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Swinging at the First Pitch

Ghostrunner, as masterkembo mentioned, has a great post up about Yunel Escobar swinging at first pitches. It sadden me, because my topic for the morning was going to be 'swinging at first pitches', since we had a discussion on swinging at first pitches in the game thread a couple of days ago. Drew had a line that I relate to:

One nagging legacy of my time in the baseball dark ages is my personal unease when I see somebody swing at the first pitch. Mostly because I'm become so pro-walk (probably to a fault) and it stands to reason that nobody ever walked on the first pitch. 

Drew speaks for most of us that have followed baseball for a while. There was a time, not long ago, when TV announcers felt that taking a walk was basically wasting a time up at bat. That if you are a batter and a man, you'd swing. Most of us knew that walk had a value. If one is offered a walk, you should take it. 

So some of us had this idea that you should never swing at the first pitch, or at least very rarely. And course we had this argument, in the game thread about that. As with most arguments in the game thread, real data is ignored and opinions become intrenched to the point where it is comedy. 

As Pat Hentgen told us, back here, that the first pitch of an at bat is the most important, or at least a close second to the 1-1 pitch:

The 0-1 count, is amazing how you can really drastically change a guy's batting average against you by just getting ahead. It sounds easy, throw the ball down the middle and let it work a little bit, but major league hitters, they'll ambush you a little. They know you want to get ahead. They're ready to hit 0-0 and that is when you really start to get a little too fine and you go 1-0.

Then we were told the other night that for 'good' hitters, like Troy Glaus and Manny Ramirez, falling behind 0-1 isn't a bit deal. So I thought I'd look it up. 

Yunel Escobar: As Drew says, Yunel has done a great job, this year, hitting .455 swinging at the first pitch. In his career, on the first pitch, he has hit .354 with a .496 slugging average. After falling behind 0-1 he hit .265/.314/.357 for a OPS+ of 76.

Troy Glaus: In his career he has hit .332 with a .610 slugging average on the first pitch. When he falls behind 0-1, his career numbers are .229/.292/.424 for an tOPS+ of 68. Obviously falling behind 0-1 puts him in a bad spot.

Manny Ramirez: Career on the first pitch: .377, .744 slugging. After falling behind 0-1: .267/.331/.487 for a tOPS+ of 64.

Derek Jeter: Career first pitch: .380, with .564 slugging. After falling behind 0-1, .286/341/.400 for a tOPS+ of 78. He hits pretty decent after falling behind. Not so good that you would want him to fall behind but not terrible. 

Wade Boggs: Now Wade was famous for letting the first pitch go by. He hit .362/.476 on the first pitch. After falling behind 0-1: .286/.333/.373 for a tOPS+ of 64. Surprises me, I thought he would hit better after 0-1.

Jose Bautista: Career first pitch: .344, .633 slugging. After 0-1, .208/.283/.365 for a tOPS+ of 60. Course I don't know that he has seen a first pitch strike this year yet. Oh he has, first pitch this year .714 batting average, 2.429 slugging. That is on just 7 first pitch swings. After  0-1, .250/..368/.500.


Anyway, the point is (well if there is a point) is that batters, should go to the plate with a plan, if, the first pitch they get, they like and it is in the strike zone, they should be ready to hit it. Course I believe the same on almost any count, if they get a pitch they think they can hit, go for it. Maybe not so much on 3-0.