Get 'im Early In the Count
attack mode, dept.


In the Hey Bill section at BJOL, some 'net rat had browsed through the ten-year archives and come up with juicy.  Always worked for me.  It's a new book if you haven't read it, no?

In 2008 John Dewan had pointed out that MLB hitters do much, MUCH better in the first three pitches of an at-bat than they do on pitches 4-20.  Kidding about the twenty.  Not kidding about the much.  Dewan gives .301/.317/.467 as the average hitter in a short at-bat compared to .223/.352/.348 in a long one.  Logically it would seem to be even more true ten years on, when the risk of a strikeout is ever-greater.  But somebody can check the stats on it.


The whole reason this resonated with me was an old 1990's Edgar interview that had stuck in the mind's eye.  Somebody was marvelling to Edgar about Randy Johnson, and said, "How does anybody ever hit him?  How would you hit him?"  And Edgar smiled that great relaxed smile of his, and said, "I would just have to try to get him early in the count."

Which.  ... huh? ... now that you think about it, if there is a correct way to play against the champions, isn't that the correct way to PLAY?  In chess that's axiomatic.  Given the same position to play 100 times against 100 great players, play the move you'd be willing to play every time.

Which.  Remember the brouhaha between Ichiro and Hargrove during Carlos Silva's big year?  Perhaps there is a method to Ichiro's baseball madness?  Fascinating to wonder about whether fifty years from now, Ichiro will be given credit for being a couple of generations ahead of his time on everything.  Including low BB, low K, and nice EYE ratios.


Looking at the 2016 leaderboards, there are a lot of good hitters who lead the majors for swinging the oftenest ... Adam Jones #1 overall.  Rougned Odor, J.D. Martinez, Khris Davis, Jose Abreu, Robinson Cano ... did you know that Manny Machado and Miguel Cabrera are in the top 15 for most swings?   Jose Altuve you would have guessed, but he's way down below those other guys.

Eric Wedge got into bitter arguments with Seattle websites about whether too many deep counts can make certain young hitters too passive at the plate.  The OBP revolution started exactly when Bill James began counting Rickey Henderson's walks; since then it has been the height of intellectual attainment to insist that good hitters take pitches.  But the more you know, the less you know.


Anyway, it's another little game-within-a-game to watch.  First couple pitches can be dangerous for the pitcher.  Wars of attrition tend to favor the guy holding the ball.






Pitches 1 & 2 do not create strikeouts on whiffs, pitch 3 would be the only pitch that could allow for the eventuality whereas pitches 4-6 the possibility of a whiff equaling the end of your at-bat increases exponentially.  The pitch sequence that includes the higher likelihood of 2-strike counts will of course create more outs.  Show me a study that treats whiffs on 0-0, 1-0, 0-1, etc. counts as outs and I don't think the rate of success would be nearly so high.  Of course the .016 gap in BA to OBP represents the fact that walks are unpossible in 3 pitches or fewer.

When you flip the Leaderboards for Swing%, you find Zobrist, Mauer, Bautista, Trout, Fowler, Goldschmidt, Santana.  I think the early count swing is just a different game from the late count swing.  It would be interesting to see an in-depth study of the guys that have the lowest swing% vs. the highest.  I imagine you'd see more of the fast bat launch guys on the high swing% spectrum.


Well said Mal.

I think the swing early types have a better shot against elite pitchers than the pitch stalkers.  But not because early pitches are easier to hit.  I think the difference is simply that elite pitchers know how to sequence pitches and the odds of you getting fouled up by a great sequence increase with every added pitch. 


I do think more hitters could learn to swing more early in counts.  Not everyone, but there are some.

I also don't think anyone in baseball can do the same thing every time expecting the same result.  If you begin swinging at the first pitch every time you'll begin getting junk for pitch 1 much more often.  The pitchers wouldn't even give you junk every time because they mostly know better than to repeat too much.

Generally looking for the first pitch you can get good wood on is something I've heard good hitters talk about.  Also hear them talk about knowing when to take pitches.

Rickey's walks were unique to Rickey's stance.  He could also put the first pitch in the bleachers though.  I think finding the balance between too patient and too impatient is up to the hitter and is a buildup of many choices decided in the moment.  Guys who walk up to the plate planning for an outcome better be Babe Ruth or they're likely to find the opposite.  Many strikeouts have started with the guy in the box expecting a HR or even a BB.

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