Pitching by the Numbers: Getting ahead

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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