A surprise with first-pitch swinging

Posted By on January 26, 2012 10:50 am

Inspired by a twitter exchange Henry Schulman started (here and here and here) the other day, and because it’s a kinda slow at work, I decided to do a little experiment about first-pitch swinging.

I know the MLB numbers are pretty good for all hitters who put the first pitch in play, but that a) only takes into account when they actually hit the ball and b) could be slanted because hitters are supposed to know to only swing at fat first-pitches, which would mean their results would naturally be good when they hit the ball.

But, I assumed, the vast majority of first pitches are not cookies, so anyone who swings at a lot of them is probably swinging at a lot of them that he shouldn’t.

So, I figured if I took a list of the guys who swung at the highest percentage of first pitches, and a list of the guys who swung at the lowest percentage, the guys in the latter list would be waaaaay better.

These are their overall stats, not the first-pitch stats, because I wanted to judge the overall success of the guys who swung at first pitches, not just their success on those first pitches. This is just 2011, only for players who had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title (502)…

RankPlayer1st-pitch swingOPSBAOBPSLG
1Josh Hamilton*47%.882.298.346.536
2Miguel Olivo44%.641.224.253.388
3Vladimir Guerrero42%.733.290.317.416
4Yadier Molina42%.814.305.349.465
5Aramis Ramirez42%.871.306.361.510
6B.J. Upton42%.759.243.331.429
7Jeff Francoeur41%.805.285.329.476
8Freddie Freeman*41%.795.282.346.448
9Miguel Montero*40%.820.282.351.469
10John Buck39%.683.227.316.367
11Miguel Cabrera39%1.033.344.448.586
12Yuniesky Betancourt38%.652.252.271.381
13Ryan Ludwick38%.674.237.310.363
14Mike Morse38%.910.303.360.550
15Lance Berkman#37%.959.301.412.547
16Robinson Cano*37%.882.302.349.533
17Carlos Pena*37%.819.225.357.462
18Colby Rasmus*37%.688.225.298.391
19Hunter Pence36%.871.314.370.502
20Delmon Young36%.695.268.302.393
TOTALS.804.277.341.463
RankPlayer1st-pitch swingsOPSBAOBPSLG
1J.J. Hardy8%.801.269.310.491
2Jamey Carroll8%.706.290.359.347
3Bobby Abreu*9%.717.253.353.365
4Dustin Pedroia11%.861.307.387.474
5Brett Gardner*12%.713.259.345.369
6Curtis Granderson*12%.916.262.364.552
7Martin Prado12%.687.260.302.385
8Alberto Callaspo#14%.740.288.366.375
9Darwin Barney14%.666.276.313.353
10Shane Victorino#14%.847.279.355.491
11Jayson Werth15%.718.232.330.389
12Kurt Suzuki15%.686.237.301.385
13Placido Polanco16%.674.277.335.339
14David DeJesus*17%.698.240.323.376
15Ian Kinsler17%.832.255.355.477
16Logan Morrison*17%.797.247.330.468
17Albert Pujols18%.906.299.366.541
18Juan Pierre*18%.657.279.329.327
19Mark Teixeira#18%.835.248.341.494
20Nick Markakis*18%.756.284.351.406
.765.268.342.423

(Before you ask, Pablo Sandoval, at 40 percent, would have made the first list, except he came up 35 plate appearances short of qualifying because he was hurt.)

Anyway, what you see here is that the guys who swung at most first pitches had cumulative numbers better than the guys who swung at the least. That surprised me.

I suppose I could redo this and look at overall swing percentage, and that might be a better indicator, but I just spent 45 minutes doing this, so I’m going to leave the rest up to someone else.

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