The importance of taking a pitch

Yankees claim Chad Huffman from San Diego
On slow starts and small sample sizes
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

In a fairly routine 6-4 win last night, the Yankees saw 185 pitches over 43 plate appearances. The winning run scored on a walk, and their six and seven hitters saw a combined 53 pitches over nine plate appearances. The Yanks’ offense made the Red Sox hurlers work their way through a nine-inning game, and in the truest sense of the baseball cliche, they grinded out a win.

For the Yankees, taking pitches, working the count and upping opposing pitchers’ pitch counts isn’t a new story. Brian Cashman and, before him, Gene Michael have built teams based upon patience since 1994 when the Yanks led the league in on-base percentage and were second in pitches seen and third in pitches per plate appearance. In fact, the Yanks have been one of the AL’s top three on-base teams in all but two of the past 16 seasons.

All of this patience pays off. Last year, for instance, the Yankees led the AL in pitches seen with 25,049. They averaged 3.88 pitchers per plate appearance, good for fifth in the Junior Circuit, and the team’s hitters worked the count to 3-1 709 times, well above the league average of 583. In just 24 percent of plate appearances, Yankee hitters swung at the first pitch. Only the Red Sox and Angels swung at fewer first pitches. By taking so many pitches, the Yanks drew an AL-leading 663 walks and scored 915 runs.

Already this year, in two games, we’ve seen some similar trends. Over their first two games, the Yanks have seen 341 pitches and have made the Red Sox pitchers work for their strikes and for their outs. They’ve drawn 11 walks and have an overall OBP of .395. They’re already averaging 6.5 runs per game.

So why then does it matter? Last night we saw it matter when Nick Johnson stood at the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. He took a few close pitches, earned himself a few nice calls and walked away with the game-winning RBI. Overall, the team can use this patience and willingness to take pitches to tire out pitchers to their advantage. At 3.88 pitches per plate appearance, starting pitchers will reach the 100-pitch mark after approximately 25 or 26 batters. Managers will have to turn to their bullpens for around 9-12 outs, and the Yanks will see more outs secured by lesser pitchers.

In a sense, the need for patience goes without saying. Of course, the more a starting pitcher throws early on, the sooner he’ll be out of the ballgame. The more a pitcher throws, the more likely he is to make a mistake. The more pitches the Yanks see, the more likely they are to get on base. They more they’re on base, the more they score. On the other hand, though, enough teams overlook it that the Yanks’ attention to patience can become a significant advantage.

So as Nick Johnson puts up a .000/.500/.000 line over this first two games and as two hitters in the bottom half of the Yanks’ order sees a combined 53 pitches in one night, the team will put on a clinic in getting on base. Before Moneyball came around, the Yankees knew the importance of taking pitches, and the team still excels at it.

Yankees claim Chad Huffman from San Diego
On slow starts and small sample sizes
  • Hangoverologist

    We’re already averaging 6.5 runs? Damn this team is good. We’ll be able to win tonight if we do what we’ve been doing. I’d like for NJ to get a knock or two to go along with his OBP Jesus.

  • Steve H

    Another important note on taking pitches. Hideki Okajima is unavailable tonight due to the way they worked him over last night. With Grandy and Gardy being susceptible to LHP, they last night, removed a weapon from tonight’s game.

    • Zack

      And the guys who are available tonight will be working in back to back games; again due to getting to their bullpen early.

    • bexarama

      well… they still have Schoenweis (snicker)

      Seriously, why did the Sox take Schoenweis and not Shouse? They both had meh to bad years last year, they both had bad STs, but Shouse is a much better LOOGY. Okajima is much better than a LOOGY so I assume they don’t use him like that.

      • bexarama

        Before Moneyball came around, the Yankees knew the importance of taking pitches, and the team still excels at it.

        Nonsense. I was told Theo Epstein invented on-base percentage.

        • bexarama

          reply fail but whatever, it can go here

          • Matt Imbrogno

            You’ve been reply-failing a lot lately.

            • bexarama

              It’s true :(

      • Thomas

        Don’t make fun of Schoenweis. He is a true American Hero, symbolizing the dream of out great nation! Do a shitty job and get paid tons of money by a company that rakes in even more money by producing a horrible product.

        I assume for his next job Captain America Jr. will remove that socialist devil (redundant, I know) from the White House.

        • Rose

          I assume for his next job Captain America Jr. will remove that socialist devil (redundant, I know) from the White House.

          You’d be surprised. Not on these boards…

          • Matt Imbrogno
          • Thomas

            I was joking.

          • bexarama

            ohhhh Rose.

          • poster

            When did somebody on RAB claim that “socialist” and “devil” meant the same thing? Because if someone actually said that then that’s ridiculous, but as I far as I know not liking a socialist agenda and calling socialists devils are two different things.

            Unless you were mocking ultra-conservative republicans, which is a whole different thing entirely.

            People on RAB do this all the time, and say it’s not a problem. But this is not a political blog. Stop finding subtle ways to mock other people’s political point of view.

            • poster

              Also, saying democrats are moving the government more towards socialism is not untrue. Democrats are traditionally the more socialistic party. The debate is whether becoming more socialistic is a good or bad thing.

              • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Your Favorite Pundit’s Favorite Pundit

                Don’t worry, dude, it’s not you. It’s Rose.

                Move along… nothing to see here.

        • the artist formerly known as (sic)

          How about this.

          Don’t make fun of Schoenweis. He’s had a tough year.


  • Matt Imbrogno

    As someone said last night, if the Yankees can do what they did to Beckett and Lester the last two nights, imagine what they’ll do against non-top-flight pitchers.

    • Steve H

      You mean like Beckett?

      (ok that’s a stretch, he’s just overrated)

      • Matt Imbrogno

        Didn’t Tommie make that joke last night?

        • Steve H

          If he did, I missed it, I swear.

          /Ron Borges’d

    • baravelli

      True, although the Red Sox have scored the exact same number of runs per game so far, and they faced CC and AJ, also top-flight pitchers. I think a better conclusion is just that these top flight pitchers aren’t yet completely in top form.

      • Matt Imbrogno

        Could be.

      • Steve H

        Yeah. CC/Lester are very slow starters. Aj is Aj. Beckett is a douche (which has nothing to do with anything).

    • Chops

      Yeah, but it would be just like the Yanks to smack around the top-flight pitcher and then let the new rookie #5 starter pitching a CG SO against them.

  • vin

    This lineup is a real meat-grinder. Everybody brings something to the table offensively. 7 guys can hit 20+ HRs. They’ve got some good speed guys. 3 switch-hitters. Guys who can hit the other way (with power).

    If enough guys can stay healthy, then this lineup shouldn’t have any problem scoring 900+ runs… and with their rotation and bullpen, that will mean a lot of wins.

  • king of fruitless hypotheticals


    hit the @#$@# ball NICK!!! damn. argh. i hate baseball.

  • Ivan

    So the Yankees knew about “Money Ball”/sabmetric #’s before other guys did?….

    • YankeesJunkie

      No, they just knew of the importance of OBP and how that effects the opponent’s SP and giving the Yankees more of a chance to hit against weaker pitchers. Sabermatrics is much deeper than that even though that is one part of it. Also sabermatrics has been arounds since the 80’s if not the late 70’s.

    • Hughesus Christo

      Go look at the 20s Yankees. We were all over that crap…

      • Omar


      • poster

        There’s a good chance that was unintentional. I think they were really trying to find the best HR hitters.