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Pitching by the Numbers: Getting ahead

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

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Clayton Kershaw is the king of getting Strike One. (REUTERS)

The most important thing that pitchers can do is get ahead of batters with the first pitch. But it's not as easy as it sounds: throw a fat strike on the first offering and you get hammered.


This year after a 0-1 hole, hitters have a .590 OPS and just a .276 average on balls in play. Compare that to the overall rates of .714 and .289. But when hitters put that first pitch in play, bad things tend to happen – .820 OPS this year (through Wednesday's action) with a .293 BABIP.


It's early and the usual sample-size caveats apply. But we have to start somewhere with this year's stats and the time is now given that most starters have three games. So let's see who is best and worst at putting batters in the hole. The speculative play here is to target pitchers who are winning the first pitch at a high rate but who are somehow getting pounded after getting ahead 0-1. Of course, there may be reasons for this but they are very hard to rationalize so I would defer to the base rates generally and assume bad, random luck is to blame.


Here are the pitchers thus far who have been 0-1 on the highest percentage of total batters faced (minimum 13 innings pitched, through Wednesday):

Player Team AB BB K OPS BABIP BFP 0-1 rate
Clayton Kershaw LAD 38 2 12 .617 .346 62 64.52%
Kyle Lohse StL 44 0 10 .419 .206 73 64.38%
Bruce Chen KC 41 0 11 .411 .172 67 62.69%
Colby Lewis Tex 48 1 19 .495 .345 79 62.03%
Jake Peavy CWS 45 0 16 .511 .310 74 60.81%
Dan Haren LAA 43 1 10 .754 .323 76 59.21%
Jordan Zimmermann Was 42 1 8 .319 .147 78 58.97%
Brandon McCarthy Oak 59 3 9 .807 .333 107 58.88%
Matt Moore TB 30 4 6 .857 .190 58 58.62%
C.J. Wilson LAA 29 1 6 .265 .130 54 57.41%
Tim Lincecum SF 36 3 14 .942 .476 69 56.52%
Matt Garza ChC 41 3 14 .496 .231 78 56.41%
Cliff Lee Phi 43 2 13 .319 .103 80 56.25%
Erik Bedard Pit 37 2 10 .528 .231 70 55.71%
Ian Kennedy Ari 44 1 16 .675 .407 81 55.56%
Jair Jurrjens Atl 33 4 7 .600 .240 67 55.22%
Shaun Marcum Mil 25 1 5 .585 .111 49 55.10%
Matt Harrison Tex 28 1 6 .624 .318 55 54.55%
Jeff Samardzija ChC 30 0 11 .461 .222 57 54.39%
Trevor Cahill Ari 24 3 7 .468 .235 50 54.00%


The average OPS of this group is .562, very close to the MLB average. But the average BABIP is lower – .254.


Kershaw has not taken advantage as we'd expect and that BABIP after getting ahead is the reason why his WHIP is 1.17 instead of being right around 1.00 as it should be.  But look at the guy everyone is worried about – Lincecum. He's winning the first pitch as we'd expect but then getting pounded at .942 for an OPS with a .476 BABIP – that's just crazy. Yes, his velocity is down. But that's been an issue for a while.  For me, this is a buy signal, and I love grabbing struggling arms with great pedigree when their owners are panicking. Ballparking it, 80 cents on the preseason dollar and I am a buyer but why not wait and hope for another bad start in the next two or three, which will drive the price down to 60-to-70 cents.


McCarthy, though, I'm less certain about. He came out of nowhere last year and guys who do that often return to nowhere because there are only a couple of reasons why you can be great and a million reasons why you can stink. There's just not enough evidence that McCarthy is one of the few who can consistently defy gravity.


I would, though, buy Moore because I don't take this small sample as proof that he's not going to be as good as expected, especially given his ability to win strike one.


Now, the laggards, meaning the guys who get ahead of hitters early the least:

Player Team AB BB K OPS BABIP BFP 0-1 rate
Joe Saunders Ari 22 2 7 .258 .133 54 44.44%
Jake Arrieta Bal 33 1 9 .264 .125 79 44.30%
Tommy Milone Oak 21 1 3 1.030 .353 50 44.00%
Mark Buehrle Mia 35 0 7 .537 .222 82 43.90%
Jeremy Hellickson TB 22 3 5 .513 .125 57 43.86%
Tommy Hanson Atl 31 1 11 .732 .421 73 43.84%
Johnny Cueto Cin 33 1 6 .568 .296 78 43.59%
Josh Beckett Bos 34 1 5 .553 .148 81 43.21%
Ricky Romero Tor 29 2 8 .457 .238 75 42.67%
Daniel Hudson Ari 32 2 7 .704 .136 80 42.50%
Gio Gonzalez Was 27 2 12 .212 .133 69 42.03%
Justin Masterson Cle 27 3 10 .693 .313 74 41.89%
Carl Pavano Min 31 2 5 .470 .192 80 41.25%
Brandon Morrow Tor 30 1 4 .523 .083 79 40.51%
Jamie Moyer Col 28 2 4 .472 .208 77 40.26%
John Danks CWS 28 4 4 .946 .273 80 40.00%
Wandy Rodriguez Hou 29 1 6 .568 .304 79 39.24%
Yovani Gallardo Mil 27 2 10 .535 .353 77 37.66%
James McDonald Pit 20 2 3 .527 .125 63 34.92%
Barry Zito SF 20 0 5 .350 .200 62 32.26%


Beckett fell so far in the Yahoo! Friends and Family League that my partner Rob Steingall and I had to take him (it's basically a K/9 league given innings caps). But I'd love to sweep him off my roster via trade.  You would think Morrow would notice that guys hit .083 on BIP when he gets ahead, but he pitches dumb, witness our list last week (which Beckett was also on in a negative way).


Hellickson popping up disappoints me. I'm back on the fence with him but can be put back over it if he becomes more aggressive, and effective, early in counts.


Some other notes on players who didn't make the charts: Jonathan Niese is .228 OPS and .118 BABIP with a 54% rate. Zack Greinke is .755 OPS and .500 (league worst) BABIP after 0-1 (50.72%).  Matt Cain's just 35th at 51.81% but has allowed a league best .140 OPS and .103 BABIP after getting ahead 0-1. Justin Verlander is 22nd (53.68%). Jared Weaver, though, is 53rd (48.1%) and Steven Strasburg 63rd (45.33%).

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