It is a bit delayed as I meant to post this before the season got underway. But, better late than never.
Continuing the theme of odd-statistics in the stat-driven sport of baseball, I decided to look at the best hitters of 0-0 counts. When one thinks of current players that are swinging away at first pitches, one person that tends to jump out if Vlad Guerrero. While he is top ten, he is not the best first-pitch hitter in baseball…at least in 2010. So let’s take a look and found out which players waste little time getting to work.
The stats used again come from ESPN.com, which does a good job of providing a ton of situational stats by teams, thereby making it easier to acquire and sort. Like the Uncle Popov Top 23 for college football, I made up my own formula and it is probably flawed. But, it gave me a method to decipher who was the best hitter on an 0-0 count. Similar to how I created a “qualified” category for the road-home splits, I took the top ten players by at-bats (for an 0-0 count) per team and weeded out the remainder. Then, I grouped each of the First-Pitch qualifiers by league -AL and NL.
From here, I did two rankings on a number of statistical categories, including hits, runs, HRs, RBIs, batting average, OPS, etc. The first ranking is the player’s statistical rank among all of his AL or NL peers (depending on the league). The second ranking is the player’s statistical rank among his (qualified) teammates. For example, Ichiro Suzuki ranks 15th in the AL for first-pitch doubles, but first in that category among the Seattle Mariners.
Once I had the ranks for each, I average each ranking (league and team) and then added the two numbers to get a “ranking score.” The lower the ranking, the better the first-pitch hitter. Well, roughly.
One thing to keep in mind — the stats collecting are from when players put the 0-0 pitch in play. Obviously every batter faces an 0-0 pitch. However, statistics are calculated based on that pitch being put into play. As you will see below, the most at-bats where a first-pitch was put into play comes from Vernon Wells, who in total had 590 at-bats; this means that he had an 0-0 count 590 times. However, of those 590 first pitches Wells put 133 into play (22.5 percent of the time). The statistics seen here come from the times when the ball is put into play, which in the case of Wells was 22.5 percent of the time. Make sense? If not, read it again!
Now, here are the best first-pitch hitters by league:
5. Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers) – 19.7
4. Delmon Young (Minnesota Twins) – 19.5
3. Justin Morneau (Minnesota Twins) – 16.0
2. Carl Crawford (Tampa Bay Rays) – 14.8
1. Nelson Cruz (Texas Rangers) – 9.6
- It makes sense that a Ranger is tops here as Texas had the best average rank (3.125) of any team in the Majors, with three Rangers in the top ten (the other two are Vladimir Guerrero and Josh Hamilton). In other words, they are free-swinging in DFW! Cruz batted 0.484 with six homers, 20 RBIs, nine doubles and even one triple. He put the first pitch into play 15.5 percent of the time and 27.7 percent of his home runs occurred on the first pitch; he hit more home runs on the first pitch than any other count. Swing away, Cruz; swing away.
5. Geovany Soto (Chicago Cubs) – 20.5
4. Kelly Johnson (Arizona Diamondbacks) – 19.8
3. Rickie Weeks (Milwaukee Brewers) – 17.3
2. Corey Hart (Milwaukee Brewers) – 16.5
1. Colby Rasmus (St. Louis Cardinals) – 11.2
- Rasmus batted a crazy 0.477 on the first pitch, which ranked 11th among National League batters. He also jacked eight home runs and drove in 19 runs off the 0-0 pitch, the former being tied for second in the National League. Rasmus put 14 percent of first pitches into play. His eight first-pitch home runs accounted for 34.8 percent of all of his home runs (like Cruz, a plurality of his home runs occurred on the first pitch). All of this despite the fact that the Cardinals are middle-of-the-pack in the NL in terms of 0-0 pitches.
And now, for some other stats related to first-pitch situations.
MOST FIRST-PITCH AT-BATS (putting ball in play):
- American League: Vernon Wells (TOR) – 133 at-bats
- National League: Carlos Lee (HOU) and Pablo Sandoval (SF) – 100 at-bats
MOST FIRST-PITCH DOUBLES:
- American League: Miguel Cabrera (DET) – 12 doubles
- National League: Marlon Byrd (CHC) – 13 doubles
MOST FIRST-PITCH TRIPLES:
- American League: Carl Crawford (TB) – four triples
- National League: Dexter Fowler (COL) – four triples
MOST FIRST-PITCH HOME RUNS:
- American League: Vladimir Guerrero (TEX) – 10 home runs
- National League: Carlos Gonzalez (COL) – 9 home runs
MOST FIRST-PITCH RBIs:
- American League: Vladimir Guerrero (TEX) – 39 RBIs
- National League: Corey Hart (MIL) – 28 RBIs
BEST FIRST-PITCH BATTING AVERAGE:
- American League: Jim Thome (MIN) – 0.577
- National League: Kelly Johnson (ARZ) – 0.551
BEST FIRST-PITCH SLUGGING PERCENTAGE:
- American League: Jim Thome (MIN) – 1.500
- National League: Geovany Soto (CHC) – 1.156
FIRST-PITCH TEAM BATTING AVERAGES (American League):
- Minnesota Twins – 0.375
- Baltimore Orioles – 0.365
- Texas Rangers – 0.353
- Tampa Bay Rays – 0.344
- Boston Red Sox – 0.343
- Cleveland Indians – 0.341
- Oakland Athletics – 0.336
- Detroit Tigers – 0.334
- New York Yankees – 0.320
- Toronto Blue Jays – 0.313
- Kansas City Royals – 0.310
- Seattle Mariners – 0.305
- Los Angeles Angels – 0.294
- Chicago White Sox – 0.293
FIRST-PITCH TEAM BATTING AVERAGES (National League):
- Colorado Rockies – 0.385
- San Diego Padres – 0.366
- Arizona Diamondbacks – 0.360
- Florida Marlins – 0.354
- Milwaukee Brewers – 0.349
- New York Mets – 0.345
- Chicago Cubs – 0.338
- Pittsburgh Pirates – 0.338
- San Francisco Giants – 0.334
- Cincinnati Reds – 0.333
- Los Angeles Dodgers – 0.331
- St. Louis Cardinals – 0.320
- Washington Nationals – 0.320
- Atlanta Braves – 0.315
- Philadelphia Phillies – 0.308
- Houston Astros – 0.295
~~NOTE: the above files are in .docx format and may not open in older versions of Microsoft Word. All photos taken from Daylife, with both coming via Getty Images…big ups!~~