Just Throw Strikes - Is it Really That Simple?

Apr 27, 2023

Throwing strikes is important. Everybody knows it, including the pitcher, so no need to shout "just throw strikes" from the dugout or have a meeting at the mound to deliver this message.

Since there is no debate about whether or not throwing strikes is important, let’s see if we can determine if the old adage - "a first pitch strike is the most important" is actually trueThere has been significant research on the subject of balls and strikes and their impact on the final results of an at bat. We will draw on some of that and add some of our own. 

The first pitch is the only pitch of the at bat that's guaranteed. If the ball is put in play or the batter is hit by the pitch, the at bat ends - no more pitches thrown. Based on this fact alone, you can argue that it's the most important pitch of the at bat.


Using data from the 2022 MLB season, let's take a short quiz on the first pitch.

1) What percentage of first pitches are strikes?

<50%    50-55%    60-65%    70-75%     >75%

2) How many first pitch strikes ended up as a base hit?

<10%     10-25%    25-45%    45-60%    >60%

3) How many first pitch strikes were taken?

<10%     10-25%    25-35%    35-45%     >50%



Here are the answers

1)  61% Strikes

2)  6 % Hits

3)  50.8 % Takes


How did you do? Are you surprised by any of the answers?

The most interesting number in this table to me is the 50.8%. Just over half of the first pitch strikes thrown are taken. The batter stands there "like a house on the side of the road" in Ernie Harwell parlance. Only the 3-0 pitch is taken more often; 83.4% of the time. Even 2-0 and 3-1 pitches are hacked at significantly more frequently than the 0-0 offering.

This high take rate explains the low hit %. It's the lowest of any count except 3-0 which comes in at a paltry 2.6% hits on strikes.

What does this mean? I often like to look at situations like these from a risk/reward perspective. There seems to be very little risk in throwing a first pitch strike. With the hitters swinging only half the time and getting a hit only 12.2% of the time when they do swing, odds are in your favor.
Throw a strike on the first pitch as often as you can - PERIOD.

Is it really that simple?

Let's look a little deeper. If we remove the takes, are the hitters any better or worse when they swing at the first pitch as compared to swinging in other counts?

Of the 11 potential count combinations, the 0-0 pitch sits exactly in the middle for this measure at 6th place. Hit % is better in 5 counts and worse in 5 counts. The hardest count to get a hit in is the 0-2 count, as you might have suspected. It's followed by the 0-1 count. At the risk of overstating the obvious, you can't get to either of these counts if you don't throw a first pitch strike. Throw a first pitch strike and 87.8% of the time you are in the position to throw another strike and not give up a hit 89% of the time. Do it again and you avoid the hit 89.7%.

The data clearly indicates that throwing strikes yields positive results.

  • Why don't MLB pitchers throw more first pitch strikes?
  • What happens if you don't throw a first pitch strike?
  • How important is it to avoid 3 ball counts?
  • When do hitters change their behavior?
  • When is a strike not a strike?
  • Does it matter which type of pitch the first pitch strike is?

    These questions require a much deeper discussion and will be addressed in future blogs along with other questions you may still have.

So, is the old adage correct? Is the first pitch strike the most important?

This data certainly points in that direction. This information has changed my perspective on it and the way I pitch. 

What do you think? Will this change the way you pitch or think about pitching?


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