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The Orioles lineup and the first pitch of the at-bat

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Today, we take a look at how Orioles hitters perform after the first pitch of the count. For several of them, getting into a hitter’s count is important.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

After the Yankees signed Chris Carter last week, I did some digging to see what the Orioles might be up against when they encounter the former Brewer in AL East play this season. Naturally, I was curious why the market wasn’t kind to Carter and why, strangely enough, he was almost prepared to play overseas this season. I didn’t find anything that jumped off the stat sheet initially, but some digging provided several intriguing tidbits.

I went over the numbers throughout Carter’s career and narrowed my search down to attempt to put a marker on how clutch Carter is. Although tons of strikeouts are seen as less of a downside in today’s game, teams were still not knocking down Carter’s door to sign him. Even the Orioles passed on last year’s National League home run leader.

What I found wasn’t necessarily the obvious factor in Carter’s struggle to find a home, but there were several notable holes in his numbers.

Below, the two that worried me the most:

  • Career with 2 outs, RISP: .182 average, 108 Ks in 264 ABs.
  • 2016 after down in count 0-1: .155 average. (Career: .176 average)

Those numbers aren’t good, particularly after pitchers are able to throw strike one. Think about it this way — if you throw a first-pitch strike to Carter, there’s approximately an 82% chance of you sending him to the dugout. That’s an obvious drawback for big-league teams.

Now, what does that have to do with the Orioles?

Great question! My offseason trend of burying the lede continues.

The Carter statistics, combined with this great piece from Mark Davidson over at Beyond The Boxscore got me thinking about these simple situations in the game, particularly how the O’s lineup fares after the first pitch of an at-bat.

So, without further ado, here’s how the Orioles lineup has fared in their careers after the count is 0-1, and after the count is 1-0 (h/t to Baseball Reference, the website I have spent way too many hours of my life browsing):

Orioles post-first pitch data

Name After 1-0 After 0-1 Differencial
Name After 1-0 After 0-1 Differencial
M. Trumbo .291 .210 -81
C. Davis .272 .192 -80
R. Flaherty .241 .169 -72
S. Smith .292 .233 -59
M. Machado .305 .260 -45
A. Jones .289 .244 -45
H. Kim .313 .268 -45
J. Schoop .264 .220 -44
W. Castillo .265 .230 -35
J. Hardy .267 .246 -21
C. Joseph .201 .211 10

It’s important to note that Kim was by far the smallest sample size here with just 305 total at-bats registered, so keep that in mind when scanning over the numbers. Other than that though, everyone on this list owned a healthy record to calculate their performances after the first pitch.

You’ll notice that there isn’t a column for on-base percentage in the table, and that’s by design. This exercise wasn’t meant to dive terribly deep into every outcome at the plate, rather focus on the general ability of each hitter with the bat in their hand after the first offering. A bit further down you’ll find averages for swings on first pitches, which weren’t included in the above numbers.

First, let’s collectively tip our caps to Caleb Joseph. Somehow, in over 600 at-bats where the AB got at least two pitches deep, Joseph has performed 10 average points better when the count isn’t in his favor. Sometimes, you really can’t predict baseball.

Joseph is the obvious outlier, but there are other head-turning numbers on that table.

We like to think of Trumbo and Davis as being somewhat cut from the same cloth when it comes to their approaches at the plate, and their numbers here absolutely back that up. When examining it, it’s rather amazing that their averages swing so drastically depending on the outcome of the first pitch they see. Both jumps are striking — particularly Davis’, considering he’s significantly below the Mendoza Line.

Ryan Flaherty also provides us with a relevant talking point here. His 72-point dip in average was the kind of unique insight that I was hoping to find at the onset of this search. Because the numbers are scaled to each individual player and aren’t dependent upon ability, we can truly get a look at just how important the first pitch is in the great game of baseball. For Flaherty, falling behind in the count just 0-1 is devastating.

Hardy and Castillo offer encouraging numbers, as does Adam Jones in the grand scheme of things. Truthfully, after years of watching Jones fill a lineup spot, I thought he might have the worst numbers after falling behind.

As promised, here are career totals on results of putting the ball in play on the first pitch:

Orioles putting the first pitch in play

Name First pitch in-play
Name First pitch in-play
H. Kim .448
C. Davis .445
A. Jones .364
W. Castillo .358
J. Hardy .335
J. Schoop .335
M. Trumbo .324
M. Machado .311
R. Flaherty .310
S. Smith .278
C. Joseph .267

What we learn here is that when Chris Davis swings and makes contact on a first pitch, fans in the outfield bleachers ought to get their gloves ready. He’s unbelievable when the first pitch of an at-bat goes in play, slugging .962 (60 HR) in 416 at-bats. Have those numbers in mind when keeping track of how pitchers throw Davis to start the AB in 2017.

Everything else seems to fall into line aside from Hyun-Soo Kim and Seth Smith. Kim’s sample size isn’t nearly big enough, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep tabs of those situations moving forward. For Smith, He’s had 277 ABs in the first pitch ball-in-play situation and hasn’t fared as well as you’d like to see. Again, not a game-changing statistic by any means, just a past trend that warrants some eyeballs as he moves to Baltimore.

At the end of this look, we’ve now dug up several noteworthy trends heading into 2017. As you watch the games this season, keep tabs on that first pitch.

While it might not be the most important — regardless of what your little league coach told you — it’s critical for approaches throughout the season.