Baseball, it’s been said, boils down to a single confrontation between a pitcher and a batter. Over the course of a season, when teams meet for two, three or four game series, little captures a fan’s attention more than when the best hitter on one team faces the best pitcher on the opposition.
This, is quite literally what baseball is all about.
To enhance this concentrated moment of baseball and form a sort of theoretical extract, we can look to 2012′s right handed and left handed splits leaders to pick out what would be the greatest potential match ups of the season.
Let’s start with the pitchers, before making our way to batters.
Here are the top five pitchers vs. right handed batters according to FIP:
- Zach Greinke, MIL, RHP, 1.57 FIP;
- Lance Lynn, STL, RHP, 1.88 FIP;
- Gio Gonzalez, WAS, LHP, 2.20 FIP;
- Colby Lewis, TEX, RHP, 2.23 FIP;
- James McDonald, PIT, RHP, 2.36 FIP.
Here are the top five pitchers vs. left handed batters according to FIP:
- Stephen Strasburg, WAS, RHP, 1.22 FIP;
- Madison Bumgarner, SF, LHP, 1.58 FIP;
- Chris Sale, CHW, LHP, 2.04 FIP;
- Matt Cain, SF, RHP, 2.15 FIP;
- Justin Verlander, DET, RHP, 2.16 FIP.
Here are the top five batters vs. right handed pitchers according to wRC+:
- Joey Votto, CIN, LHB, 215 wRC+;
- Carlos Gonzalez, COL, LHB, 192 wRC+;
- Paul Konerko, CHW, RHB, 188 wRC+;
- David Wright, NYM, RHB, 184 wRC+.
- Josh Hamilton, TEX, LHB, 182 wRC+.
Here are the top five batters vs. left handed pitchers according to wRC+:
- Andrew McCutchen, PIT, RHB, 237 wRC+;
- Billy Butler, KC, RHB, 214 wRC+;
- Melky Cabrera, SF, RHB*, 210 wRC+;
- Scott Hairston, NYM, RHB, 200 wRC+;
- Danny Espinosa, WAS, RHB*, 199 wRC+.
So, according to this, the best possible match ups we could hope to see this season are Joey Votto vs. Stephen Strasburg and Andrew McCutchen vs. Gio Gonzalez or Zack Greinke vs. Paul Konerko, depending on whether you’d rather see the best right handed batter or best right handed pitcher in action.
Unfortunately, Votto and Strasburg, as well as Greinke and Konerko, haven’t happened this season. However, McCutchen and Gonzalez went head to head three times on a May 16th game between the Pirates and Nationals in Washington.
Here are those three matchups:
The first, in the top of the first inning, resulted in a single for McCutchen off of a 0-1 curve ball:
The second, in the top of the fourth inning, resulted in a fly out to left field off of a two seam fastball left up in the zone.
The third, was a one pitch ground out to the short stop:
Conclusions: Sadly, there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement resulting from these two facing off against each other. However, we have to give the edge to McCutchen, not really for the seeing eye single he hit in the first inning which is about the best example in the history of baseball as to why fielding independent pitching numbers are useful.
No, we’ll call this a win for McCutchen because of his second at bat against Gonzalez, when he drove a mistake pitch to the warning track. With a little bit more mustard, the Pirates center fielder would’ve made this a little study a bit more definitive.
Of course, it also would’ve been preferable for research sake if McCutchen let his final plate appearance against Gonzalez last longer than a single pitch.
Sadly, baseball appears to have taken a page out of boxing’s play book. This is perhaps best seen as an example of something suggested by the numbers not necessarily translating into something actually enjoyable to humans.
And it’s not as though we can have much hope for a best vs. best match up that lives up to the hype that our splits leaders create (at least until the numbers change) because barring a trade, we’re unlikely to see Greinke and Konerko match up any time soon, and the Reds and Nationals have already completed their season series with each other.
* – Switch hitters who bat right handed vs. left handed pitching.