.I’ve often had very
heated luke warm temperatured dialogue with sports enthusiasts that believed under no circumstances should an MLB hitter ever swing at the first pitch. Ever.
Ridiculous I say.
Often, at the center of the discussion was the Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins; who was notorious for first pitch swinging.
My argument was, and after reading what I’m about to share with you, and still is, that if you see YOUR pitch as the first in the at bat…then swing. In fact, if you see your pitch, in your zone, where you know you can tag it…then swing.
My qualm with Rollins all his years as a Phillie wasn’t that he swung at the first pitch – it’s that he didn’t execute it. If it’s your pitch, then you’re in command to hit that thing on the screws, hopefully for extra bases, or over a wall.
Another reason to go after that pitch you deem as yours early in the count? With today’s hurlers armed with loads of data about hitter strengths and weaknesses, and add to that their precise control, that pitch may be the only hittable pitch during your at bat. Wanna put the ball in play with a later pitch? Fine, then you’re likely at the mercy of a pitcher’s pitch, or being forced to leave the zone to avoid the umpire deciding your fate with the bat on your shoulder.
Remember, what’s now been a decade ago, when it was common for Barry Bonds to get one or NO pitches in a plate appearances to his liking to drive somewhere? That’s most situations these days, even for the most puny of hitters. Pitchers are just too darn good.
A final rumination of mine on this before I share the SI.com Verducci article; it’s common for lineups to work counts to get to the bullpen these days, no?
In fact, I heard that thought just last night watching the Rays and Yankees game. The Rays broadcast duo, who I think are among the best in MLB, suggested that Tampa wasn’t being diligent enough about exhausting Phil Hughes to get to the Yankee bullpen.
Think about that…while Hughes had has moments of success in his career, he came into the game with ERA of 5. Sure, Hughes was pitching well, but why on earth would you want him OUT of the game, unless it was because he’d already been tagged for 5 or 6 runs?! *Disclosure: the Yankees bullpen this morning sports a 4.98 ERA, but I stand behind my point, because the broadcasters’ comment was a fairly general and prevalent MLB thought*
The thinking prevails, in my mind, for most teams around the league. This isn’t ten years ago where a couple of MLB’s exceptional teams could shorten a game to six innings with an electric bullpen to back up a starter. (in ’12 22 MLB bullpens avg 8 K’s per 9 IP). That’s now the majority of teams in the league. Congrats, you wore out the mediocre starter, now here come the relievers who’ll match you up, or just throw 98 with unhittable movement.
Working the count…why do it?
Welcome to the state of the art in hitting these days, where aggressiveness is disdained and passivity is exalted. The modern hitter is guided by the accepted wisdom in catchphrases such as “driving up pitch counts,” “taking pitches” and “quality at-bats.” There is one serious flaw in this groupthink strategy.
It isn’t working.
Hitters are striking out more than ever before in baseball history while runs, walks, hits and home runs have been on the decline for years. And while teams still preach the religion of driving up pitch counts to “get into the bullpen” of the other team, they may be pushing an outdated agenda. So fortified are major league bullpens these days, especially with hard throwers, that last year relievers posted an ERA more than half a run lower than starters and averaged almost one strikeout for every inning.