Typically fascinating work from Alan Schwarz today on the relative value of pitch counts in his Keeping Score column in the Sunday Times. Schwarz takes six counts (0-0, 1-0, 0-1, 1-1, 2-0, 2-1) and then analyzes the difference in ba, obp, slg, and ops, after a ball or a strike is taken in that count. Is the first pitch of an at bat the most crucial (Johan Santana thinks so)? The 1-1 count (A-Rod’s choice)? Actually, according to Schwarz, neither. Instead, he argues 2-1 is baseball’s true action pitch. The difference between a ball and a strike taken in this count (that is, the difference in batter’s performance between hitting at 3-1 or 2-2) is enormous: .452 points worth of ops.
Schwarz’s conclusions are not entirely unassailable; I wonder what a game theorist would have to say about these numbers—simple comparisons based on easy addition-subtraction can be deceiving. Also, we wonder if the addition of a more nuanced slugging metric (say, isolated power) would present a fundamentally different picture. Because A-Rod, in thinking of 1-1 as the most important pitch of an at bat, is not entirely wrong. The differential in ba (though not in the other categories) between 2-1 and 1-2 is actually larger than it is between 3-1 and 2-2 (.075 vs. .069).
Okay, gotta go brush up on my stat theory.