A few weeks ago, an article by broadcaster John Sciambi made its rounds. In it he talked about broadcasters and statistics, but one anecdote stuck out. It involved a conversation with Chipper Jones, in which Sciambi wondered whether Jones wold be better off taking the first pitch more often. Jones, as Sciambi found out via FanGraphs, saw the second lowest percentage of first pitch strikes in the league. Could it hurt to start taking more on 0-0 counts, then?
The ensuing saga provided not only entertainment, but plenty of knowledge. Kevin Kaduk of Big League Stew asked Jones about the first pitch situation, and Jones came back with an excellent reply.
“There are certain pitchers, quite frankly, that you can’t get behind,” Jones said. “You want to be aggressive and the first hittable fastball that you get is the pitch you want to put in play. Because they’ll bury you if they get ahead of you. You can’t let them do that.”
This led Dave Allen to do a quick study, in which he graphed Chipper’s first-pitch swinging tendencies. Just as Chipper tells it, he swings more often at the first pitch when a good pitcher is on the mound, while he takes more against lesser pitchers. It didn’t stop there, though. Allen later found out that the average hitter does not share Chipper’s tendencies. This makes sense, of course, because Chipper is far better than an average hitter. But even when Allen further broke down the study, he found that even hitters comparable to Jones did not share his tendency.
Of course, my summary here won’t do the saga justice. If you’re going to geek out this afternoon, I’d suggest reading through the linked articles. None is too long, and each is well worth the time. I’m not sure if others will adopt Chipper’s strategy, but I’ve certainly implemented it in The Show.