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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Nerdy Baseball Posts, cont'd

This was taken from my main man Joe Posnanski's blog, which is not read at least weekly by most baseball fans I know and that is a goddamned travesty, especially among my Royals friends. Essentially he looked at every "action play" in baseball this decade (there have been almost 1.7 million), which would be any pitch that results in something happening, whether it be a strikeout, hit, foulout, hit by pitch, etc.

Then he analyzed the results based on pitch count to get an avg/obp/slugging comparision based on individual results. I will just cut and paste them, but it's very intersting stuff...

Here we go:

First pitch.
Action pitch: 12.5% of the time — one out of every eight at-bats.
Batters hit: .338/.344/.547.

There is probably more grumbling at the park about batters swinging at the first pitch of an at-bat than any other time. The Kansas City Royals once had a prospective owner meet with manager Tony Muser and suggest to him that his batters needed to stop swinging at the first pitch. This, of course, is ludicrous. About one of out every five home runs hit in the game are hit on the first pitch of an at-bat.

Then again, about one out of every five double play grounders you will see are also hit on the first pitch. And that’s why there are so many complaints.

To get this out of the way: The offensive numbers listed above — all the numbers here — can be misleading because they only count balls that were HIT IN PLAY. Foul balls do not count. Swings and misses do not count (except when there are two strikes). Pitches that are called balls do not count (except when there are three balls). And so on. So the batting averages are naturally going to be much less with two strikes. And on-base percentages are going to be much higher with three balls.

Still, there are some cool things to see. There are real advantages, for instance, for batters who put the ball in play early in the count. Once they get two strikes on them, the averages go way down.

Here’s a statistic you can ponder if you like:

OPS for batters putting the first pitch in play: .891
OPS for batters who do not put first pitch in play: .739

So, for someone to decide to never swing at the first pitch … no, that’s probably not the best strategy.

0-1 Count.
Action pitch: 9% of the time — one out of every 11 at-bats.
Batters hit: .317/.326/.485

Well, this was a bit of a surprise to be: Batters would hit quite well when behind one strike. And this gets into what I was saying about hitting early in the count: As you can see, there is not a drastic difference if the batter is hitting behind 0-1 or ahead 1-0.

1-0 Count
Action pitch: 7.6% of the time — one out of every 13 at-bats.
Batters hit .339/.340/.563.

See? Batters do hit with a bit more power when ahead 1-0 — they are also a little bit less aggressive — but the point here is that the game does not shift dramatically to the pitcher until he gets two strikes on a batter. You always hear people say how important it is to get that first pitch strike … and it is hugely important. But getting that second strike is what turns an at-bat around.

0-2 Count
Action pitch: 7.7% of the time — one out of every 13 at-bats.
Batters hit: .162/.173/.236

Now, you can see the pitcher taking control. There are different philosophies about what to do with an 0-2 pitch. There are some pitching coaches and pitchers who think that this is absolutely the time to go for the strikeout pitch … the nasty slider tailing away, the split-fingered fastball in the dirt, the fastball up around the eyes. But there are others — and I tend to agree with this — who think that batters are so defensive at 0-2, that this is perfect time to go get them with a pitch over the plate (especially with pitch counts being SO important in today’s game).

This might be the most amazing statistic in this whole bit: Batters on an 0-2 count hit home runs once every 79 at-bats.*

* My favorite pitcher, Greg Maddux, gave up 11 home runs in his entire career 0-2 — that’s in more than 1,600 at-bats. No, he did not like wasting pitches. Here’s another good Maddux statistic: He only walked 45 batters in his entire career after getting ahead 0-2. Maddux had a 32-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio after he got ahead 0-2.

2-0 Count
Action pitch: 2.7% of the time — one out of every 37 at-bats.
Batters hit: 351/.351/.625

Well, this is a interesting situation … batters very, very rarely put the ball in play on a 2-0 count. In fact, batters don’t put the ball in play much more on a 2-0 count than they do on a 3-0 count. When they connect, though, they do connect hard … batters bang home runs once out of every 16 at-bats.

And you know, if I was a batting coach, I would want my batters to be a bit more aggressive on 2-0. Because here’s something else … pitchers only very, very rarely hit a batter with the count 2-0 (one out of every 179 or so at-bats). That tells me they are simply looking to get a pitch over the plate to get back into the count. It sure seems to me that 2-0 is an underutilized opportunity for hitters.

1-1 Count
Action pitch: 8.8% of the time — one out of every 11 at-bats.
Batters hit: .325/.330/.512

This is more or less a repeat of the first pitch. I have heard scouts and players say that, generally speaking, the most important pitch of the at-bat is the third pitch. And there does seem some truth to that. Most of the time (roughly 54% of the time), batters face a 1-1 count going into the third pitch. And the next pitch will, pretty often, determine the fate of the pitcher and the batter. Look what happens if a pitcher gets a strike:

1-2 Count
Action pitch: 13.6% of the time — one out of every 7 at-bats.
Batters hit: .177/.185/.263

Yes, pitchers are dominant in the 1-2 count. And this is actually the most common situation in baseball … a 1-2 count action pitch. And the batter is all but helpless. But when the third pitch is a ball …

2-1 Count
Action pitch: 5.6% of the time — one out of every 18 at-bats.
Batters hit:.337/.338/.554

Yeah, that’s a sizable difference. Batters hit 160 points better and slug twice as much when that third pitch is a ball rather than a strike. Batters may not know these numbers, but they instinctively know how much their chances go up when the count goes to 2-1.

Here’s a fun experiment: Next time you’re at a game, watch the batter’s reaction when the count goes from 1-1 to 1-2. They will, often, hit their bats with their hands or kick at the dirt or gripe at the umpire. I’ve never counted but I would bet that batters visibly reaction more than half the time.

3-0 Count
Action pitch 2.4% of the time — one of out every 42 at-bats
Batters hit: .390/.958/.780

A few facts about the 3-0 pitch.

1. Batters put the ball in play on 3-0 only about 7% of the time. In fact, over the course of a season, you will only see batters put the ball in play about 300 times on 3-0 … that’s about 10 times per team, per season. it does seem like in today’s game, lots of batters get the green light on 3-0, but the numbers say that you really don’t see them hit the ball on 3-0 very much.

2. When you DO see them hit it, there’s a good chance you will see them hit it a long way. Batters hit 3-0 homers roughly one out of every 10 at-bats.

3. Jim Thome, in his long career, has only put the ball in play 58 times on 3-0. He has hit SIXTEEN home runs. For the record, that’s one homer per every 3.6 at-bats.

4. Or how about Mike Piazza. In his whole career, he only put the ball in play FOUR TIMES on 3-0. That’s all. Four times. Apparently nobody was throwing Piazza a good pitch 3-0. And that was a good idea: Two of them were home runs.

5. Batters almost never get hit on the 3-0 pitch — one out of every 640 plate appearances.

6. Very, very few base runners try to steal on the 3-0 pitch, for obvious reasons, but those that do are ultra-successful — 89%. What’s interesting is that the 3-1 pitch — which has conventionally been called the perfect pitch to steal on — is anything but: Only 61% of base stealers are successful on 3-1.

2-2 Count
Action pitch: 12.9% of the time — one out of every 8 at-bats.
Batters hit: .194/.199/.299

You will often hear announcer say “He evened the count at 2-2.” But there is nothing really even about a 2-2 count. The pitcher is still firmly in control. If a pitcher consistently can make it so the action pitch is always 0-2, 1-2 or 2-2, he will do very nicely for himself and make quite a lot of money.

3-1 Count
Action pitch: 4.9% of the time — one out of every 20 at-bats
Batters hit: .355/.691/.638

Well, here is the ultimate hitter’s pitch … I’ve called a few home runs over the years, wowing friends and impressing strangers, but it’s really not that hard. When you see a good hitter at the plate (or a lousy pitcher on the mound) and a 3-1 count, go ahead, make the call. If you want to play the 3-1 homer game yourself … here are a few good players to consider:

Josh Hamilton: .611/.833/1.167
Chase Utley: .444/.713/.852
Adam Dunn: .392/.777/.908
Alfonso Soriano: .435/.694/.848
Jermaine Dye: .406/.656/.767

Full Count
Action pitch: 12.3% of the time — one out of every 8 at-bats
Batters hit: .229/.468/.381

A couple things interest me here. One, I find it interesting that one out of every eight or so at-bats goes to a full-count. That seems like a lot to me … that means you should see, seven to 10 full counts every single night. I wonder if that number has gone up through the years. I have no idea how to find out.

Also, it really is telling — again and again — that hitters really do swing defensively with two strikes. In total, with two strikes, batters hit .190/.257/.293.

I think that’s one of the takeaway as a baseball fan. Pitchers do not (and should not) give up many two strike hits. And they certainly should not give up two-strike extra base hits.

Another takeaway is that until the pitcher gets two strikes, the advantage* is with the hitter. Batters hit .334 and slug almost .600 when not facing two strikes.

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That is some great stuff...
I absolutely love this kind of stuff.
The Kansas City Royals once had a prospective owner meet with manager Tony Muser and suggest to him that his batters needed to stop swinging at the first pitch,Certainly this is good suggest.

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