Friday, May 20, 2011

Second Guesses on First Pitches

Swinging at the first pitch is a lot like stealing bases. Nobody minds too much when it works but loves pointing out what a horrible mistake it is when it goes wrong.

Last night the Jays got a lesson in BABIP from Rays starter Wade Davis. A known strikethrower, the Jays stayed aggressive by swinging early and often. Davis rode the Rays new pitching backward philosophy to a measure of success - allowing just three runs in 7 innings.

Wade's low pitch count was a discussion point for much of the night, with the prevailing opinion that the Jays were playing right into his hands by aggressively hacking away.

In all, Davis faced 33 Blue Jays and distributed the first pitches this way:
  1. Four seam fastballs: 8
  2. Curveballs: 7
  3. Changeups: 6
  4. Two seam fastballs:6
  5. Sliders: 5
There might be some bleed between two-seamers and changeups but Davis clearly mixed his pitches very well to start out the Jays hitters.

I remain of the belief that swinging at the first pitch isn't a bad thing as long as you get something to whack. Below is a strikezone plot of all the first pitches, including Juan Cruz's first pitch cutter. Let's see what we find.

Other than a few cases, you can't really say any Jays expanded the zone. Rajai Davis swung and missed a curveball in his second at bat after singling on the first pitch in his first PA.

In all, the Jays took 19 pitches, fouled three off, reached safely with hit and Juan Rivera hit his second inning home run on the first pitch he saw. The Jays hit .333/.333/.667 on the first pitch last night. Not too bad at all, I'll certainly take it.

As always, we must fight what we see with what we think we see and what we know. Swinging at the first pitch from a guy always around the plate is certainly not a bad play as a rule. Context matters a lot but going up to the plate looking to rip is not something I oppose.

It is what happens next that defines hitters: can they show some patience and stay in hitters counts or are they aggressive in way that hurts them? I think that is the million dollar question, quite literally.

Pitch F/X data from Joe Lefkowitz.

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