By Bill Chuck
How may times have you heard the importance of getting that first pitch over? Plenty, right? Getting ahead on the count is a very important part of effective pitching and on certain counts it is ultimately the difference between success and failure.
Let me give you some stats about the count for Sox pitchers this season.
Heres the big picture: When Sox pitchers are ahead on the count this season, batters are hitting .190 with a .494 OPS, when the batter is ahead on the count, they hit about 100 points higher, .291, with an OPS that is over 400 points higher, .942.
Batters are hitting .305 against Sox pitchers on the first pitch this season and they have given up 19 homers on that pitch, more than on any other. Wake has given up five homers on the pitch and Andrew Miller has given up three. Batters are hitting .150 against Daniel Bards first pitch, but they are hitting .300 against Jonathan Papelbons. But check this out, batters are hitting 1-for-26 (.038) against Alfredo Aceves first pitch.
Sox batters, known for their patience, are hitting .340 but have only homered nine times on that pitch. Tek has hit three of those homers and is 13-for-23 when putting balls in play on the first pitch, good for a .525 average. Adrian Gonzalez is hitting .444 on first pitches, but Carl Crawford is only hitting .231 on the initial pitch.
1-0 vs. 0-1
Okay, so what exactly does it mean for the pitcher to get that first pitch over?
Sox pitchers hold their opponents to a .283 average when balls are put in play on an 0-1 count. But batters hit .341 on 1-0 counts. However they give up 13 homers on 0-1 and 15 homers on 1-0. When the count is 1-0 for John Lackey, batters hit .406 and when hes ahead at 0-1 they hit a lot worse, but a still not great, .317. When the count is 1-0 for Jon Lester, batters hit .326 and 0-1 the difference isnt that significance as they hit .294. Batters hit .278 off Beckett but on 0-1, batters only hit .205 off him.
Sox batters love the 1-0 count carrying a .405 batting average and have hit 24 homers, the most of any count. On a 1-0 count Jarrod Saltalamacchia has gone 10-for-14, hitting .714 with two homers and a 2.143 OPS. Gonzo is hitting .458 with six homers and a 1.398 OPS, David Ortiz is hitting .448 with four homers and a 1.379 OPS, and Jacoby Ellsbury is hitting .520 with four homers a 1340 OPS. Even Carl Crawford is hitting .409 on 1-0.
But on 0-1, Sox batters are hitting 100 points less at .305 despite Jason Varitek going 5-for-7. Big Papi is hitting .344 with a .938 OPS. Carl Crawford is hitting .370, Gonzo is hitting .356 and even J.D. Drew is at .308. So, whos struggling on 0-1? Youk is only hitting .171 and Jacoby is hitting .235.
The 1-1 pitch
If there is any key pitch in an at bat, this is it. In my conversation with former Mets, A's, Brewers pitching coach, Rick Peterson, this is the pitch he told me was the most critical in the count.
The difference between what happens on a 1-2 pitch and a 2-1 pitch is astounding.
Against the 1-1 count this season, Sox opponents are hitting .304 with a .461 slugging percentage and a .774 OPS.
Against the 2-1 count this season, Sox opponents are hitting .327 with a .542 slugging percentage and a .875 OPS. For example: Jon Lester: .410.7181.143.
Against the 1-2 count this season, Sox opponents are hitting .168 with a .249 slugging percentage and a .427 OPS. For example: Jon Lester: .092.171.286.
The difference for all Sox between 2-1 and 1-2 is 160 points in batting average, 300 points in slugging and 450 points in OPS. For Jon Lester its about 420 points in batting average and 900 points in OPS. (You have permission to say, Wow!)
Lets take a look at how Sox batters do on the 1-2 pitch vs. 2-1 pitch:
Against the 1-1 count this season, overall Sox batters are hitting .363 with a .562 slugging percentage and a .923 OPS.
Against the 2-1 count this season, Sox batters are hitting .356 with a .559 slugging percentage and a .920 OPS. For example: Kevin Youkilis: .5481.1291.692.
Against the 1-2 count this season, Sox batters are hitting .195 with a .323 slugging percentage and a .520 OPS. For example: Kevin Youkilis: .181.333.528
The overall difference for Sox batters between 2-1 and 1-2 is 160 points in batting average, 235 points in slugging and 400 points in OPS. For Youk, its 360 points in batting average and about 1170 point in OPS (all together now, Wow!)
Its incredible the difference that one pitch can make. The next game you watch, start paying attention to the first three pitches of each at-bat and you can be an armchair pitching coach knowing the numbers will back you up.
The stats in this column reflect action through 823.