Thursday, September 16, 2004

Pitch Count Splits

Last night, I went to the A's game with All-Baseball.com kingpin Ken Arneson (thanks again, Ken). Mulder had a pretty rough outing. He started off the game with a four-pitch walk to Eric Young, and with Mulder behind 3-0 on Hank Blalock in the fifth inning, Ken observed that Mulder almost always throws ball four behind 3-0. Mulder promptly delivered. I wondered aloud if maybe this had to do with the A's organizational philosophy: if you're probably going to issue a free pass anyway, why waste pitches? Ken said that this probably wasn't the case since Hudson always seems to challenge hitters on the 3-0.

So when I was taking BART home (isn't cramming oneself onto mass transit vessels after a game one of the most underrated aspects of sports fandom?), I thought I had the perfect idea for a blog entry: comparing the splits of the A's, Mulder, Hudson, and the American League with a 3-0 count. I'd used ESPN's splits for pitch counts before, so I thought it would be a breeze. A few problems arose, however. First I realized ESPN doesn't have a league average splits page. I couldn't tell you why this is. If they had one, they would probably get 200-300 extra hits per year from me alone. Does Stats Inc. not calculate league averages? This is an easy addition, and why it hasn't been made is beyond me. Apparently James Click keeps this info, but I don't know him and didn't feel like bothering him. Furthermore, I couldn't even get the splits for the A's as a team. The team statistics page at ESPN is sortable by splits, but for no apparent reason does not include pitch count splits. Despite the ridiculous slide from providing quality original baseball content, ESPN is still the best in the game (so far as I can tell) in terms of depth of splits available on their player cards. I know splits are almost ephemeral, but I think there are some cases where they illuminate more than you would expect, and it makes no sense to me to leave out parts of the database that could instantly be computed and instead leave the consumer to spend 45 minutes trying to do so on their end with a high risk of error.

Even more mind boggling problem was that the ESPN splits pages don't have info for 3-0 and 3-1 counts. Why? I have no idea. I guess the two lines of data they save keeps the bandwidth bottom line low or something. Whatever. This meant that I had to find the number of plate appearances with a 1-2 count (which requires calculating (OBP/(H + BB + HBP)) since PA, SH, and SF aren't shown), a 1-1 count, and an 0-2 count in order to find how many plate appearances with a 1-1 count became plate appearances with a 2-1 count so I could determine how many 2-0 counts became 3-0. In order to find how many walks were issued with a 3-0 count, I'd have to do pretty much the same thing with walks. I shouldn't have taken all the time to do this, but my masochistic tendencies took over.

So my calculations told me that Mulder has gone 3-0 on a batter 51 times and has issued walks 37 times once getting to a 3-0 count. Since 3-1 data is a complete black hole, I had no idea how many of those walks came on a 3-0 count versus a 3-1 count or a 3-2 count. I tried looking through the pitch-by-pitch game logs and counted 22 four-pitch walks on 44 3-0 counts, and considered repeating the process in a different way to improve accuracy, but that proved too tedious, even knowing that you, reader, were counting on me. Let's just estimate that Mulder has issued 26 4-pitch walks (one of which was intentional). I didn't try Hudson's game logs, but my extrapolations had him getting behind 3-0 29 times and issuing 18 walks once a 3-0 count had been reached. In the end, I guess this tells me almost nothing, so absent someone being too bored and checking all the pitch-by-pitch game logs the evidence for Ken's observation isn't quite there. But while it's not quite so absolute, Mulder does walk batters 73% of the time he falls behind 3-0 versus 62% of the time for Hudson, and Mulder has walked batters on four pitches more times than Hudson has walked batters he's been behind on 3-0 in total.

Well, that was a nice waste of time, and I think I'm justified in blaming ESPN.com. Anyway, hopefully in the next few days I'll be back to writing about actual baseball instead of my inability to collect data.

P.S. Jairo Garcia didn't look so good, and Ken and I agreed his Hall of Fame resume took a hit when he somehow managed to walk Alfonso Soriano.

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