More on first pitch swinging – runners on base

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

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


  1. Rings

    January 8, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    Interesting stuff.
    I don’t know if there’s a statistical way to research this, but the problem that many of us have, is not that they swing at the first pitch (which can often be a good offering), but it’s what type of pitch is offered upon and what’s the situation: to wit, the Ordonez example has been infuriorating when he hacks at a first pitch down in the zone and grounds into a DP, as happened twice during the playoff run. It’s anecdotal, of course, but still not what one would hope for from their experienced cleanup man. Many other playoff situations begged for someone to shorten up and just put a ball in play (Inge, many occasions) to move or score a runner.
    The beauty of baseball, is that there’s no end to the variety of situations (which, unfortunately, cannot all be measured statistically).

  2. Kyle J

    January 8, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    Great stuff in these two posts, Bilfer. I think we’d all agree with Rings that swinging at hittable first pitches is the key. The data would seem to indicate that the Tigers, on balance, swing at more hittable first pitches than tough pitches.

    Also, it’s important to keep in mind we’re talking about pitches traveling 75 to 100 MPH. Some times the batter is going to think he’s swinging at a hittable pitch and it turns out not to be not so hittable. We may think the Tigers do this more than other teams just because most of us watch a lot more Tiger at bats than at bats for other teams.

    The amount of work involved is probably prohibitive, but it would be interesting to know how the Tigers’ performance swinging and not swinging at first pitches compared with the rest of the league. I.E., Were they worse or better than average at identifying hittable first pitches to swing at?

  3. Tim D

    January 8, 2007 at 9:11 pm

    This late but did you see that Lynn Henning thinks Andre Dawson is more of a HOFr than Trammell? I like Henning a lot but I sent him a piece of my mind on this.

  4. Tim D

    January 8, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    Also we now have both Timo and Neifi Perez. We cannot be stopped!

    The first pitch swinging doesn’t bother me so much when it is a guy who can hit it out. Not Neifi.

  5. billfer

    January 9, 2007 at 12:28 am

    Kyle – I’d like to do the whole league, or even multiple seasons to gain some real insight. Unfortunately you’re right in that the time is prohibitive for me right now. It’s something I may pursue further and actually draw some conclusions from. As it stands now, there is no predictive or strategic value in the data, it is simply a reflection of what happened.

  6. David

    January 9, 2007 at 5:50 am

    Well it appears that many of the most “patient hitters” were also the ones who struck out the most, and it is hard to have one without the other.

    Here are the top 10 walks leaders in the AL and added is the # of times they struck out

    BB K
    1) David Ortiz 119 117
    2) Jason Giambi 110 106
    3) Jim Thome 107 147
    4) Travis Hafner 100 111
    5) Manny Ramirez 100 102
    6) Nick Swisher 97 152
    7) Kevin Youkilis 91 120
    8) Alex Rodriguez 90 139
    9) Mark Teixeira 89 128
    10) Troy Glaus 86 134
    (sorry they aren’t exactly lined up)

    anyways only 2 players in the top 50 that I see have a sizeable more # of walks than K’s Joe Mauer(79walks and 54K’s) and Frank Catalanotto (52BB, 37K’s) thats it

    The only thing this date can suggest is that the most “patient hitters” also strike out the most. Everyone on that list with the exclusion of Kevin hit 33 or more Hrs and most are the top hitters of their respective teams, so the walk rate might be more of a combonation and suggestive of a pitchers repeatedly pitching around them and the strikeout rate reflective of their “all or nothing” philosophy that the Babe and many other prolific sluggers used.

    I know this might not be exactly on topic, but I think you have to study the entire at-bat rather than focusing on the first pitch.

    Maybe I’m way off but I think Leyland put it best when he was talking about Grandy in mid-August “From what I’ve seen, he has to get better at hitting hittable pitches”

    4 words
    good contact, good eye

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