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Friday, June 04, 2021

Hitters are attacking 1st pitch more than ever

“I’m not going to take a first-pitch fastball now to get a guy’s pitch count up when I will get behind 0-1. That might be the only fastball that I see in that at-bat.”

As you can see, Major League hitters are increasingly likely to go after the first pitch (when it’s in the zone, anyway, because let’s not penalize anyone for accepting the gift of 1-0), and for good reason.

That good reason, of course, is the fear of getting into two-strike counts, which are the baseball version of dying on your feet. That’s where the diving sliders and curveballs in the dirt live. It’s not where you want to be. While the idea of a “fastball count” is a dying one, there’s still the truth that you’ll see a breaking or offspeed pitch 38% of the time on the first pitch, 44% of the time on all other counts, and 49% of the time on two strikes.

In 2021, hitters with two strikes are hitting all of .159/.236/.256. It’s the lowest two-strike mark on record. If you haven’t put the ball in play with zero or one strikes, you might just want to walk back to the dugout.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: June 04, 2021 at 02:13 PM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: first pitch

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: June 04, 2021 at 07:05 PM (#6022600)
It's not super-easy but playing with the numbers available at b-r splits (and assuming I did the math right in my head:

6,600 PA -- made fair contact on first pitch (has some foul outs in it)
11,800 PA -- swung and didn't make fair contact
12,200 PA -- took a strike
24,700 PA -- took a ball

What we can't do is separate what happened after #2 vs #3 (i.e. they are both "after 0-1" no matter how you got to 0-1).

0-0 fair: 336/347/563, 910 OPS (has some HBP and foul outs in it)
After 0-1: 207/254/335, 589
After 1-0: 247/376/428, 804

The "problem" is that they are still making that 0-0 fair contact on just 12% of first pitches.

Anyway, it has always been the case that if you see a pitch you can hit hard, you should swing (unless maybe it's 3-0). The question has always been how well can they make that decision. After putting foul-outs back in, on any "fair/playable" contact, batters hit about 324/545 so they're obviously pretty good at making that decision (non-Javy, non 2 strikes division). But there's little/no advantage to that being on the first pitch -- if you see one on the first pitch, swing; if you don't, don't.
   2. bfan Posted: June 05, 2021 at 09:39 AM (#6022713)
If there are more batters swinging at the first pitch, and pitch counts are an upper limit of use (pitchers are capped at say, 100 pitches by managers and not how many innings they have pitched), should starting pitchers be going more innings now? That would be an easy comparison to make (I do not have the resources or skills to do that).
   3. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: June 05, 2021 at 11:35 AM (#6022724)
I wonder what the difference in approach is between facing a starting pitcher, where tactically, one wants to wear him (or her) down, so there is an additional advantage to taking pitches, versus facing a 1-inning reliever, where that doesn't matter. Also starting pitchers are not as likely to be throwing 100 mph, so perhaps it makes sense again to swing at the first pitch when facing said 1-inning reliever, more than against a starter.
   4. Howie Menckel Posted: June 05, 2021 at 12:03 PM (#6022727)

TG CAREER - .388/.459/.947

1st Pitch - .368/.549/.917
2 Strikes - .340/.401/.741
3-1 count - .535/.500/1.034
post- 3-0 - .759/.520/1.279

on 3-0, Gwynn was 2 for 9 in 279 PA
   5. Walt Davis Posted: June 05, 2021 at 05:18 PM (#6022754)
(I do not have the resources or skills to do that).

It's called division. :-) And even better, b-r does it for you. Here's the 2021 MLB starting pitching page. Look for the IP/GS column (5.1 for 2021). Up at the top, there's a button that will take you to 2020. And just follow.

Now unfortunately there's no attempt to toss out openers so they will bring down IP/GS. I suspect IP/GS is down this year because I'm pretty sure both pitches/GS and BF/GS are down -- teams won't let the pitch count get out of hand but they are perfectly happy to pull a guy after 75 pitches if he's finished his 5 innings but isn't dominating. But I will let you check as a teaching experience. :-)

If you want this for a player, it is on their "advanced stats" page which you find under "finders and advanced stats" tab on their main page. The finders probably require a stathead subscription but the advanced stats page does not. Here, thanks to the alphabet, is Sandy Alcantara's advanced stats page.

There is also an obscure site called fangraphs that has tons of info sitting there for free. There is another one called baseballsavant which has lots of the statcast info. Why possibly even stodgy ESPN or will give you IP/GS. :-)
   6. Jack Sommers Posted: June 05, 2021 at 09:42 PM (#6022787)
Pit/PA jumped the last 5 years compared to the previous decade.
   7. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: June 05, 2021 at 11:29 PM (#6022809)
Pit/PA jumped the last 5 years compared to the previous decade.

Could it be that all/most of that increase is when the starting pitcher is in the game?
   8. Walt Davis Posted: June 06, 2021 at 05:25 AM (#6022813)
% of starts <80 pitches (incl openers), 80-99, 100-119, 120+

2021 30.0, 57.2, 12.6, 0.2 (So the notion of the "standard" 100-pitch start is old fashioned)
2019 24.2, 51.7, 23.7, 0.4
2014 10.7, 45.8, 42.2, 1.3
2009 13.0, 42.2, 42.9, 1.9
2004 16.2, 38.9, 41.2, 3.6
1999 17.4, 35.8, 37.1, 9.7

Seems the 100-pitch start has been a bit of a myth for a while, even in 1999 it was less than half of all starts. Today there is one "iron man" and that's Shane Bieber with 11 of 12 starts hitting the 100 mark. Scherzer and Bauer have hit it in 7 of 12 starts. Bumgarner hasn't done it yet in 12 starts; Corbin Burnes has been lights out but is 0 for 9. Kyle Hendricks has been allowed to do it just once in 11 and has 4 starts under 80. Dane Dunning of the Rangers has made it to 80 pitches just once. Zach Davies and Rich Hill are well-known pitchers with more than half their starts under 80 pitches. (Early in his career, Rich Hill probably had innings that pushed 80 pitches.)

Good lord, Rich Hill is still getting it done -- a 124 ERA+ in his 12 starts, 62 IP, still over 9 K/9. He's 41.
   9. Howie Menckel Posted: June 06, 2021 at 10:16 AM (#6022819)
lately, some are putting a certain "spin" on Hill's success
   10. DanG Posted: June 06, 2021 at 10:51 AM (#6022824)
Isn't the reduction in pitch counts simply a result of increased reluctance to have starters face batters for a 3rd time? IOW, having little or nothing to do with pitcher fatigue or arm conservation?
   11. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: June 06, 2021 at 11:08 AM (#6022826)
Isn't the reduction in pitch counts simply a result of increased reluctance to have starters face batters for a 3rd time?

It would seem so, that managers take out their lesser starters (anyone below an ace) preemptively, in favor of 1-inning relievers throwing gas. But this doesn't quite explain taking out deGrom after 7 innings/85 pitches while he is cruising with a shutout, only to watch the bullpen nearly blow it a couple times over the last two innings.
   12. Ron J Posted: June 06, 2021 at 02:16 PM (#6022849)
#8 What I've seen is that it's not so much 100 pitches as, likely to be not much more than 100 if thing go to plan. so anything over about 85 pitches before the inning starts and they aren't starting the next inning.
   13. Jack Sommers Posted: June 07, 2021 at 01:26 AM (#6022931)
lately, some are putting a certain "spin" on Hill's success

Torey Lovullo said today on ZOOM that one of the known injuries that frequently occurs with pitchers who gunk up the ball is BLISTERS
   14. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: June 07, 2021 at 09:09 AM (#6022941)
Torey Lovullo said today on ZOOM that one of the known injuries that frequently occurs with pitchers who gunk up the ball is BLISTERS

I for one am looking forward to decades of self-righteous outrage from sports writers who demand heads on pikes from the last decade or so of all the cheating pitchers with all their eye-popping K/9 rates and insistence they be banned from the Hall of Fame. Think of the children.
   15. base ball chick Posted: June 07, 2021 at 08:19 PM (#6023065)
did those pitchers get physically larger or break TATSHRR? if not, no outrage

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