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.

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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