Trueblood: Heads-up hacking: 1-1 is a hitter’s pitch but a pitcher’s count

From Matthew Trueblood at Baseball Prospectus on February 26, 2019:

Conventional pitching wisdom long held that the most important pitch of a plate appearance was the first one, but famously Greg Maddux knew better. The greatest pitcher of the modern era, Maddux stood apart by asserting that the pivotal pitch within any showdown came in a 1-1 count. Research throughout the sabermetric era has confirmed Maddux’s intuition, but now the world has changed somewhat. A 1-1 pitch is still disproportionately important. However, it’s also far more common than it was for most of Maddux’s career.

For myriad reasons, the share of plate appearances getting to 1-1 has risen from around 35 percent when pitch-by-pitch data first began being tracked to almost exactly 40 percent for each of the last two seasons. Of the 140 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings in 2018, only two reached 1-1 less than 34.1 percent of the time—Maddux’s career mark, at least for the seasons for which we have the data. Those two guys were Joe Musgrove and Mike Leake, which illustrates the kind of hurler it takes to resolve at-bats quickly these days: fastball-heavy dudes who rely on sinking and cutting the ball to chase weak contact.

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Originally published: February 26, 2019. Last Updated: February 26, 2019.