- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
Editor's note: Hot Stove U. is a six-week course devoted to higher learning, a series consisting of 30 need-to-know topics for 2010.
There's a lot of crummy pitching out there in this modern baseball world of ours. You might have noticed that.
Well, even if you haven't, the hitters have surely noticed it. And they're eternally grateful for all that crummy pitching, too, because it's infusing a lot of dollars into their favorite checking accounts. Their numbers wouldn't be the same without it.
Let's give you an example:
In 2009, according to Bill James Online, the Cubs' Aaron Miles -- a fellow who hit a robust .185 for the season -- actually had a higher batting average against pitchers with an ERA over 5.25 than Ichiro Suzuki or Derek Jeter. This is a true fact. Take a look:
On the other hand, when those three men faced pitchers with an ERA of 3.50 or lower, the numbers looked slightly different:
So you've now learned something about what separates the best hitters on earth from the .185 hitters on earth: The best hitters (feel free to sing along) hit good pitching. And your .185 hitters? Ehhhh, not so much.
Fortunately for those .185 hitters and their pals, there were 100 pitchers -- yes, 100 -- who had ERAs over 5.25 last season (among guys who worked at least 25 innings). But we don't care whom those pitchers hate to see heading for home plate.
What we cared about, for the purposes of this piece, was uncovering a hitter whom pitchers like Johan Santana, Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum hate to see stepping into that box -- aside from the obvious choices (Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, yada yada yada).
And the answer is
Ryan Braun, ladies and gentlemen.
When the game's best pitchers are on the mound, few hitters excel. But don't tell that to Ryan Braun, who's at his best when facing elite arms.