Saturday, January 15, 2011


There you are, on your own 35 yard line.  As a courtesy, they bring out the chains, but you already know the answer -- you didn't make it.  4th and 1.  What do you call?  If you're and NFL coach, you probably punt.  Why?  Not because of the expectations.  On 1st and 10, 80% of running plays garner 1 yard or more.  I can believe that number drops on 4th and 1, but you are probably still more likely than not to get your first down.  It's true that turning the ball over on your own 35 can be costly, but I still think you give up too much.

So why do coaches do it?  Because they can read tomorrow's headlines already -- "Idiot turns over ball on own 35 yard line.  What a buffoon."

The shame of being second guessed outweighs statistical expectations.

Back to baseball

It's 0-2.  You look into the catcher, but you already know what he's looking for -- low and outside.  I don't understand this.  I haven't crunched the numbers, but I'm pretty sure I know what I would find for the Sox.  The majority of 0-2 pitches are low and outside.  Why?  Maybe this is the theory:
  • He probably won't hit it
  • He might strike out
  • You can afford to give up a ball
Well, the 1st and 3rd bullets are probably right, but I can't say that I've seen a lot of strike-outs via low and outside on 0-2 pitches.  Why not?  Here's why not.  That's what the batter is looking for.  If that's where the balls goes, you'll get a weak foul (if it's close to a strike) or a ball (if it's not).

I think that pitchers give up too much here.  By avoiding 90% of the strike zone, they raise the batter's ability to stay alive.  They charge themselves an extra pitch -- a pitch they might wish they had back later in the game.  And for what?  Usually for the chance to do it again.  I can understand "low and outside" being the most likely location for an 0-2 pitch.  But if there was even a 50% chance that the 0-2 was going somewhere else, I think you'd see more strikeouts on 0-2, even low and away.

So how do I rate it?

Enough complaining.  How do I rate the outcomes on 0-2?  Here's how, in descending order from pitcher's best to batter's best:

1) Called strike

There will be some debate here, but my basic theory is this: The batter knows that he has to protect the plate on 0-2.  If he thought he could hold off and gets called out, you got him, but good.

2) Swinging strike

You really earned this on the first two pitches.  Now that the batter has to protect the plate, he's a little more at risk from surprise location, speed, etc.  Still, good on you, mate.

3) Weak hit in play

This is also part of what the pitcher earned.  The injured at-bat leads to an easy out.  I'll bet that good strikeout pitchers get more of these than average.  It's part of why K/9 is a useful metric -- good strikeout pitches get better results on non-strike out at bats.  But see the caveat at the end of this post...

4) Ball

This is really more about penalizing the pitcher than rewarding the batter.  I know, I know -- if it was a close pitch and the batter held off, you probably want to praise the batter's eye.  My guess is that, often, the batter was fooled and got lucky.

5) Foul, not straight back

River City's breaking and everybody's shaking.  I love those sequences where a batter takes 3+ pitches, after an 0-2 count, even when the pitcher ultimately wins.  It's a Pyrrhic victory.  For every 2 batters who manage this feat, the pitcher loses one at-bat at the end of the game.

6) Well hit -- in play or straight back

I regard those fouls (straight back) as almost as good as balls hit well into play (see this post for why).  And as a reminder, once the ball is hit into play, the pitcher has precious little to do with the result.  0-2 should create a low probability of this kind of a hit, so the batter really won this one.


I have a few misgivings about #3 (weak hit) vs #5 (weak foul).  Why is a foul so good for the batter and a weak hit not?  Well, my thinking as follows: the foul was really the batter avoiding the strikeout in order to get another chance.  The ball-in-play ends the at bat (even if the lucky batter gets aboard).  The batter shouldn't be trying to earn that hit on 0-2, he should be trying to work towards a safer pitch count.  Allowing the ball to go in play is a poor outcome in my book.  But maybe I'm wrong.  Stay tuned...


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