Pitchers are not afraid of Jack Wilson. One way that might be illustrated is by the percentage of pitches he sees that are located within the strike zone. With 55.9% of the pitches he faces being located in the strike zone, Wilson would rank first in that category were he qualified. The following does not entirely capture the decision process, but I believe offers a good outline of how a pitcher might approach any given hitter:
If the hitter lacks patience at the plate then the pitcher has less incentive to throw strikes, knowing the hitter is more likely to chase after anything. However, that is counter-acted upon by the hitter’s raw power. If the hitter lacks power then even if you throw him a strike, the pitcher has less worry about how much damage the hitter can do and so it becomes better to throw strikes.
The above should be obvious enough, but I wanted to put some specific numbers behind it. Like most of my statistical investigations, I had a particular player acting as the impetus. In this case, it was Jack Wilson. Wilson is one of the weaker hitters out there with isolated slugging peaking around the .100 mark and projected to be more in the .075 range now.
These thoughts had been on my mind for a few days when it took the next step to noticing just how many 0-2 counts Jack Wilson subsequently found himself facing. Again it should be obvious how difficult it is to hit once in an 0-2 count. Hitters average a .454 OPS if they arrive at 0-2. Therefore, avoiding 0-2 counts by either laying off pitches out of the strike zone or by being enough of a threat that pitchers skirt more of the strike zone should be considered an admirable goal for a hitter.
Which hitters are the best and worst at that? To determine that I took the number of plate appearances for each hitter that went to 0-2 and divided it by the number of plate appearances for that hitter that lasted at least three pitches. I wanted to avoid having the numbers skewed by hitters that are swing-happy and contact-prone. While this method by no means sparks a metaphorical light bulb in ranking hitters, I did find it interesting.
Among the hitters most adapt at avoiding 0-2 counts are the high-power and high-walk sluggers you’d expect. David Ortiz leads the list at 14.5%, Jim Thome is 4th, Alex Rodriguez is 5th, Albert Pujols is 8th. There are some surprises though like Casey Kotchman being 2nd. Unsurprisingly, much worse hitters populate the other end of the ranking. Aaron Rowand has the worst mark at a whopping 40% followed by Wes Helms (37%) and Mark Ellis (35%). In fact, there are virtually no successful hitters above the 30% mark aside from maybe Cody Ross.
Getting into 0-2 counts is borderline crippling for a hitter’s chances to succeed. Avoiding them, however, does not guarantee success. A hitter still has to possess the ability to turn those hitter’s counts into something productive and that largely requires slugging power.
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