The internet is a beautiful thing. And among the most beautiful things on the WWW is baseball-reference.com. One of the recently added features to that site is a compilation of pitch data for each player. So, I can see how many strikes a player took. How many times he swung at the first pitch. Under a player’s splits, I can see how many one pitch at bats he had. They have yet to compile that data to get summaries for each team (slackers). So, I’ve taken the time to start building up the database for the Dave Littlefield era Pirates. I’ve got 2002 and 2003 completed. And I also looked at Randall Simon’s whole career. Not sure what there is to learn, but the data is intriguing.
The Fall of the House of Simon
I looked at every Randall Simon season in which he got 200 or more plate appearances. Although Simon often hacked at the first offering, his quick ABs were quite successful in his first couple of seasons. His career spiraled downward quickly when he was unable to maintain his high OBP on his one pitch at bats.
The table below lists Simon’s overall OBP, how many plate appearances he had. “1st%” represents the percentage of at bats in which he went after the first pitch. “1 Pitch PAs” is the total number of plate appearances that lasted exactly one pitch. “1 Pitch OBP” is his on base percentage for those at bats that lasted just one pitch.
|Year||OBP||PA||1st%||1 Pitch PAs||1 Pitch OBP|
During the seasons in question, Simon swung at the first pitch in 45% of his at bats (according to baseball-reference.com, the average is 29% during Simon’s career). 23% of all his at bats lasted only one pitch, meaning roughly half the time he offered at the first toss, he put it into play. But, early on, he tattooed the first offering. Those one pitch OBP numbers aren’t typos. Hit got on 46% of the time in 2001 when his at bats lasted only one pitch. Then, he joined the Pirates in 2003 and he tanked. What happened? Best guess from me is that scouting reports caught up to him. I would think that pitchers were told he swung at the first pitch more often than the typical major leaguer. So, I’m assuming that pitchers were throwing the ball farther and farther outside the strike zone and getting Simon to chase it. There’s a limit to how bad a ball a bad ball hitter can hit. Either that or Simon fudged his age and was really born in 1965 and not in 1975.
Bucs in 2002 and 2003
The Pirates were a fairly average ML team with respect to swinging at the first pitch in 2002 and 2003. In 2002 the team swung at the first pitch 29.4% of the time and then in 2003 swung at the first pitch in 30.9% of their at bats.
In 2002, 11.4% of their at bats lasted just one pitch. For those at bats, their OBP was .333 versus and overall OBP of .319. The following year, it was worse. 13.4% of their plate appearances lasted only one pitch and their 1 Pitch OBP was worse than their overall OBP (.311 vs. .338).
What’s that mean? Not sure yet. I’d like to look at some more data. Generally speaking, seeing more pitches results in a higher OBP. And OBP correlates very well with runs scored. However, some players clearly do well when they hack at the first pitch. Combined between 2002 and 2003, Craig Wilson got on base at a 45% clip when his at bats lasted only one pitch. Whether that’s a sample size issue or something else is something that I’ll have to look at. Perhaps after enough one pitch at bats, Wilson’s OBP would revert to his career norm of .354.