Carleton: Is there really a times-through-the-order penalty?

From Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus on February 23, 2016:

There is no such thing as the “times through the order” penalty.

Okay, fine. Let’s start by acknowledging that starting pitchers, in general, perform more poorly than we would otherwise expect on their third trip through the lineup than they do in their first or second trips through the opposing nine. So in that sense, yes there is a “times through the order penalty.” (TTOP from here on out.) The problem is that the way TTOP is commonly understood and what seems to actually be causing this effect are very different and the current understanding actually leads to some counterproductive recommendations.

TTOP is most commonly conceptualized as an exposure or practice effect. The kernel of truth that we are supposedly exposing is that in my first trip to the plate against Smith, I learn a thing or two about his pitches or his patterns and I take that knowledge, whether consciously or unconsciously up to bat with me the second time I see him. In that second at-bat, I gain even more knowledge, and in the third at-bat, I’m even more prepared. On top of that, the starter can only pull that “throw him one inside to back him off, paint the outside corner and see if he’ll slap one off the end of his bat” thing once before I catch on. Does he have more tricks up his sleeve?

Let’s talk about the other thing that the starter has done since the last time I saw him. He’s thrown 30 or 35 more pitches.

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Originally published: February 23, 2016. Last Updated: February 23, 2016.