning-eaters = more regular season wins, but not necessarily more playoff wins.) This week, I thought I'd take a similar look at how durable hitters can affect a team's record.

For the purposes of this post, I defined a durable hitter as one who got at least 600 plate appearances with the team. That's about 20% more than the minimum needed to qualify for the batting title. For reference, a 200-inning pitcher has thrown 23% more than the minimum to qualify for the ERA title. Just like last week, I'm looking at the period from 1996 until 2011--the One-Wild-Card-Per-League Era, minus the strike-shortened 1995 season.

Here's an infographic that summarizes the results of the study:

600-pa-hitters_medium

As you might expect, teams with more durable hitters were more successful overall. Teams with 5 or more 600-PA hitters made the playoffs 63% of the time and won at least 85 games 77% of the time. Meanwhile, teams with 1 or fewer 600-PA hitters made the playoffs just 10% of the time and won 85+ games just 15% of the time. There was not, however, much difference between teams with 3 durable hitters and those that had 4.

Overall, with the exception of the similarity between the 3-durable-hitter teams and the 4-durable-hitter teams, the graphic above looks a lot like the one for inning-eating pitchers. Having more durable hitters is clearly better (no surprise), with the top echelon making the playoffs more than 60% of the time and winning 92+ games more than 50% of the time.

Similarly, the average number of durable hitters on a team rises along with its win total. Teams with 92 or more wins had 75% more durable hitters, on average, compared to teams that won 70 or fewer games.

One notable difference from the inning-eating starter study is that, in this sample, there was a clear difference between the leagues. While pitchers were essentially no more likely to top 200 innings in the AL compared to the NL, AL hitters had a large advantage in reaching the 600-PA plateau. Overall, AL teams averaged 3.12 durable hitters per team per season, while NL teams averaged just 2.63. Presumably, this entire effect can be explained by the DH rule.

Most teams in the sample had between 2 and 4 players reach 600 PAs in a season. Fifteen teams, including 3 in the 2011 season*, did not have any 600-PA hitters. Seven teams had 6 such hitters, and 1 team (the 2007 Yankees) had 7.

* The Mets, the Giants and the A's

Indeed, the Yankees had far and away more durable hitters than any other team in the sample; they averaged 4.44 durable hitters per season, well more than the second-place Mariners (3.88). The Phillies led the NL with 3.63 durable hitters per season. The Reds brought up the rear with an average of just 1.88 durable hitters per season.

The 2011 season was an anomaly in the data set, as teams averaged only 2.13 durable hitters. In the 15 previous seasons, the average was never lower than 2.63 durable hitters per team; the overall average for the data set is 2.86.

Next, let's discuss postseason results. In the starting-pitcher study, I found that having more 200-IP starters was a large advantage overall, those extra durable starters didn't seem to help a team once it was already in the playoffs. Here, the results agree on the first point but are ambiguous on the second.

Overall, there's no doubt that teams with more durable hitters are more likely to win the World Series. After all, 10 of the 16 champions in this study had at least 4 hitters who topped the 600 PA mark. That's 68% of the championships from 32% of the total teams. More than 10% of the teams who had at least 5 durable hitters won the World Series.

If you look at only the teams that made the playoffs, though, the results seem less straightforward. Consider:

  • Of the 31 playoff teams with 5 or more durable hitters, 5 (16%) won the World Series.
  • Of the 29 playoff teams with 4 durable hitters, 5 (17%) won the World Series.
  • Of the 42 playoff teams with 3 durable hitters, just 1 (2%) won it all. (It was the '97 Marlins.)
  • Of the 18 playoff teams with 2 durable hitters, 2 (11%) won the title.
  • Finally, of the 8 playoff teams with 1 durable hitter, 3 (38%) won the World Series.

Obviously, the sample is too small to say that 1-durable-hitter teams have some sort of natural playoff advantage, or that 3-durable-hitter teams have a disadvantage. However, if you break the data set into just two tiers--4 or more durable hitters vs. 3 or fewer--then there is perhaps some useful information. The 60 playoff teams with 4+ durable hitters won the World Series 10 times (17%), while the 68 playoff teams with 3 or fewer durable hitters won it just 6 times (9%).

It should also be noted that in 2 of the 3 cases when the World Series champions had just 1 hitter reach 600 PAs, that hitter was Albert Pujols*, with the 2011 and 2006 Cardinals. Perhaps Pujols (or Tony La Russa, or Dave Duncan) has a gift of leading flawed teams to improbable championships.

* In the third case, Luis Gonzalez was the lone 600-PA hitter on the 2001 Diamondbacks.

Finally, I should point out that there's more to reaching 600 PAs than just staying in the lineup (though that's obviously a big part of it). Better-hitting teams will turn the lineup over more quickly, thus giving everyone on the team more chances to bat. And since we'd expect better-hitting teams to make the playoffs more often, that no doubt helps explain a significant part of the advantage that many-durable-hitter teams seemed to have in reaching the postseason.

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