View Full Version : Thoughts on the impatient hitter

07-18-2010, 08:15 AM
We get frustrated at the impatient hitters on this team, and I'd like to put our minds to the underlying issues. Here's how I see it breaking down.

A good pitch to hit is a good pitch to hit, no matter when it happens. The first or second pitch might be the best pitch to hit of the at-bat. Laying off those woiuld put a batter behind in the count, then he'd have to try to make something happen with the pitcher's pitches.

The pitcher gets a vote, too. A sharp pitcher on top of his game might be pouring in strikes, and working the count might mean a lot of three-pitch at-bats.

It's a cumulative problem. One at-bat might not be an issue, but we get frustrated when we see the pitcher cruising through eight-pitch innings. If it's a good pitcher, we want to get him out of the game earlier. If it's a mediocre pitcher, he shouldn't be cruising like that. Should one hitter notice what's going on and take responsibility? Do we have someone who can adjust his game like that?

We've heard of legendary ballplayers who could foul off dozens of pitches. Is that what we're really hoping for, the guy who goes to the plate in the middle innings on a hot day and says, "I'm going to wear this guy out." Does a player like that really exist? Should somebody with that bat control just go ahead get a hit?

The most frustrating thing is when a pitcher has walked several, and the next batter swings at the first or second pitch. It's maddening, but that might be when the pitcher's pitches are most vulnerable. We know from some of our own pitchers what it's like to walk a couple of guys and give up a three-run homer. Maybe the question isn't why the batter swung at the pitch, but why he didn't do anything with it.

So how much control does a batter have over high pitch counts? I wonder if most high pitch counts are due to a pitcher just struggling, giving up lots of hits, a big inning, rather than anything the batter can do during his at-bat. (Aside from letting the pitcher dig his own hole.)

Have I left out any elements?

07-18-2010, 08:53 AM
Just a thought viz batters fouling a lot of balls off, I don't think many batters go up there expecting to wear a pitcher out. Foul balls, in many cases, is the batter attempting to put the ball in play and just missing, fouling it off. Certainly there are defensive fouls, although sometimes they don't connect and it looks like a weak swing at a pitch they couldn't handle.

When I think of inpatient hitters, I think of guys who have just witnessed a pitcher struggling, perhaps walking a couple of guys ahead of him, and just hacking away at the first pitch. Again, as you note, that might be a good pitch, but sometimes it behooves a batter to make a pitcher keep that up.

But then, they've been arguing this since the days when Moses carried a stick.

07-18-2010, 09:09 AM
Like many other aspects of modern analysis, plate discipline is misunderstood.

Plate discipline doesn't just mean taking a lot of pitches. Its about getting a good pitch to hit and jumping on it when it comes. Sometimes its the first pitch. Letting a good pitch to hit go by is probably worse than swinging at a borderline one that looks good to the hitter.

07-18-2010, 11:38 AM
Interesting topic.

I think it is intesting to look at individiual batters and see what their rate of success is at swinging at the first pitch.

For example, this link to Joey Votto's stats at ESPN (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/splits?playerId=28670) shows the stats by what the count was when the ball was put into play. This does not show what percentage were swung and missed or fouled, just how a batter did when he succeeded in putting the ball in play.

Joey, with a 0-0 count, has a line of .400/.421/.709 for an OPS of 1.130, with 5 HRs. With the count 1-0, his line drops to .241/.233/.552 for an OPS of .785. With a 2-0 count, Votto's line is .667/.667/.833 for an OPS of 1.500 when he puts the ball in play (only 6 times all season). With a 3-0 count, Votto has walked seven times, and has yet to put the ball in play this year. Clearly, when up 2-0 or 3-0, Votto makes the pitcher throw a strike before he swings much of the time. On the other hand, with two strikes, Joey's number do not look nearly as strong.

Another good first pitch hitter is Brandon Phillips (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/splits?playerId=5031). His line when the count is 0-0 is .373/.385/.667 for an OPS of 1.052, with three HRs.

Scott Rolen (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/splits?playerId=3507) also has better numbers when he puts the first pitch in play than overall: .333/.324/.788 for an OPS of 1.112 with 4 HRs.

Jay Bruce (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/splits?playerId=28954) also has really good numbers when he hits the first pitch: .405 .395 .738 1.133, with 4 HRs.

On the other side, there is Orlando Cabrera (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/splits?playerId=3739). His 0-0 line is .231/.222/.288 for an OPS of.510, with 0 HRs, a fair bit lower than his overall numbers.

I do think there is real value in some batters teeing off on the first pitch if they get one they can drive. On the flip side, I think that OBP and drawing walks is important too.

07-18-2010, 02:26 PM
On the other side, there is Orlando Cabrera (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/splits?playerId=3739). His 0-0 line is .231/.222/.288 for an OPS of.510, with 0 HRs, a fair bit lower than his overall numbers.

And this is the crux of the argument. Because he isn't looking for a ball to drive or perhaps unrealistically believes he can drive any ball he isn't real choosy when it comes to the 1st pitch and therefore isn't producing like the others because of it, both overall and in this situation. So it's fair to say he has an undisciplined approach.

Votto and Rolen both are fairly disciplined guys in that they aren't swinging at pitches that aren't optimal when they don't have to. In other words the discipline isn't in taking pitches perse' it's in finding the optimal pitch until you are forced to swing at something less than optimal.

Also though "optimal" has to be defined because ideally most would want it to mean one that can be driven with the utmost authority to preferably a safe part of the field, although any ball driven with alot of authority has fair chance at finding grass. However sometimes in this game players are directed to play the team game and do things like hit the ball to the right side or hit the ball in the air into the OF, etc. That would change the perception of the batter as to what is optimal. Unless of course it's a given that if he gets a ball to drive while looking for a pitch on the outside part of the plate (to hit it to the right side let's say) then he has the option to "go for it" so to speak.

Ok maybe I'm rambling now but maybe points in there are taken that way, just thoughts on the matter.

07-19-2010, 07:43 PM
Good post, BCubb. You're right, there are some paradoxes involved. Pitchers are warned about the harm done by walking guys, yet hitters often don't get proper appreciation for drawing them. Pitchers hear the gospel of the first-pitch strike, yet hitters are often praised for patience when letting a good pitch to hit go by and getting in an 0-1 hole and ceding control of the at-bat. The pitcher who is most likely to walk the next hitter is also the most likely to throw a first-pitch meatball hoping to avoid it. There are no hard-and-fast rules, it just depends on the skill and good judgment (or not) of the hitter.