FanPost

The Price of Aggression: a look at first-pitch swings on the Orioles

USA TODAY Sports

By now most fans are already familiar with the Orioles' batting philosophy of attacking early in the count. Many people have argued about the philosophy itself – especially as compared to the count-working, walk-drawing styles of recent Boston and New York teams. This post isn't intended to do that. The O's are not likely to change hitting coaches or approaches in the middle of any season, much less when the team is in the playoff hunt and third in the league in runs per game. Instead, I want to know whether the team is executing the strategy well, and which players in particular are doing best and worst.

At its core, the idea of attacking is not so different from that of working the count. The goal is to get a good pitch to hit and to hit it hard. Often in the fifth hour of a Yankees-Red Sox game sportswriters begin to write pieces that extol the virtues of putting the first pitch of an at bat into play - the AL as a whole is batting .336/.339/.559 on 0-0 pitches, 43% better than it hits overall.

The reason for this is simple - the first pitch is often a good one. Every pitching commentator, no matter how limited his repertoire, has repeatedly said "the best pitch in baseball is Strike One." If the pitcher is more likely to throw a fastball over the plate on the first pitch of an at bat, then the hitter may as well take advantage.

Alas, I couldn't find data on how often the O's swing at the first pitch, only on how often they put the first pitch into play. That will have to be the surrogate stat for how often they swing.

So how often do the O's put the first pitch in play, and how much is it helping?

Unit

1st in play

OPS

tOPS+

Detroit

13.28%

.865

118

New York

12.23%

.838

142

Tampa Bay

11.87%

.865

128

Houston

11.35%

.893

165

Seattle

10.86%

.895

148

Baltimore

10.69%

.923

137

Los Angeles

10.58%

.885

130

Toronto

10.43%

.884

137

AL

10.38%

.897

143

Chicago

10.28%

.849

144

Kansas City

10.27%

.918

165

Texas

10.12%

1.073

186

Oakland

9.57%

.823

126

Cleveland

9.33%

.904

137

Minnesota

8.72%

.902

153

Boston

7.63%

.977

144

tOPS+ compares the team's OPS+ on the first pitch with its OPS+ in all situations. All teams hit better when putting the first pitch in play than they do overall, but some improve more than others. There's not a clear cut relationship between how often teams hit the first pitch and how well they hit it; the Tigers put the first pitch in play most with the worst results, but the Red Sox put it in play the least with merely average results, and the Rangers put it in play an average amount with the best results. The Orioles hit the first pitch slightly more than average, but with somewhat below average results.

The key to making the strategy work is individual decisions – that is, knowing when the first pitch is good enough to hack at. So, how often do the individual Oriole hitters put the first pitch in play, and how much damage are they doing?

1st

After 0-1

After 1-0

Player

Pct

OPS

tOPS+

Pct

OPS

tOPS+

Pct

OPS

tOPS+

Machado

14.71%

.640

59

45.98%

.770

91

39.31%

.911

126

Flaherty

14.29%

.546

75

46.43%

.705

122

39.29%

.558

81

Jones

13.32%

1.067

153

49.88%

.798

93

36.80%

.773

90

Davis

12.98%

1.664

189

45.29%

.775

41

41.73%

1.316

139

Wieters

12.17%

.704

99

43.77%

.570

62

44.06%

.834

140

AL

10.38%

.897

143

49.32%

.619

70

40.30%

.824

127

McLouth

9.30%

.714

90

50.99%

.705

89

39.72%

.805

116

Markakis

8.63%

.876

139

48.92%

.689

88

42.45%

.739

105

Hardy

5.41%

1.139

204

54.38%

.649

80

40.21%

.767

114

Now it becomes clear that some of the O's are thriving as first-ball swingers, and others are not. The three All-star starters, in particular, are doing spectacular damage when they put the first pitch in play, although Hardy is doing it much, much less often than Davis and Jones. While Thor and the Doctor start swinging as they leave the on deck circle, James Jerry seems to be showing carefully controlled aggression; he looks for a very specific pitch (fastball on the inner part of the plate, I'd bet,) swings only if he gets exactly that, and then punishes it.

Markakis is also doing a fairly good job of selecting the right first pitches to swing at – although he's not getting quite as much benefit out of it as the league average hitter does. McLouth, on the other hand, is actually hitting worse on first pitches than he is overall. Given that he hits pretty much the same after going down 0-1 as when he puts the first pitch in play, an argument could be made that Nate should take the first pitch even more often than he already does.

God only knows what goes through Ryan Flaherty's mind at the plate. It appears the only reason for him to swing at the first pitch is so he can miss it and fall behind in the count, since he hits much better after going 0-1 than 1-0.

Which brings us to the two most troubling regulars, the two whose at bats spurred this whole investigation. Wieters is the most likely player to take a ball, and that usually helps him – he hits pretty well after going ahead 1-0. That fact, combined with his mediocre results when he puts the first pitch in play and his terrible record when he falls behind, suggests that he would benefit from being far more selective on the first pitch.

And then there's Machado, who is absolutely killing himself with his first-ball swinging. There are no secrets in 21st century baseball; the most remarkable thing about Manny's humiliating All-Star at bat was that a pitcher, catcher, and pitching coach from National League teams that have not played the O's since Machado was called up nevertheless knew he was going to swing at the first pitch, no matter where or what it was. The pitchers have made their adjustment, and now Manny must make his.

What makes Machado's approach particularly frustrating is that he is in so many other ways such a quick study. I have been repeatedly impressed by how he can be badly fooled the first time he sees a pitch from a pitcher (and at this point in his career he is constantly seeing pitchers for the first time) but then in the same game recognize the pitch and either hit it hard or take it. Unfortunately, by putting the first pitch in play all the time he is extending the period of unfamiliarity with pitchers. It could take him four or five at bats to see all the pitches that a given pitcher has in his tool-belt.

I can understand the desire to keep things simple for a young player, but the strategy that Machado is using in his at bats now is hurting the team and quite possibly damaging his development. My biggest wish for the rest of the season is to see this fixed as soon as possible.

FanPosts are user-created content and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors of Camden Chat or SB Nation. They might, though.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

Join Camden Chat

You must be a member of Camden Chat to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Camden Chat. You should read them.

Join Camden Chat

You must be a member of Camden Chat to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Camden Chat. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9351_tracker