Command PostNovember 30, 2007
Dirty Jobs
By Joe P. Sheehan

I've looked at pitcher's counts vs. hitter's count before, and prompted by this comment on The Book's blog, I decided to revisit the topic. When doing research of any kind, the hardest thing to do is to find an interesting question to topic to examine, and Tango's comment had a whole lot of interesting questions, so I'm going to tackle some of those, pseudo-blog style, throughout the day. Anyway, without any more introduction, lets see some results.

The reason certain counts are considered hitter's counts or pitcher's counts is partially due to the likelihood of a fastball being thrown on that pitch. For most pitchers, a fastball is their least effective strikeout pitch, as well as the pitch they have the most control over. In an extreme example, on 3&0, most of the time a pitcher will throw a fastball to get a strike, but in doing so, gives the batter a better a good pitch to hit. The chart below shows the percentage of fastballs thrown in each count, and gives a slightly different view of what makes up a hitter's count vs. a pitcher's count.

Count    FB%    Pitches
3&0      78%       2643
3&1      76%       5083
2&0      70%       8282
3&2      61%      10096
2&1      59%      12084
0&0      59%      58849
1&0      59%      23982
1&1      49%      22900
0&1      48%      27712
0&2      47%      12943
2&2      47%      16947
1&2      44%      19802

With an average FB% of 59% and the number of pitches thrown in each count, there are four counts that see an "average" number of fastballs, while the others could be grouped into hitter's counts and pitcher's counts. Most of these percents make sense, and the top of the list corresponds very well to the top of the pass-through table in terms of ranking the counts in terms of hitter friendliness. Not surprisingly, hitters see the most fastballs in 3&0 and also have the best results if they pass through that count during their at-bat. The ranking of pitcher's counts doesn't match up as well, with 0&2 surprisingly not seeing the lowest FB%. I'm not sure exactly why this is, but the important thing is that the differences between groups is much bigger than any differences within the groups.

The "ownership" of counts changes slightly using FB% as a guide. It makes intuitive sense that 1&1 should be a neutral count, the results of plate appearances that end in a 1&1 count make it a neutral count, the pass-through results say it's a neutral count, yet pitcher's throw fewer fastballs in that count than in other ones. Pitcher's don't seem to agree that 1&1 is actually a neutral count, and have responded by throwing almost as few fastballs as they do for 0&1 and 0&2 counts. 1&0, 2&1 and 3&2 change hands too. Prior to looking at this table, I would have bet any amount of money that there were a lot of fastballs thrown in these counts, making them hitter's counts. All of them have more balls than strikes and it just seems like they favor the hitter. Tango's pass through data labels them as hitter's counts, but pitchers treat them like 0&0 counts, throwing an "average" amount of fastballs. The two gray-area counts that Tango mentions (0&1, 2&2) are both pitcher's counts by this metric.

Count   High%   Low%    Mid%
3&0     29%     27%     44%
3&1     27%     27%     46%
2&0     27%     29%     44%
3&2     32%     26%     42%
2&1     28%     28%     44%
0&0     29%     28%     43%
1&0     27%     30%     43%
1&1     29%     28%     43%
0&1     31%     28%     42%
0&2     51%     18%     31%
2&2     35%     24%     41%
1&2     41%     21%     38%

Now that we know a little about what pitchers throw in different counts, let's look at where they throw it. The table above shows the vertical locations in the strike-zone for fastballs thrown in each count. In a 3&0 count, 27% of fastballs thrown are higher than 6 inches below the top of the strike-zone, 29% are lower than 6 inches above of the bottom of the strike-zone and 44% are thrown between that. This doesn't account for the horizontal position of the pitch and there really isn't anything interesting to see in most cases. 0&2 has the lowest percent of pitches in the middle, which is expected, and it seems that when a pitcher is going to throw a waste pitch on 0&2 and 1&2, it is usually thrown high.


I particularily like the results of the 2nd chart. You expect to see, in strikout counts (0-2, 1-2 mainly), high fastballs. That's where most power pitchers go to challenge thier enemy to swing out of the zone. I love watching AJ Burnett get a leftie bat out swinging at his eyes.

And, as expected, in 0-2 counts, high fastballs are thrown 51% of the time. And overall, the 4 highest high% are the 4 2-strike counts.

Nice find. I guess the next step would be to compare to certain types of pitchers (Burnett vs., say Jamie Moyer) and the success rate of that aggressiveness?

I wonder if the more successful pitchers tend to be able to throw non-fastballs for strikes in hitters counts, just throw better fastballs, or end up in hitters' counts less often. Probably some combination of all three.

Fantastic stuff!

Perhaps another explanation with some of those pitcher's counts depends on what they have already thrown. If you still haven't used your soap yet, showing the % of FB already thrown might be a good thing to show as well.

Basically, from the pitcher's perspective, he might be more interested in "change of pace". Not so much % of FB thrown, but also how many more (or less) FB to throw, compared to how many he threw so far.

Again, great stuff!

So it seems like pitchers throw the high fastball on 0-2 as a "chase pitch." This distorts the data, because the fastball isn't being thrown as a control pitch, it's being thrown so that it's just as hard to hit as a curve or change (which is, at a hitter's eyes).

A question/possible-topic for Joe....

How does pitch selection change with RISP or bases loaded? I remember you looked at leverage with Peavy and saw more sliders/cutters, but I don't recall you writing anything since then looking at all pitchers, not just Peavy.

I'm actually just too lazy to find the answer myself.

so re:

Count    FB%    Pitches
0&2 47% 12943
1&2 44% 19802

...and your comment with 0&2 surprisingly not seeing the lowest FB%. I'm not sure exactly why this is

that since 0-2 is the closest to an autonomic-response count (far more so than 1-2), that the best chance the pitcher has to squelch any possibility of offense is to throw a strike-looked-at (and not swing into play or swing and miss). Let me also suggest that in this case, batter is more likely to be looking either for a not-strike or a not-FB, and that there's a higher chance of getting a bat-on-the-shoulder strike by fooling the batter. And on the most autonomic count, a fastball strike is going to be the most counter to the autonmic expecation.

In the majors last year, there was an 0-2 count 14766 times and 6660 Ks on those. And extraordinary # of 1-2-3 strikeouts. I don't have BIS data...I don't know how many were taken 3rd strikes, but let me hypothesize a pitcher can optimize by going against the expected grain at least 5% of the time. Presume 5% of 0-2 pitches were fastballs-meant-to-get-a-taken 3rd strike against batter's highest expectation of the "sure thing", and that more than covers the 3% difference in frequency of 1-2 FBs compared to 0-2 FBs.

One more data point, presuming pitchers or catchers respond to reality. according to Tippet data via Tango via another smart guy, BABIP on put in play following 0-2 is .287, and BABIP following 1-2 is .289. The batter is FUNCTIONALLY ~99.8% as defensive 1-2 as he is 0-2. Are you therefore giving up much more letting him swing at your (surprise) fastball 0-2 as you are after wasting one a pitch later? Some, yes, but very very little in the composite case. There's an arguable case here that pitchers should have a higher frequency of 0-2 fastballs, at least until the dogma of the waste pitch is diminished.

I'm not trying to ignore the great comments so far, but I'm out of town and have fluky internet access. There is a 2nd part to this article that I wanted to post on Friday/Saturday which looks at what happens to pitches in different counts, and when I get home, I'll post that, along with some detailed replies to these comments.