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):
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:
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%).