Do you remember the last time you swung and missed?
Maybe it happened at your beer league softball game? Or maybe it was during last week’s company-wide meeting when you thought you’d tell that funny story about the peanut butter thing but screwed up the beginning, and nobody laughed—not even Amber from accounting who giggles at everything—so you sat down all hot faced, feeling stupid all day?
Or maybe you’re thinking of that day you finally asked out Amber from Accounting, and that time she did laugh?
Nobody likes to swing and miss, is all I’m saying. And nobody likes that awkward what-what of trying to save a story from a bad opening line. Here’s some baseball-related proof:
League-wide Batting Average after 0-1 counts, lowest in recorded MLB History:
- 2018 = .220
- 2014 = .223
- 2017 = .225
- 2013 = .226
- 2016 = .226
Even our planet’s best swingers struggle after digging an early hole, and it’s getting worse year over year. On the flip side, these same swingers hit .264 after starting a count 1-0. That 44-point difference is replicated across league-wide triple-slash lines:
- 1-0 count outcomes = 264/380/445 with a 125 wRC+
- 0-1 count outcomes = 220/266/352 with a 66 wRC+
From this, we might conclude that Strike One is the difference between a first-division regular and a career minor leaguer. Professional ball-throwers seem to be concluding the same and seeking strike one like a kid with a crush on Amber.
Highest League-wide First-Strike Rates on record:
- 2018 = 61.3 percent
- 2015 = 61.2
- 2014 = 61.1
- 2017 = 60.8
- 2016 = 60.7
- 2013 = 60.6
- 2012 = 60.5
- 2011 = 59.9
- 2005 = 59.7
- 2010 = 59.3
See the trend? Course you do. 2018 was a Strike One party the likes of which baseball has never seen, but that’s not all. Here’s another trend that goes hand-in-glove with that one:
Highest Swinging strikes in recorded MLB history:
- 2018 = 10.2
- 2017 = 9.8
- 2016 = 9.5
- 2015 = 9.3
- 2002 = 9.1
- 2014 = 8.9
- 2003 = 8.9
- 2013 = 8.8
- 2012 = 8.7
- 2004 = 8.6
You don’t need a line graph to see what’s happening here. Pitchers are getting ahead in the K-zone early while missing more and more bats throughout counts, and especially seeking swinging strikes outside the zone late in counts, culminating in a lot of contact-free at bats.
The takeaways for our game are myriad:
How valuable is defense, really?
If everyone’s striking out, should we be penalizing high-strikeout hitters?
How much of a premium should we pay for high-contact hitters?
We’ll be discussing these questions and more on a weekly basis in this space, but today I want to focus on the pitchers in brief. If you’re like me (and if you’re reading Razzball, there’s a chance you are), you’re about ready to see a list of pitchers you should be buying in 2019.
- Below = 2018 Post All-Star Break Shove Scores (at least 20 innings tallied as a Starter)
|Player||Swinging Strike%||SwStr% x6||First Strike %||Shove Score|
You might notice the top group is peopled mostly by humans in forward-thinking organizations like the Astros, Indians, Rays, and Yankees. Also, there’s a Met. The Diamondbacks of this vintage have been flavored by Dan Haren and Randy Johnson in advisory roles and Zach Greinke in the dugout. Plus, humidors are moist, and Patrick Corbin worries me in terms of this particular list’s predictive value. He’s expensive in our game (NFBC Draft Champions ADP 46.25) and headed to a homer haven where he’ll do all he can to meet the expectations of a fan base getting sick of big-stage struggles. I wish him luck but doubt I’ll draft him.
The most important takeaway is that Trevor Richards is clearly better than Walker Buehler. Okay so he’s probably not, but his skill set might bump him up the Stream-o-Nator throughout the year. Good late-game flier in draft-and-holds.
I need to watch a little more Joe Musgrove, but the cost (ADP 235.25) is not extreme given his extreme first-strike skills and his ability to throw balls past bats. His second-half WHIP was 1.01 with an opponents’ OBP of .263 and a 7.14 K/BB. I’m into it, especially if he seems healthy in Spring after ending last year with an abdomen issue.
I think Masahiro Tanaka (ADP 132.14) would put up fantasy ace numbers in some settings. If he were a Giant, he’d be a giant. And he was just that in the 2nd half of 2018 even as a Yankee. He’s been a little underrated for a minute, due in part to the fart festival he threw for you who bought in 2017. That said, I doubt I’m buying. I bought a ticket to that 2017 fart-fest, and the smell still lingers.
I’m out on Stephen Strasburg (ADP 58.11). He’s losing velocity, command, and health.
Matt Shoemaker (ADP 452.88) is the same human who threw disappearing splitters once upon a time for a very short stretch. He’s free, so if he’s hot and healthy at any point in the season, I won’t hesitate to plug and play him.
German Marquez (ADP 75.98) looks like an ace, both in the box score and on the mound, and the Rockies might actually be conquering Coors. Leave it to a German to start conquering the unconquerable, am I right? I’ve seen Marquez traded in a couple dynasties this offseason, and the price is right. I suspect that’ll change soon. High strikeout, big workload aces are not easy to find.
Speaking of aces, Blake Snell (ADP 26.69) is every bit as good as his Cy Young season suggests, and given his second half improvements, he may have another level. Don’t be dissuaded by his outsized left-on-base percentage. Part of the reason I bought last year was his dominance in high-leverage situations. That’s just what elite pitchers do: slam the door if it ever creaks open.
The Rays’ Opener worked for a lot of reasons, but the fact that early game dominance is rare is certainly one of them. I left Ryne Stanek up here for reference and reminder: don’t compare relievers’ rates to starters. We’ll treat each as its own bucket in future issues, except for the Openers which count as Starters when sorting and setting leaderboard controls.
Aaron Nola is a buy for me even at his ace pricing (ADP 22.92). The Phillies were awful on defense last year, but it didn’t crush him like it did Arrieta. I love that about a pitcher. One thing that always bothered me about Strasburg was how an error would deflate him. Having Jean Segura playing shortstop instead of Scott Kingery impersonating a shortstop could make a big impact on that infield and on Nola’s outcomes. Fewer errors = fewer pitches = more innings.
I’m not big into Nick Pivetta at his price (ADP 153.5) despite my comments about Kingery. His shove score, which is kind of a shorthand amalgam of the thing the ‘perts like about him, is not that far from league average, and I think pitching goes beyond the numbers sometimes, like when there’s a Ricky Nolasco or Jeff Samardjiza situation where they throw a lot of strikes but don’t command within the zone. Pivetta’s command should improve with big league experience, and I’d be interested if he were cheap (as he’s likely to be in your home league), but his upside seems priced in here, sitting just above Shane Bieber (ADP 154.11), Andrew Heaney (167.13), Tyler Glasnow (172.69), Alex Reyes (181.73), Yusei Kikuchi (187.92), Ross Stripling (215.53) and a whole slew of other arms I’d take before Pivetta.
Oh, and in case you’re curious why Shove Score multiplies Swinging Strike Rate by six, we’ll discuss that a bit going forward, but in short, I’m just trying to equalize the impact of the two skills represented by Shove Score, and if you multiply the league average Swinging Strike Rate by six, it’s almost identical to the league average First Strike Rate.
Well that’s my time for the week, but I’ll be back talking rates before long. Thanks for reading! Hope to see you around! And remember: everyone swings and misses. Sure, Amber from Accounting turned you down today, but that doesn’t mean Heather from Human Resources will do the same next week. (Besides, I’m pretty sure I saw her smirk at your peanut butter story, so you might already be ahead in the count.)