Which National League Teams Have The Most Consistent Hitting?

Baseball team hitting statistics tend to focus on a single number, such as an overall batting average for the team.  A single average may mask wide dispersion in batting averages across players.  For example, two National League teams with identical .250 batting averages for their eight starters (other than the pitcher) can pose very different problems for opposing pitchers.  A .250 team batting average can be achieved with half of the players hitting .200 and the other half hitting .300 or with all starters possessing a batting average of .250.  Of course, more unequal batting averages makes it easier for opposing teams to pitch around a team’s best hitters.

The most common measure of dispersion in random variables, such as batting averages, is the standard deviation.  A team with a high standard deviation in individual batting averages has less consistent hitting up and down the lineup.  A team with a low standard deviation in individual batting averages has consistent hitting throughout the lineup.  A second measure of dispersion is the coefficient of variation, which in the case of team batting averages would be the ratio of the standard deviation to the mean batting average.

The following table lists the mean batting average, the standard deviation and the coefficient of variation for the 8 hitters on each National League team with the most at bats so far this year.  Teams are ranked by the standard deviation of their team’s batting average.  Philadelphia and Los Angeles have the smallest standard deviation in team batting.  New York and Atlanta have the least consistent team batting, with standard deviations more than three times higher than in Philadelphia.

Team SD CV BA
PHILADELPHIA 0.0143 5.2% 0.277
LOS ANGELES 0.0168 6.3% 0.267
MIAMI 0.0200 8.3% 0.239
CHICAGO 0.0201 8.1% 0.247
WASHINGTON 0.0218 8.2% 0.265
SAN FRANCISCO 0.0223 8.1% 0.277
SAN DIEGO 0.0270 10.2% 0.264
CINCINNATI 0.0291 11.0% 0.265
ARIZONA 0.0310 11.6% 0.267
PITTSBURGH 0.0310 12.0% 0.258
ST. LOUIS 0.0402 13.8% 0.291
MILWAUKEE 0.0414 14.8% 0.279
COLORADO 0.0420 14.7% 0.286
NEW YORK 0.0435 17.8% 0.244
ATLANTA 0.0499 20.2% 0.248

 The next table lists the mean on-base percentage, the standard deviation and the coefficient of variation for the 8 hitters on each National League team with the most plate appearances so far this year.  Teams are ranked by the standard deviation of their team’s on-base percentage.  Philadelphia and Los Angeles have the smallest standard deviation in on-base percentage.  Colorado and Cincinnati have the least consistent team on-base percentage, with standard deviations more than five times higher than in Philadelphia.

Team SD CV OBP
PHILADELPHIA 0.0107 3.3% 0.329
LOS ANGELES 0.0202 6.1% 0.333
MIAMI 0.0218 7.3% 0.297
PITTSBURGH 0.0262 7.8% 0.335
SAN FRANCISC0 0.0315 9.4% 0.334
CHICAGO 0.0323 10.6% 0.305
SAN DIEGO 0.0330 9.9% 0.333
ST. LOUIS 0.0349 9.9% 0.351
ARIZONA 0.0357 10.8% 0.330
WASHINGTON 0.0386 11.7% 0.329
ATLANTA 0.0405 12.4% 0.326
MILWAUKEE 0.0444 13.2% 0.337
NEW YORK 0.0475 15.0% 0.316
COLORADO 0.0506 14.6% 0.347
CINCINNATI 0.0594 17.1% 0.347

Of course a low standard deviation in either batting average or on-base percentage is only valuable if averages are high.  Uniformly poor hitting is also undesirable.  Each team’s starting hitters can be evaluated by both the mean and standard deviation in their hitting statistics.  In this sense team hitting statistics can be displayed in the same type of graph that financial economists use to show risk and return.  Teams prefer both a higher mean and a lower standard deviation in hitting statistics.

The following graph shows the batting average risk-return graph for National League teams.  Philadelphia and St. Louis are on the “frontier”.  Philadelphia has the lowest risk.  Among the higher batting average teams, St. Louis has the lowest standard deviation.

NL_wtdbat1

The following graph shows the on-base percentage risk-return graph for National League teams.  Philadelphia and St. Louis are again on the “frontier”. NL_wtdbat2

Whether hitting is measured in terms of a batting average or on-base percentage, the Philadelphia Phillies have the most consistent hitting and lowest dispersion across players.  The St. Louis team batting average is 14 points higher than the Phillies and the risk-return tradeoff means that the Cardinals’ higher average was obtained by nearly tripling the dispersion in averages across players.

Regardless of how hitting is measured, Miami, Chicago and the New York Mets are the worst hitting teams.  The Mets, for example, have more dispersion in batting averages across players than the Cardinals but have a team average that is 47 points lower than St. Louis.  The inconsistent hitting in the Mets lineup makes it much easier for opposing teams to pitch around their best hitter David Wright (who is hitting .306).

Brees, Unitas, Yaz and Cabrera: Comparing Great Performances Across Generations

Last week Miguel Cabrera earned baseball’s Triple Crown, the first one in 45 years, by leading the American League in home runs, runs batted in and batting average.  Within days of that feat Drew Brees broke an NFL record held by Johnny Unitas for 52 years ago.  Brees has thrown for a touchdown pass in 48 straight games.  Brees is an amazing quarterback, but Cabrera’s accomplishment is more impressive.

Football may be the most popular sport in America, but it is impossible to compare individual accomplishments across eras.  Professional football in 2012 does not resemble the game played from 1956-1960 when Unitas completed at least one touchdown pass in 47 straight games.  NFL teams throw 55% more passes per game than they did in 1956 when Unitas began his streak.  Through the first five games of the 2012 season Brees has thrown 236 passes.  This is more than Bart Starr, Bobby Layne, John Brodie, Billy Wade, Eddie LeBaron, Zeke Bratkowski and three other starting quarterbacks attempted through the entire 1960 season.

The short pass has largely replaced the running play in short yardage situations as teams get close to the goal line.   During Brees’ streak 47% of his touchdown passes have been within 10 yards of the end zone compared to 37% for Unitas during his streak.  In addition, 29% of Brees’ touchdown passes have been from the 5 yard line or closer, compared to 22% for Unitas.

Cabrera’s feat displayed an amazing ability to hit for both power and average in an era of more and more specialization in sports.  One of the biggest changes that hitters confront today is that they must face fresh and talented set-up relievers and closers on a daily basis.  In 1967, when Carl Yastrzemski last won the Triple Crown, the typical team had 39 complete games from their starting pitchers and teams generally used a four-man rotation.  Today the average team has four complete games per season.  Hitters today face pitchers who are better rested and more specialized.  A hitter typically will face, within the same game, both right-handed and left-handed pitchers who throw a wider selection of pitches than an individual would be able to master.

There are rule changes in baseball that also make comparisons difficult (but interesting) across eras.  When Yaz won the Triple Crown baseball was in the midst of a pitchers’ era; only four batters in the American League hit better than .300 and the following year Yaz repeated as the leading hitter at .301 with the second place hitter at .290.  Then the mound was lowered and hitters have gained on pitchers for most of the past 40 years.

Nonetheless, Cabrera’s accomplishment may not be repeated by another baseball player for decades.  Brees’ streak will probably continue throughout this season.  It is also likely that other top quarterbacks will challenge his record in the next decade as NFL teams rely more and more on the pass and record books continue to be rewritten every few years.

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