0-2 and 1-2 counts are the pinnacle of pitcher counts. He should be in complete control of these and able to use virtually any pitch at his disposal. The batter, fearing the strikeout, has to expand his zone and hack at anything close which in turn makes him susceptible to breaking pitches that start off looking close and then break out of the zone as they near the plate. Furthermore, the batter knows this and expects it to some degree and so while the general rule to start an at bat is to sit fastball and adjust to other pitches, now the batter might have to sit offspeed, which leaves him open to being late on heat and also to letting strikes go by expecting them to break out of the zone.
It's no mistake that if the pitcher is able to work to an 0-2 or 1-2 count, the batter's OPS drops to around .500. These are tremendous advantages and the pitcher should be capitalizing on them by gunning for strikeouts. Starting from a new count, there's an argument to be made for trying to end at bats quickly and efficiently with strikes low in the zone designed to induce groundballs a la the Roy Halladay (and cruising Felix) method of pitching. However, there's no doubt that a strikeout is the best outcome for a pitcher and once a count reaches 0-2 or 1-2, then a pitcher should shift his motive to generating that strikeout since he's but one pitch away.
Now, generally, the best way to generate strikeouts is by missing bats. Called strikeouts are just nowhere near as sustainable of a skill as swinging strikes. The first measure we're going to take a look at for kicks is how often a pitcher tosses a putaway pitch in the strike zone. I will again be using the definition of strike zone that I used previously in the first pitch hacking article. All figures in this post are exclusively for starting pitchers and the data is current for 2008 up to a couple days ago.
|Table 1: Percentage of 0-2/1-2 pitches located within the strike zone
First, the Mariners. Bedard's putting these pitches in the zone a lot more often which may be the cause for his reduced swinging strike percentage. You'd think he'd be dealing the classic at bats like we saw to start off the season, getting hitters to chase his curve when they're down 0-2 or 1-2. It's nearly impossible to say since we don't have PITCH f/x data from Baltimore last year, but suffice to say that if the two are connected it would seem that Bedard's regression this year has more to do with command than with pure stuff.
Felix is also above the league average, but not by much and really it's not the right area to criticize him on. We're not actually complaining about his throwing strikes on 0-2 or 1-2, it's the centered fastballs that kills us, something we'll get to later.
There's a lot less of a trend apparent in looking over the rankings in this fashion than I was hoping for. Based purely on looking at the Mariners I was thinking that a trend would emerge that pitchers with weak stuff such as Washburn and Silva would be tossing outside the zone. The theory being that because they didn't have the stuff to miss bats, they would try to get hitters to miss via location rather than by fooling them with movement while more talented pitchers would get away with locating some putaway pitches within the zone because of their ability to miss bats overall. Alas, while it might be true, it's a weak correlation.
Moving on, lets now look at how these pitches result.
|Table 2: Results on 0-2/1-2 pitches thrown, Mariner SP
Each Mariner sans Felix has more than his share of pitches called a ball while each Mariner sans Washburn has more than his share of pitches called a strike. What does this say? It suggests that the scouting report is take more often against Mariner pitchers. Hitters took only 46% of 0-2 and 1-2 pitches against the league, while they take an average of 52% against the Mariners. That's a sizable difference and could speak to something systemic.
It should come as no surprise that the only two starters able to miss more bats than average are Bedard and Felix with Silva and Washburn representing reprehensible figures below 5%. To put it in greater perspective, here's a top and bottom five across the league in each category.
||21.6%||Baker, Scott||32.9%||Gallagher, Sean||14.5%|
|Young, Chris||27.0%||Beckett, Josh
||20.6%||Rasner, Darrell||32.0%||Arroyo, Bronson||15.4%|
|Baker, Scott||29.3%||Cabrera, Daniel||9.1%||Webb, Brandon
||20.1%||Young, Chris||31.1%||Santana, Ervin||15.9%|
||30.9%||Reyes, Jo-Jo||8.6%||Marcum, Shawn
||19.7%||Gallagher, Sean||30.5%||Hendrickson, Mark||16.2%|
|Olsen, Scott||31.6%||Glavine, Tom||8.1%||Harden, Rich
||18.2%||Kazmir, Scott||29.9%||Sanchez, Jonathan||16.6%|
||57.5%||Carmona, Fausto||0.0%||Silva, Carlos
||2.6%||Cabrera, Daniel||10.2%||Wakefield, Tim||35.9%|
|Moyer, Jamie||55.9%||Ponson, Sidney||0.8%||Blanton, Joe
||3.3%||Villanueva, Carlos||10.6%||Sonnanstine, Andy||34.6%|
|Cabrera, Daniel||55.7%||Jackson, Edwin||0.9%||Kendrick, Kyle
||4.2%||Glavine, Tom||10.8%||Hernandez, Livan||32.9%|
|Hill, Shawn||54.1%||McGowan, Dustin||1.0%||Moyer, Jamie
||4.8%||Floyd, Gavin||13.0%||Blanton, Joe||32.1%|
|Chacon, Shawn||51.7%||Looper, Braden||1.1%||Washburn, Jarrod
||4.8%||Hill, Shawn||13.1%||Garza, Matt||31.7%|
Table 3: Results on 0-2/1-2 pitches thrown, all SP
Yep, there's Silva and Washburn. Silva actually occupies the lowest rung among qualified starters. He's this front office's pitch-to-contact wet dream and the fact that they thought this was a virtue is one (of many many) reasons some of them are currently unemployed and hopefully soon, the rest will be as well.
Tim Lincecum is awesome.
Daniel Cabrera manages to have a high percentage of pitches taken for a ball and a high called strike percentage. Hitters do not swing at Cabrera's 0-2/1-2 pitches.
Interesting the Wakefield throws the fewest balls on these counts, but perhaps he just tosses the knuckler at the center of the plate and sees what happens. I don't know, it would be fascinating to interview a knuckle ball pitcher and attempt to figure out how they go about trying to locate pitches, if they do at all.
Andy Sonnanstine has a meh fastball, a meh curve, a meh changeup and a meh groundball rate. Jarrod Washburn has a meh fastball, a meh curve, a meh changeup and a meh groundball rate. Andy Sonnanstine throws strikes. Jarrod Washburn does not. Andy Sonnanstine has a 4.16 tRA following up a 4.65 tRA last year. Jarrod Washburn has a 5.24 tRA this year after a 5.25 tRA last year. See the difference?
Part 2 later on will look at what types of pitches are being thrown and where.