Using Data to Shape Our Approach
In it’s simplest form an approach up at the plate may be to look for hard stuff and adjust to off-speed, or be aggressive on the fastball early. This isn’t necessarily a terrible approach, just one I’ve heard often in my life and one that needs examining. We have always tried to teach our guys to attack the fastball early, but why? We needed to start looking at data to find out what we can do to make educated ‘guesses’ while at the plate. There are many different ways to look at approach and different philosophies and I’m not here to debate those, I just want to look at the numbers and find out what may be beneficial for hitters to do based on data. Below are the MLB numbers based on balls put in play during different counts in 2018.
LineDrivePro posted this on his instagram account a few days ago, and it was shared on twitter. These numbers are from the 2018 season. First lets break down the numbers. There were 164,179 balls put in play in 2018, of that number, there were 86,438 balls put in play with 2 strikes. That means that of the 164,179 balls put in play 52.6 % of balls were put in play with two strikes. Compare that with 47.4% being put in play with less than two strikes. However, if we up that number to 1 strike, with the pitcher still having an advantage or being even (0–1, 1–1), its a significantly higher percentage at 69.2 %. So what does this data tell us initially?
#1: Major League pitchers are incredibly good at getting ahead.
Major League arms are good at throwing strikes. They are going to work ahead in most cases, so we need to learn how to hit in disadvantageous counts or avoid them all together. Out of the 2 strike counts, the best ‘advantage’ to the hitter is with a full count, where hitters hit .204 last year, but their on base percentage and slugging numbers went up significantly from other two strike counts. Basically speaking, when the pitcher has 2 strikes on you or is ahead you don’t have a great chance to be successful. So if arms are very good at working ahead in the count and hitters struggle when behind in the count, where does the hitters advantage lie? In getting in good hitters counts. This is nothing new, but I wanted to look at the numbers to see where hitters could gain the most advantage, because it is out of the hitters control where the pitcher throws the baseball, and if they’re going to get ahead anyway, what can hitters do to ‘change the game’ on the pitcher.
Swing at the first pitch.
Only 10.8 % of pitches were put in play on the first pitch in the MLB last year, but hitters had a .340 average (the only higher average was on 3–0 and 3–1 counts). I believe this number should grow, especially with how much better pitching is getting. Now there’s obviously a downside to this aggression, as it can put you in an 0–1 hole if you miss. You could become what no one want to be, a quick out, and eventually you will become known as an aggressive swinger and pitchers will start to pitch you differently to get you to chase. It could also, keep pitchers pitch counts down if done poorly. However, if only done at a 10 % clip, pitchers are being allowed to get ahead with very little repercussions. My theory is, if done well and consistently, pitchers will then begin to adjust and if they try to get you to chase and you stay disciplined in your approach you may get into more 1 ball and 2 ball counts because of it, which is to your advantage based on the chart above.
I am in no way saying that every hitter needs to become aggressive and change their approach completely. There are many other factors at play in the MLB: Pitch selection, Pitches thrown in different counts, Pitches you can drive vs. pitches you can’t. Scouting reports would change things, as different pitches do different things, but based on count the numbers say you could take advantage of being aggressive early. Hitting is hard and I’m looking to see if there is anyway to make it easier for the batter, giving them a chance to be successful before they find themselves in an 0–2 hole. If you disagree I’d love to hear why!
Oh and please let your hitters swing 3–0, the numbers say it’s a good idea.