Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 1/8/13
The best result from a first pitch? Has to be a dribbler to the mound, right? We spend all this time chasing the swinging strike and drooling on triple-digit velocity, and there’s a future Hall of Fame pitcher who made his living getting first-pitch sawed-off million-hoppers to the second base side — Greg Maddux. But if you’re not Greg Maddux, the first strike is the nexus for a game of cat and mouse. We’ve found that throwing a first-pitch strike is one of the best ways to get your walk rate down. But if the league throws too many meatballs on 0-0 counts, batters should swing more. It might be the best pitch they see. If the league then throws fewer strikes for the first pitch, batters would find themselves looking more. I don’t know if it’s game theory, but it’s certainly a theory about this game. But the first-pitch out was the beginning of this string. J.D. Gentile lamented the drop in first-pitch outs recently, even as he showed that Greg Maddux was, indeed, the master of this craft. In that piece, Gentile brought up the batting average on balls in play on the first pitch: It might be easy to say, hey, that’s where first-pitch outs went, but to Gentile’s credit, he does point out that league BABIP also jumped at the same time. Let’s see those two effects on top of each other, no? Apologies for that. Anyway, two things might be visible in that mess. One is that something strange happened in 1992, maybe. That’s the only year where the league BABIP and first-pitch BABIP were so close. The other thing is that, while the two have tracked each other well, the BABIP on the first pitch is usually about fifteen-to-twenty points higher than the league BABIP. That seems like a decent reason to swing at the first pitch. It’s going to be a strike, and (probably since it’s going to be in the strike zone) it’s more likely to find grass than the average pitch. Was the league-wide first-pitch swing rate steady over this time? Thanks to Jeff Zimmerman, we have this answer: Wait what. We’re in the golden age of first pitch BABIP, and batters are swinging at fewer and fewer first pitches? Pitchers must be throwing it outside the zone more often in response, right? They must be reacting to the BABIP, playing that first-pitch strike game, adjusting to the adjusters. Right? Oh come on now. Something happened in 1996, yes. It looks like that jump in first-pitch swing rate wasn’t brought on by BABIP changes, too — 1992′s small separation between first-pitch BABIP and league BABIP might have sent the swing rate down, but in 1996, the difference between the two BABIPs was less than it was before 1992. Maybe instead it was the first-pitch strikes that made a difference in 1996. Maybe that year, front offices looked around the league, saw that first-pitch strikes were down, and sent that information down to the field, where coaches passed it on and batters decided to swing more. And then pitchers maybe saw what was happening, and the batters swung less often in order to correct back to their correction. But whatever possible here-and-there that happened in the late 1990s didn’t last, and now batters are swinging less at first pitch strikes, even though there are more first pitch strikes. It doesn’t make any sense. There are some confounding issues that might be messing up these graphs. In 2000, the American League and National League umpires merged their crews. In 2001, a larger strike zone was implemented along with an evaluation system. Those factors might explain some of the oscillation to the left of the graph. But on the right of the graph? You still see a fat BABIP, and some of the best first-strike percentages the modern game has seen… and some of the lowest first-pitch swing rates we’ve seen recently. It makes sense from a pitcher perspective — if they aren’t going to swing, you might as well get on the way to a strikeout instead of slipping towards a walk. Hitters? Don’t know why they aren’t swinging more. After all, Greg Maddux is out of the game.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

WATCH: K-State players storm student section after big win

Tony Dungy coaches his way into Canton

Top eight takeaways from NFL Honors awards

Report: Austin Rivers out 4-6 weeks with broken hand

Brett Favre Hall of Fame discussion took less than 10 seconds

WATCH: Pop wishes Kobe well in heartfelt message

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Eric Berry named NFL Comeback Player of the Year

Cam Newton to be named NFL MVP

Ezekiel Elliott hung out with Jim Brown

Rickie Fowler taunted by fans over his ex-girlfriend

Roger Goodell speaks about future of Pro Bowl in annual address

Mike Krzyzewski provides an update on his health

Another star confirmed for Super Bowl 50 halftime show

WATCH: Wayne Simmonds loses his cool, earns match penalty

Winners and losers from 2016 Hall of Fame vote

Brett Favre, Tony Dungy headline Hall of Fame Class of 2016

Terrell Owens says he was not elected to Hall of Fame

Bruins prospect hit in throat with puck, taken to hospital

WATCH: Mavs rookie laughed at for trash talking Spurs bench

Norris Cole has No. 30 retired with LeBron James, New Orleans Pelicans in attendance

Three keys to victory for the Broncos in Super Bowl 50

Torrey Smith: ‘This is probably the best offense’ for Kaepernick

Byron Scott thought D’Angelo Russell would be further along

Under-the-radar Super Bowl 50 matchups

Is Tim Lincecum's run with the San Francisco Giants done?

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

The 14 biggest plays in Super Bowl history

Five outrageous predictions for Super Bowl 50

QUIZ: Name the winning starting quarterback from every Super Bowl

The top six matchups that could decide Super Bowl 50

Seven unheralded players set to make major impacts in SB 50

10 underrated performances in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest

X-factors in Super Bowl 50

NHL nightmare: No Canadian teams in playoff hunt

QUIZ: Name the Super Bowl halftime performers since 1991

Manziel's father fears for QB's life

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker