Advancements in analytics have given us new perspective and insight into what makes a successful ballplayer. In some cases, such as using wins and losses to evaluate pitchers, these new metrics shed light on flaws in more traditional ways of thinking. In other instances, however, the new-school approach simply confirms what those in baseball have been saying all along. In this week’s column, we will take a look at an example of the latter, as we examine the importance of first-pitch strikes, and how singling out hurlers who work ahead in the count consistently can help us in building our daily fantasy lineups.
In order to see which pitchers are the best at getting ahead on the first pitch, we head over to Fangraphs.com to check out the F-Strike percentage leaderboard. As we scan the names on the list (led in 2014 by Phil Hughes, who has thrown a first-pitch strike at a 72.6 percent clip), one may wonder why this is important. Put simply, pitchers seem to be more successful, on average, when they begin an at-bat with strike one. We can find evidence for this claim in the numbers, as baseball-reference.com tells us that hitters have tallied a .798 OPS after a 1-0 count this season compared to just a .592 OPS following an 0-1 count.
Now that we’ve seen just how much of a difference getting the first offering over the plate can make, the question becomes how to use F-strike to gain an edge in FanDuel
play. As you may have guessed from the research posted above, the ability a pitcher has to throw a strike out of the gate generally leads to a lower walk rate. There are, of course, pitchers who currently posses high walk rates despite throwing a high rate of strikes on the first pitch. We would expect these pitchers to limit the amount of free passes they surrender going forward.
The first interesting target in this regard is Wade Miley
of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who has maintained a 3.17 BB/9 rate this season, despite throwing first-pitch strikes 63.9 percent of the time (60.6 percent is the league average). An encouraging sign that the left-hander may be able to avoid throwing ball four as much in the future may come from the fact that among the Top-30 pitchers in F-strike percentage this season, only Miley and another potential target, Jake Peavy
of the San Francisco Giants (3.02 BB/9, 64.3 percent F-strike) have rates that exceed 3.00. It is also notable that Miley and Peavy have walked more batters this season than they have over the course of their careers, with average rates of 2.69 and 2.73 respectively.
As with most statistics, we can flip this around to target hitters against those pitchers who have the potential to see an increase in their walk rates down the stretch. The most interesting name that jumps out here is likely Jake Arrieta
, who has managed a walk rate of 2.52/9 during his breakout 2014 campaign, despite throwing strikes on open counts only 58 percent of the time. In what may in fact be a happy coincidence, Arrieta struggled with his command in his start against the Reds on Thursday, walking four batters in four innings pitched while this article was being written.
Another name to keep in mind when considering stackable pitchers with respect to this strategy is Kyle Gibson
of the Minnesota Twins. Unlike Arieta, Gibson does not strike out many batters, which could lead to damage done against the 26-year-old if his 56.9 F-strike rate results in an increase in his 2.75 BB/9 going forward.
's point system does not penalize for walks, specifically, it doesn’t take much of a leap to come to the conclusion that walks lead to men on base, which could, in turn, lead to runs. By specifically targeting pitchers based upon how often they are able to throw a strike on the first pitch of an at-bat, we are relying on the fact that those who are in control of the count early are the most likely to achieve positive results, while those who consistently fall behind hitters may find themselves struggling to keep men off base.