Champions of denial

Last Tuesday’s story revealed 2022’s leaders in five separate indicators of offensive firepower. We’re flipping the tables today with a look at the clubs that did the best job of hindering their opponents in the same categories.

A more complete exposition of this topic can be found in Baseball’s Best (and Worst) 2023 Yearbook, a 418-page print companion to this newsletter.

Teams are rated on a five-star scale in each category. The following summaries conclude with lists of clubs at the opposite ends of the standings — the best (five stars) and worst (one star). There isn’t room to list the scores for all 30 teams, which can be found in the year book.

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Basic prevention

The ratio of bases per out (BPO) is an ideal measure of a batter’s skill, and it’s an equally effective gauge of a pitcher’s performance. The only difference, of course, is that a hitter aims for the highest BPO, while a pitcher wants to drive his number as low as possible.

No club was more effective in the latter pursuit than the Astros. Houston’s pitchers surrendered just .551 bases per out in 2022, the lowest (and best) ratio for any club.

Last season’s big-league average BPO was .660. If Houston’s pitchers had matched that norm, they would have yielded 2,871 bases. They actually allowed only 2.396, which works out to a base value (BV) of minus-475, also the best in the majors.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were close behind at minus-463. At the opposite end of the standings were three teams that surrendered at least 425 bases more than average: the Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, and Washington Nationals. The latter finished at the very bottom with an astronomical BV of plus-486.

  • Five-star clubs (starting with the best): Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Guardians.

  • One-star clubs (starting with the worst): Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox.

Run prevention

Perhaps a more precise title for this category would be earned run prevention. It compares the number of earned runs a team allowed and the big-league norm for the same span of innings pitched.

The Dodgers were the stingiest in that regard in 2022. Their earned run average of 2.80 was the lowest in the majors. The Astros, at 2.90, had the only other staff under 3.30. The ERA for all pitchers in both leagues was 3.96.

A typical staff would have allowed 639 runs to cross the plate during the 1,451.1 innings that the Dodgers played. But Los Angeles kept its total down to 451, pegging its earned run value (ERV) at minus-188. The Astros came next at minus-171, followed by the other four clubs that had previously received five stars for base prevention.

Washington and Colorado were the only teams to soar as high as 5.00 in ERA, and also were the only ones with earned run values ​​worse than plus-150. The Rockies were the very worst at plus-175.

  • Five-star clubs (starting with the best): Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Guardians.

  • One-star clubs (starting with the worst): Colorado Rockies, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics.

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Power prevention

We’ve already sung the praises of Houston’s pitchers. They were the very best at base prevention in 2022 and a close runner-up in run prevention.

Here’s another of their strengths. They were exceptionally good at keeping the ball in the park. The Astros gave up only 134 homers last season — second to San Francisco’s 132 — and they were easily the best at dampening opponents’ power. Batters reached 638 extra bases against Houston. Every other club allowed at least 694. (Keep in mind that each double translates to one extra base, each triple to two, and each home run to three.)

The resulting extra base value (XV) for Houston was minus-168. The Braves finished second at minus-130.

The unfortunate Nationals again brought up the rear. Washington surrendered 1,029 extra bases in 2022, giving it an XV of plus-189.

  • Five-star clubs (starting with the best): Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees.

  • One-star clubs (starting with the worst): Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks.

Strikeout pitching

The New York Mets were blessed with a fireballing staff in 2022. Eight of their pitchers worked at least 50 innings and averaged at least nine strikeouts per complete game, led by a pair of former Cy Young Award winners, Jacob de Grom (14.3 SOs per nine innings) and Max Scherzer (10.7 SO for nine).

So it’s no surprise to find the Mets at the top of the rankings for strikeout pitching, as determined by ball in play value, BPV.

Opponents made contact at a rate of .711 against the Mets last season, well under the big-league norm of .750. The number of balls in play allowed by New York’s pitchers was 215 below average, as indicated by its BPV of minus-215, the best for any staff. Atlanta (minus-203) and Houston (minus-202) were nearly as good.

The Colorado Rockies definitely lacked a strikeout punch. They ranked worst in the majors in three related stats: the highest number of balls in play allowed (4,382), the highest contact rate (.787), and the highest BPV (plus-203).

  • Five-star clubs (starting with the best): New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees.

  • One-star clubs (starting with the worst): Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics, Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Pittsburgh Pirates.

Control pitching

Tampa Bay’s pitchers kept the ball in or close to the strike zone in 2022. That doesn’t mean they struck out opposing hitters at a high rate — the Rays earned only three stars for strikeout pitching — but it does mean that they exhibited exceptional control .

No team issued fewer unintentional walks in 2022 than Tampa Bay’s 369, no club allowed a lower batting eye rate (EY) than the Rays’ .062, and none had a lower (and hence better) walk value (BBV) than Tampa Bay’s minus -99.

The two runners-up, the Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays, finished well off the pace with identical BBV scores of minus-69. The Cincinnati Reds brought up the rear at plus-100, which means that they issued precisely 100 more unintentional walks than the major-league average.

  • Five-star clubs (starting with the best): Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Guardians, Seattle Mariners.

  • One-star clubs (starting with the worst): Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Washington Nationals.

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