I’m going to begin this column with an unremarkable looking fact.
When a Major League hitter has swung at the first pitch of an at-bat in 2014, the average OPS in that at-bat — not just OPS on first pitch swings, but the OPS for all at-bats in which there was a first pitch swing — is .710. The average OPS for an at-bat in which the batter does not swing is .708. For all intents and purposes, that is a statistical tie, and suggests that there has been no obvious advantage to pursuing either approach this year.
Here’s why that unremarkable looking fact actually is remarkable; if this lasts, it would mark the first season ever recorded — as far back as Baseball-Reference’s data for that split goes anyway, which for this specific number is 1988 — where the OPS on at-bats with a first pitch swing was higher than the OPS on at-bats with a first pitch take. For most of the last 25 years, it hasn’t even been close.
From 1988 to 2011, the advantage of the first-pitch take was consistent and constant. Sure, there were years where the advantage wasn’t enormous — in 2001, the gap in OPS was only seven points, and it was just nine points in 2004 — but the blue line and red line never really came that close to intersecting until 2012. That year, the gap fell to just two points, which still stands as the lowest recorded advantage for the first-pitch take over a full season in the last 25 years. Last year, the advantage jumped back up to six points, but that was still lower than any season prior to 2012. And now this year, the gap has not only disappeared, but it’s reversed course for the first time.
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