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The Science of Hitting


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#1 absintheofmalaise


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Posted 08 September 2005 - 02:26 PM

There was some discussion in the last couple of weeks regarding swinging at first pitches. Some folks fell on the “never swing at the first pitch” camp and others fell on the “if it’s your pitch hit it” camp. I’m a firm believer in what Ted Williams said about hitting. To paraphrase, “You might only get one pitch to hit that you can handle in an at bat so you better swing at it.” It does not matter when that pitch comes in the AB. Hit the ball. I decided to look at some stats to see how the Sox fare on the first pitch. I also looked at stats when the count was 2-1 to have something to measure it against. Included are the team averages for the year on those counts and the overall team BA/OBP/Slg and also the P/PA. I thought it was interesting that the two teams (Boston and Oakland) with the highest P/PA also were two of the teams that had a better BA on a 0-0 count than they had on a 2-1 count. The others were CWS, Det, KC, LA, MN and Tampa. I know from an article I read a few years ago that Oakland issues a copy of Ted’s book to every new player. No great revelations here, I just thought this was an interesting subject and I couldn’t find it if it was posted before.
Stats are from ESPN on 9/8/05

*I suck at columns

edit: fixed the LA stat line
0-0 2-1 overall overall P/PA
Red Sox
.379/.381/.614 .343/.336/.589 .283/.359/.457 3.85
Baltimore
.305/.308/.492 .325/.323/.582 .270/.327/.440 3.63
CWS
.326/.333/.538 .286/.290/.500 .263/.322/.429 3.76
Cle
.326/.334/.518 .358/.355/.540 .268/.329/.443 3.79
Det
.351/.353/.537 .302/.307/.526 .272/.324/.427 3.68
KC
.355/.363/.541 .322/.321/.489 .258/.317/.391 3.70
LA
.342/.342/.574 .352/.356/.559 .269/.325/.406 3.66
MN
.321/.325/.457 .293/.300/.506 .261/.325/.394 3.70
NY
.307/.324/.521 .311/.313/.511 .274/.354/.446 3.73
Oak
.338/.341/.529 .309/.311/.493 .263/.332/.407 3.85
Sea
.315/.317/.489 .320/.324/.491 .255/.315/.394 3.72
Tampa
.321/.329/.526 .300/.303/.451 .275/.330/.429 3.61
Texas
.348/.350/.649 .356/.354/.613 .270/.331/.475 3.79
Toronto
.321/.332/.465 .360/.367/.580 .266/.331/.409 3.71

Edited by absintheofmalaise, 08 September 2005 - 03:43 PM.


#2 PedroisGod

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Posted 08 September 2005 - 02:32 PM

Great post Abs. I've always heard the debates from my coaches about whether or not to swing at the first pitch. My coaches for the past two years have always preached that if you get a pitch you can drive on the first pitch, you swing at it. I agree. As a pitcher, usually the best pitch you're going to get from me is on the first pitch. That, and of course 3-0, 3-1.

I'm glad to see the Sox have managed to have success swinging at the first pitch, while maintaining patience at the plate as witnessed by their P/PA.

#3 TheYaz67

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Posted 08 September 2005 - 02:44 PM

I’m a firm believer in what Ted Williams said about hitting. To paraphrase, “You might only get one pitch to hit that you can handle in an at bat so you better swing at it.” It does not matter when that pitch comes in the AB. Hit the ball.


Dude, you reading a fake chinese knock off of the "Science of Hitting"? Cause that ain't what is says about the first pitch, especially the first pitch of your first at bat.

You go to the plate for your first at bat, and the pitcher tries to groove a fastball by you to get ahead – you see it coming and think, “great, I’ll kill this thing.”  But since you haven’t seen the guy before you don’t know his ball movement and arm angle, maybe he’s trying a new pitch, or if he’s got a little extra zip on that fastball today.  No one has good enough timing or vision to go in there cold and determine the difference on the first pitch.  As a result, you swing just a little late on the fastball and pop out.  Now you have helped the pitcher in two ways – you gave him a one-pitch batter and you have handicapped yourself.  The next time you come up there might be a couple men on base in a tight spot and you’re still not sure what to expect – you haven’t seen all his pitches and don’t even have his fastball down – you, and hence your team, are now at a disadvantage in a key situation.  If instead on that first at bat you run the count 2-2 or 3-2, foul a pitch or two off and then get a hit, you are probably going to have a good day at the plate since you’ve seen all his stuff by now.  Even if you don’t get a hit you know what he is trying to get you out on and what he threw you to make you ground out or fly out.


I believe the above details Ted's thoughts on the first pitch, first at bat of the game.

I think the team very much discourages swinging at the first pitch the first time up, and would wager it was a big reason for Nomar's departure (outside of the contract issues obviously), as he refused to get "with the program" and constantly hit pop-ups hacking at the first pitch....

#4 absintheofmalaise


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Posted 08 September 2005 - 03:05 PM

You are correct Yaz. I was talking more about the general approach to an AB in that sentence with the line about only one pitch to hit...
I wasn't talking about the first pitch, first AB.

#5 The Gray Eagle


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Posted 08 September 2005 - 03:07 PM

"The next time you come up there might be a couple men on base in a tight spot and you’re still not sure what to expect – you haven’t seen all his pitches and don’t even have his fastball down – you, and hence your team, are now at a disadvantage in a key situation.  If instead on that first at bat you run the count 2-2 or 3-2, foul a pitch or two off and then get a hit, you are probably going to have a good day at the plate since you’ve seen all his stuff by now.  Even if you don’t get a hit you know what he is trying to get you out on and what he threw you to make you ground out or fly out."

Hmm, that sounds like he's intentionally trying to hit better in a later, possibly more important situation. Why doesn't he try hard every time he's up? Doesn't he know that all at-bats are equally important? Stupid clutch hitter. :(

#6 Rudy Pemberton


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Posted 08 September 2005 - 03:12 PM

Hmm, that sounds like he's intentionally trying to hit better in a later, possibly more important situation. Why doesn't he try hard every time he's up? Doesn't he know that all at-bats are equally important?


I remember reading a while back that Maddux would often groove pitches to key hitters when he had a big lead, attempting to mess with their pysche for future, more important at bats. Is it possible that a batter could essentially give up an at bat in a somewhat unimportant situation and hack away at pitches he knows he can hit...with the idea that he'll be more likely to get those pitches in a bigger situation, since the pitcher thinks he can't hit them? I dunno, something interesting to think about though.

#7 smastroyin


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Posted 08 September 2005 - 03:14 PM

LA
.432/.342/.574


Jaysus these guys bunt way too much.

This is what I was talking about with Scioscia. Yeah, he does a lot of this stuff which makes him look like big manager on the ball guy. Maybe he has to with that lineup.

On a more general note, it's useless to add OBP to these numbers, since it's impossible to walk. The only way an OBP can be different in the positive in these number is with HBP or IBB which for some reason get credited on 0-0.

Thanks for the data, though. It doesn't really tell me anything surprising. In general players hit better on 0-0 than on other counts because the only way things can happen is if they put the ball in play. I know that's why you also picked 2-1 (or at least I assume so), but it would be slightly more informative to know what happens after swinging at the first pitch. Just a quick perusal of the stats will show you that going to 0-1 is bad, while going to 1-0 is good. You can't do that swinging at the first pitch. Also what might be useful is if stats for the entire team were BABIP and SABIP (although with HR included), which more truly reflects what you are measuring on 0-0 and 2-1 since there are no walks or strikeouts. Am I making sense?

Steve

#8 Buck Showalter


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Posted 08 September 2005 - 03:21 PM

I’m a firm believer in what Ted Williams said about hitting. To paraphrase, “You might only get one pitch to hit that you can handle in an at bat so you better swing at it.

That is not even close to what Teddy said.

I suggest you go back and read The Science of Hitting.

#9 mr guido

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Posted 08 September 2005 - 03:24 PM

The Hardball Times has had a few articles in recent days on 1st pitch swinging, batter vs hitter counts, etc. Here's what they had to say about 1st pitch swinging:

What is most interesting is that the top 20% [in % swings at the first pitch] have an average OPS of 760 while the bottom 20% recorded an almost identical 759 OPS. Further, the correlation coefficient (the measure of the linear relationship of two measures) between first pitch percentage and OPS was 0.01. In other words, it seems that players adopt different strategies as to whether to swing at the first pitch but at the plate appearance threshold of this study it doesn't make a difference in their overall productivity.


Other things that they show is that swinging & missing does not correlate well to performance, nor does the ability to foul off pitches. Clearly some batters do these things more than others, but that is a matter of personal style and does not necessarily mean they will be productive or unproductive.

On the other hand, pitches per plate appearance are very highly correlated with OPS:

players in the bottom 20% of P/PA have an average on-base plus slugging (OPS) of 719 while those in the top 20% have an OPS of 797. Since OPS correlates very well with run production, it is therefore a good proxy, and because going deep into counts forces opposing pitchers to throw more pitches and tire sooner, it's safe to say that on average, players who see more pitches end up contributing more to their teams.


http://www.hardballt...eres-the-pitch/
http://www.hardballt...an-count-on-it/

The articles also reveal that Nomar (unsurprisingly) swings at the first pitch almost 49% of the time, 2nd most in the majors over the last 5 years. And he is also 3rd lowest in pitches per PA. Meanwhile, 3 members of the 2005 A's are on the list of bottom 5 1st pitch swingers in the last 5 years... Ellis, Kendall, and Hatteberg (only 9.5% 1st pitch swings).

Edited by mr guido, 08 September 2005 - 03:28 PM.


#10 staz


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Posted 08 September 2005 - 03:30 PM

Okay, so if the Sox have a .379 BA on 0-0 counts, does that include just the first pitches that were swung at and resulted in either a hit or an out? Balls/Fouls/HBP aren't factored it, right?

And how can LAA have a .432 BA and .347 OBP on 0-0 pitches?

#11 smastroyin


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Posted 08 September 2005 - 03:34 PM

Okay, so if the Sox have a .379 BA on 0-0 counts, does that include just the first pitches that were swung at and resulted in either a hit or an out? Balls/Fouls/HBP aren't factored it, right?

And how can LAA have a .432 BA and .347 OBP on 0-0 pitches?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Stats for counts include only the results of those counts. On 0-0 and 2-1, that means balls in play and HBP. It also includes IBB for 0-0, which seems dumb but I'm not going to argue about.

Sacrifices count against OBP but not against BA.

#12 mr guido

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Posted 08 September 2005 - 03:38 PM

Sacrifices count against OBP but not against BA.

There's that, but there's also absinthe's dyslexia... Anaheim's actual team line is:
.342 /.342 / .574

Just a quick double check shows the Sox' numbers are wrong too...

should be .379 / .381 / .614,

Haven't doublechecked any of the other ones...

Edited by mr guido, 08 September 2005 - 03:41 PM.


#13 absintheofmalaise


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Posted 08 September 2005 - 03:40 PM

Yes it does make sense to me. I was just trying to see what the differences were in results between the first pitch in an AB and used the 2-1 as a point of reference for what happens when the count is in the batters favor.

I'll re-read the book.

Fixed the LA and Sox line.

Edited by absintheofmalaise, 08 September 2005 - 03:57 PM.


#14 67YAZ

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Posted 08 September 2005 - 03:46 PM

I remember reading a while back that Maddux would often groove pitches to key hitters when he had a big lead, attempting to mess with their pysche for future, more important at bats. Is it possible that a batter could essentially give up an at bat in a somewhat unimportant situation and hack away at pitches he knows he can hit...with the idea that he'll be more likely to get those pitches in a bigger situation, since the pitcher thinks he can't hit them? I dunno, something interesting to think about though.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


There's a Willie Mays story to this effect. Late 60's and still a Giant, Mays comes up with 2 outs, no one on in the bottom of the first. He swings and misses on a pretty tame fastball from a rookie pitcher. He comes back to the dugout and says, "I'm gonna need that pitch later." True to form, in the 6th Mays works a count and the rookie goes back to the same fastball to try to put Willie away. Mays jumps on it for a 2-run homer to take the lead.

That's what I remember of the story and it's probably full of all the inaccuracies and tall-tale faults you can think of. But maybe there is a small, elite group of hitters that have the skill to work a pitcher to that degree, a reciprocal of Maddux. Regardless, every hitters' approach is cumulative based on scouting reports, word-of-mouth, and previous at-bats.

Edited by 67YAZ, 08 September 2005 - 03:51 PM.


#15 Vermonter At Large


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Posted 08 September 2005 - 05:36 PM

This is all very interesting and I love this type of discussion. The problem, however, is that this type of argument can't be solved by analysis at this level. There are three sources of variation that factor into the "Should I swing at the first pitch?" argument that can't accurately be measured in an analysis this broad:

1. Hitter idiosyncracies
2. Pitcher idiosyncracies
3. Game situation

Hitters vary in their approach. Some, such as Nomar, are notorious first pitch swingers. Others like to work the count. Some can adjust to the pitch type and location and more/less spontaneously adjust their swing to the pitch. Some hitters wait for a certain pitch to hit. etc. All hitters aren't created equally.

Not all pitchers are going to groove a first pitch for a strike, especially in the big leagues. The better the pitcher, the less likely he will be to do this. Pitchers and catchers will also notice trends, and may pitch more carefully to notorious first pitch swingers (and vice versa of course). Some really great pitchers may be more vulnerable by early swinging then by letting the pitcher get ahead. Lesser pitchers may be more vulnerable to a patient approach, hoping to get to that 3-1, 3-0 count.

There are myriad game situations that might vary the strategy of swinging at the first pitch (or not).

None of these variations are reflected in the broad numbers upon which this analysis is based, so I think the only conclusion one can make is that there isn't enough information.

This question is best addressed in a tactical situation, where players and coaches are charting and observing hitting and pitching trends as the game is ongoing. Lesser pitchers and weaker hitters are always going to be exploitable in this fashion, but the more seasoned big leaguers are nearly always going to be reduced to the mano y mano confrontation that is baseball.

#16 Super Nomario


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Posted 08 September 2005 - 05:41 PM

The articles also reveal that Nomar (unsurprisingly) swings at the first pitch almost 49% of the time, 2nd most in the majors over the last 5 years.  And he is also 3rd lowest in pitches per PA.  Meanwhile, 3 members of the 2005 A's are on the list of bottom 5 1st pitch swingers in the last 5 years... Ellis, Kendall, and Hatteberg (only 9.5% 1st pitch swings).

<{<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The funny part is that Nomar's a good hitter and Ellis, Kendall, and Hatteberg suck.

#17 LahoudOrBillyC


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Posted 08 September 2005 - 06:05 PM

The problem with this, and I can't really say this strongly enough, is that the statistics are terribly misleading.

The stats only count a plate appearance that ends on that pitch. They do not count what happens when you swing and miss the pitch, or if you foul it off, and then have to stand up there down 0-1. I have never seen anyone show the data this way, and it boggles my mind why not.

#18 CR67dream

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Posted 08 September 2005 - 07:34 PM

Lahoud makes a great point. A few years ago, there was a huge buzz about Nomar being excellent when he swung at the first pitch, hitting close to (over?) .400 or something crazy like that. As Lahoud pointed out, those numbers only reflected when he put the 1st pitch into play. When I looked a little deeper, I realized that in reality, he was putting himself in the hole more often than not, and his avg in ABs in which he swung at the first pitch and did not put the ball in play was well under.200. In fact, it may ave been below .150. Wish I still had the data, but alas....

Edit: The numbers above just didn't look right, so I thought back a little more and remembered the context of the debate that was going on at the time. The discussion was about whether or not Nomar was actually getting good first pitches to hit. The data I was thinking about didn't show Nomar's avg in all AB's in which he swung at the first pitch, it showed his actual success when swinging at all 1st pitches during a particular stretch. In other words, If you took the total amount of at bats that he swung on the first pitch, he was only getting hits about one out of eight times he swung at that first pitch, on that first pitch. I don't remember exactly how many AB's we were looking at, but I think we were looking at a couple months worth anyway. I remember thinking that if he really was seeing fat 1st pitches, I would have expected a hitter like Nomar to have more success than that.

Edited by CR67dream, 08 September 2005 - 09:45 PM.


#19 PedroisGod

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Posted 08 September 2005 - 09:27 PM

Sacrifices count against OBP but not against BA.


Check again. Sacrifice flies count against OBP. Sacrifice bunts do not.

#20 bmacfarlane


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Posted 08 September 2005 - 09:37 PM

I can't quote it exactly but Ted Williams said that in each at bat you will get one pitch that's your pitch.

#21 smastroyin


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Posted 08 September 2005 - 09:44 PM

Check again. Sacrifice flies count against OBP. Sacrifice bunts do not.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


you're right, I've been counting sbunts as PA for so long I forgot that MLB doesn't for some completely arcane reason that makes no goddamn sense.

An out is an out.

#22 PedroisGod

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Posted 09 September 2005 - 08:07 AM

you're right, I've been counting sbunts as PA for so long I forgot that MLB doesn't for some completely arcane reason that makes no goddamn sense.

An out is an out.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


The reasoning being, when you sacrifice bunt you're trying to get out.

When you hit into a sacrifice fly, you're not really trying to get out.

That's my opinion at least.