If I asked you to guess who has been the best hitting team in baseball this year, who would you answer? Before writing this post, I probably would have guessed the Angels, though they actually don’t lead the league in any category one might consider a decent measure of team offense. If you just wanted the answer to be simple, you could go with the A’s, who have scored the most runs (650) of any team in the game, though there’s a traffic jam at the top, as the Tigers (649), Rockies (647), and Angels (642) are all close enough that they could take the lead with one big blowout.
But run scoring is hitting and baserunning and the order in which those events occur, so if we were just asking about which team has hit the best this year, using total runs scored might not give us a great answer. The next simplest answer would be to use something like wRC+, which focuses solely on a team’s performance at the plate and is agnostic about how they sequence those hits, so it is measuring what we generally think of as hitting talent. It also adjusts for park effects, which we want to do. By this measure, the best hitting team in baseball this year has been the Detroit Tigers, with a wRC+ of 109.
But even that’s not really looking at things on a level playing field, because the Tigers are in the AL and get to use the DH, while NL teams have to let their pitcher hit, which drags down their overall totals. So, what we really want to use is wRC+ with pitcher-hitting excluded, so that we’re just evaluating one team’s hitters against another. And if you use the toggle to look at team batting with pitcher’s excluded, you’ll find the best performance by a team’s hitters this year comes from the Pittsburgh Pirates, with a 113 wRC+.
Yeah, I was stunned too. Very quietly, the Pirates have really hit the ball this year. We know about Andrew McCutchen, but Russell Martin is basically hitting like Buster Posey, Neil Walker has been the best hitting second baseman in the NL, and play-everywhere-guy Josh Harrison has hit better than Robinson Cano this year. Toss in an improved bat from Starling Marte and a couple of okay platoon-types in Ike Davis and Travis Snider, and the Pirates line-up has performed better than any other in baseball this year. Who knew?
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And yet… and yet… (1) pitcher hitting matters because it is, what 1/10th or so of your at-bats … and our pitchers are uniquely horrible and (2) this team may be the worst RISP team I’ve ever seen.
My point is that I’m going to throw myself off of a bridge.