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:

  1. 2018 = .220
  2. 2014 = .223
  3. 2017 = .225
  4. 2013 = .226
  5. 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:

  1. 2018 = 61.3 percent
  2. 2015 = 61.2
  3. 2014 = 61.1
  4. 2017 = 60.8
  5. 2016 = 60.7
  6. 2013 = 60.6
  7. 2012 = 60.5
  8. 2011 = 59.9
  9. 2005 = 59.7
  10. 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:

  1. 2018 = 10.2
  2. 2017 = 9.8
  3. 2016 = 9.5
  4. 2015 = 9.3
  5. 2002 = 9.1
  6. 2014 = 8.9
  7. 2003 = 8.9
  8. 2013 = 8.8
  9. 2012 = 8.7
  10. 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
League Average 10.4 62.4 61.6 124
Patrick Corbin 17.8 106.8 68 174.8
Blake Snell 18.5 111 63.3 174.3
Justin Verlander 16.3 97.8 72 169.8
Carlos Carrasco 17.5 105 62.8 167.8
James Paxton 15.8 94.8 69.5 164.3
German Marquez 16 96 68 164
Ryne Stanek 16 96 60 156
Masahiro Tanaka 14.4 86.4 69.1 155.5
Jacob deGrom 14.7 88.2 67.7 155.4
Max Scherzer 15.4 92.8 59.6 152.4
Chris Sale 14.8 88.8 62.5 151.3
Aaron Nola 13.8 82.8 68.4 151.2
Corey Kluber 13.7 82.2 66.1 148.3
Gerrit Cole 14.2 85.2 62.8 148
Trevor Bauer 13.7 82.2 65.8 148
Matt Shoemaker 13 78 67.9 145.9
Jack Flaherty 14.5 87 58.5 145.5
Chris Archer 13.3 79.8 65.2 145
Joe Musgrove 12.1 72.6 72.3 144.9
Luis Severino 12.7 76.2 66.6 142.8
Rich Hill 12.3 73.8 66.5 140.3
Junior Guerra 12.2 73.2 66.7 139.9
Noah Syndergaard 12.9 77.4 62 139.4
Tyler Anderson 11.7 70.2 69.1 139.3
Luis Castillo 12.6 75.6 63.4 139
Miles Mikolas 11.5 69 69.7 138.7
Trevor Richards 12.3 73.8 64.6 138.4
Walker Buehler 12.5 75 63.3 138.3
Ross Stripling 11.8 70.8 67.5 138.3
Shane Bieber 11.7 70.2 67.9 138.1
Clayton Kershaw 11 66 71.6 137.6
Kenta Maeda 12.5 75 62.4 137.4
Tyler Glasnow 12 72 64.9 136.9
Andrew Heaney 11.6 69.6 66.7 136.6
Tommy Milone 11.4 68.4 67.4 135.8
Anibal Sanchez 11.4 68.4 67.4 135.8
Mike Clevinger 12.7 76.2 59.5 135.7
Nick Tropeano 12.3 73.8 60.9 134.7
Nick Pivetta 12 72 62.6 134.6
Matt Harvey 11.2 67.2 66.7 133.9
Stephen Strasburg 12.4 74.4 59 133.4
Jameson Taillon 11.4 68.4 64.3 132.7
Sandy Alcantara 11.3 67.8 64.8 132.6
Joey Lucchesi 11.7 70.2 62.2 132.4
Zack Godley 11.4 68.4 63.5 131.9
Robbie Ray 12.5 75 56.4 131.4
Vince Velasquez 11 66 64.4 130.4

Observations:

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.)

 

 

  1. J-FOH says:
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    Finally some good fresh content. No Grey, don’t take this personal. I still like what you do

    • Donkey Teeth

      Donkey Teeth says:
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      @J-FOH: The Itch attracts the crabs

      • J-FOH says:
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        @Donkey Teeth: I’m not a crab. I’m a fucking wolf who plays around in the crabs space

        • Grey

          Grey says:
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          JFOH, you see what I linked to in my post to you?

          • J-FOH says:
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            @Grey: I did now. Wow. How old was that guy. We fought a lot

            • Grey

              Grey says:
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              Ha, I know… I’d guess in his 60’s, but he had the stress of a 80-year-old

              • J-FOH says:
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                @Grey: took get off my lawn to another level

                • Grey

                  Grey says:
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                  Indeed

        • Donkey Teeth

          Donkey Teeth says:
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          @J-FOH: Same. Well, two parts donkey, one part wolf…

  2. Donkey Teeth

    Donkey Teeth says:
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    Itch! Great stuff! The Marquez Razzwagon is leaving the station, all aboard!

  3. Grey

    Grey says:
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    Great stuff, Itch!

  4. Thanks guys!!! I had a blast doing it! (Which is, of course, what she said.)

  5. Crab.jaaaake says:
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    Well done, our minty fresh crab! Love reading pitching content. Keep it up!

  6. Orioles Rising (slowly) says:
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    Nice article…you’re clearly ahead in the count with this one.

  7. Orioles Rising (slowly) says:
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    Nice article…you’re clearing ahead in the count after this one.

  8. Rosscoe says:
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    Damn fine work Mr Itch, Keep scratching out these gems.

    • @Rosscoe: Thanks Rosscoe! Will keep scratching!!

  9. Old School Brother says:
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    Itch! Great stuff

  10. The Great Knoche says:
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    Good stuff. I really like Musgrove, not just for the strikes, but for the elite walk rate he has shown at levels coming up. He got rattled a bit in his first trip up for the Astros, but seemed to settle in a bit last year. If he replicates that walk rate and elite control that he had in minors which I think he can and will his fastball and slider are good enough pitches to allow him a K rate of 8-9, and he could be a real solid fantasy 2 or 3.

    • @The Great Knoche: Thanks! And yeah Musgrove is super interesting this year, huh? I went digging through his pitch mix and saw he threw the slider less and the change more. Both were effective, but it was his fastball that took a big step up in outcomes. I’ve got quite a bit about him in the hopper for next week!!

  11. Bricks says:
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    You had me at fart festival.

  12. Packers says:
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    I feel the same as the others, great content. Looking forward to future posts.

    Grey, you have a great staff. (take that any way you want )

  13. billy beeeen says:
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    great. thanks.

  14. B_Don

    B_Don says:
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    Terrific inaugural article Itch! Excited for the next one.

    • Grey

      Grey says:
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      Yeah, Itch, when’s the next one?

      • @Grey: Thanks for asking! Been scratching it out whenever I haven’t been shoveling—me: the guy who said to his wife: “let’s not get a snowblower” just this December after she’d pitched it as a self-Christmas gift.

        Two feet later, I’m an idiot—same as before.

        Anywho, soon. Very soon.

    • @B_Don: Thanks man! Excited to be here! Buckled in! Let’s party! ???????

Comments are closed.