While I dispelled some of my issues with the Tigers and first pitch swinging, I still had some questions. I think many Tiger fans can remember what seemed like all those times there were runners on base only to see Magglio Ordonez (or any host of other Tiger hitters) take a swing at the first pitch and pop out to first base. So did first pitch swing rates, as well as success, hinge on whether or not there are runners on base?
First we’ll take a look at if the rate of first pitch swinging varies whether or not there are runners on base:
First pitch swing rates Overall Bases Empty Runners On Sw Rate Sw Rate PA's Sw Rate PA's ------- ------- ------- ------- ------- Casey 22% 13% 104 32% 92 Clevlen 26% 32% 19 22% 23 Gomez 42% 46% 61 38% 50 Granderson 24% 17% 424 37% 252 Guillen 33% 31% 346 35% 276 Infante 33% 23% 144 48% 101 Inge 22% 21% 344 24% 257 Monroe 40% 37% 301 44% 284 Ordonez 39% 40% 349 38% 298 Perez 41% 40% 40 43% 30 Polanco 21% 19% 283 23% 212 Rodriguez 39% 37% 304 42% 276 Santiago 36% 29% 48 45% 38 Shelton 18% 16% 227 21% 185 Stairs 34% 36% 25 32% 19 Thames 37% 37% 217 36% 173 Wilson 36% 30% 98 46% 70 Young 42% 45% 101 39% 83 --------------------------------------------------------- Total 31% 28% 3435 35% 2719
The first thing that surprised me was that Ordonez was less likely (marginally so) to swing at the first pitch with runners on base. This is just another example where facts show the fault in relying on memory. He was actually an anomaly amongst the players with significant plate appearances. Most saw at least moderate increases. Curtis Granderson was more than twice as likely to offer at the first pitch with a runner on base. Craig Monroe’s already high rate went up to 44% with ducks on the pond.
One thing to note here about Pudge Rodriguez and Vance Wilson is that there swing rates were effected by sacrifice bunts, which commonly would occur on the first pitch. Rodriguez bunted, or attempted to bunt 14 times on the first pitch and Vance Wilson did 10 times. Backing that out Pudge swung 39% of first pitches with men on base and Wilson 37%. No other players were close to them in attempts/bunts on the first pitch so any adjustments would amount to less than a percentage point.
Now it’s not surprising the rates go up. I haven’t done the research, but my gut would tell me that pitchers aren’t going to want to fall behind with men on base. Hopefully the Tigers weren’t overeager and chasing, but actually teeing up easier to hit pitches. If this is true it should play itself out in the results.
Tiger results based on first pitch BA OBP SLG ---- ---- ---- Runners On - 1st pitch - Take - Full AB .273 .350 .444 Runners On - 1st pitch -Swing - Full AB .303 .317 .499 Runners on - 1st pitch -Swing - In Play .388 .376 .579 Bases Empty - 1st pitch -Take - Full AB .258 .326 .407 Bases Empty - 1st pitch -Swing - Full AB .297 .316 .520 Bases Empty - 1st pitch -Swing - In Play .378 .378 .642
Now the theory doesn’t play out as I would have expected. Putting the ball in play on the first pitch does result in a higher batting average with runners on, but a lower slugging percentage. So a few more hits are dropping, possibly because fielders are holding runners on or playing in double play depth. But slugging percentage is .063 points higher with the bases empty.
Also take note of the disparity in on base percentage when taking the first pitch with runners on base. A possible explanation is that instead of pitchers being more agressive in the strike zone with runners on, the opposite holds true. When the Tigers took the first pitch with the bases empty it resulted in a called strike 45% of the time. With runners on that number drops to 37% (not counting intentional balls, but including pitchouts). Taking the first pitch with runners on leaves the batter with a better count than otherwise.
I don’t have a lot of explanations or meaning for the data, just that I thought it was interesting.
A couple other notes of interest related to first pitch swinging:
- With the bases empty Detroit hit 21 homers on the first pitch and 13 with runners on base.
- Pudge Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen, Marcus Thames, and Magglio Ordonez each hit 5 homers swinging on the first pitch
- Eleven of the team’s 36 sacrifice flies came on the first pitch.
- Eleven times Tigers were hit by the first pitch, thus making the decision easier.
- Pudge Rodriguez only found himself in a 1-0 count 34% of the time meaning that 2 out of every 3 at-bats found him immediately behind in the count or the at-bat had already ended after the first pitch.
- Brandon Inge was the Tiger most likely to be in an early hole starting 52% of his plate appearances down 0-1.
The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at www.retrosheet.org.
For the sake of completeness, here are the links to the other 2 articles done here: First Pitch Swinging and Even More on First Pitch Swinging – Starters vs Relievers