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How the Giants fared when swinging or taking first pitches in 2013

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A quick note on what we all suspected.

Doug Pensinger

My name is Grant, and I am lousy at math.

The current site tagline has to go soon, and that might make the final round of replacement options. As stat-friendly as I'd like this site to appear, it's hard to do. Because I'm lousy at math. And I've always wanted to write something about hitters doing better when they put the ball in play on the first pitch, but I knew I was missing something. For example, here's the National League last year when a hitter puts a ball in play on the first pitch:

Split AB BA OBP SLG OPS
First Pitch 10099 .336 .343 .533 .875

My bad-at-math brain looks at that and thinks, "EVERYONE SHOULD SWING AT THE FIRST PITCH." Then I realize that I have to be missing a piece of context, and I bury the thought deep in my English-major brain.

Recently, under cover of darkness, Baseball-Reference.com added a new section to their splits page. Now everything makes a lot more sense. The interesting/relevant split isn't based on balls put in play on the first pitch; it has to do with the outcome of an at-bat when a player does/doesn't swing at the first pitch. Ohhhhh.

Using these nifty new additions, let's see which Giants hitters do well after being aggressive early, and which hitters don't do so well. All stats are from tables generated at Baseball-Reference.com.

Better when swinging at the first pitch

Brandon Crawford PA HR BA OBP SLG OPS
Swung at 1st Pitch 162 3 .265 .298 .411 .709
Took 1st Pitch 388 6 .241 .317 .342 .659

Pablo Sandoval PA HR BA OBP SLG OPS
Swung at 1st Pitch 246 5 .297 .321 .440 .761
Took 1st Pitch 338 9 .263 .355 .399 .754

Star-divide

Better when taking a pitch

Buster Posey PA HR BA OBP SLG OPS
Swung at 1st Pitch 109 3 .275 .312 .422 .733
Took 1st Pitch 486 12 .299 .385 .457 .842

Brandon Belt PA HR BA OBP SLG OPS
Swung at 1st Pitch 213 4 .281 .321 .437 .758
Took 1st Pitch 358 13 .294 .383 .510 .892

Marco Scutaro PA HR BA OBP SLG OPS
Swung at 1st Pitch 64 0 .276 .300 .328 .628
Took 1st Pitch 483 2 .300 .364 .374 .738

Michael Morse PA HR BA OBP SLG OPS
Swung at 1st Pitch 135 3 .200 .222 .338 .561
Took 1st Pitch 202 10 .225 .302 .412 .714

Angel Pagan PA HR BA OBP SLG OPS
Swung at 1st Pitch 54 1 .283 .296 .396 .693
Took 1st Pitch 251 4 .282 .343 .419 .761

Hunter Pence PA HR BA OBP SLG OPS
Swung at 1st Pitch 218 4 .280 .289 .430 .719
Took 1st Pitch 469 23 .284 .362 .511 .873

First thing to remember: sample size.

Second thing to remember: sample size.

Third thing to remember: sample size.

This could go on for a while. But these splits don't go beyond 2013, so it's easy to get some sample-size chicanery mixed in.

It's still interesting. Did you know that Marco Scutaro hardly ever swings at a first pitch? Did you know that Brandon Belt does so at a Pablovian level? Did you know that Hunter Pence offers at a lot of ... oh, right, you knew that one.

I don't think there are any big, sweeping conclusions to reach about who should do what more often. This is just personal closure for me when it comes to those stats dealing with balls put in play on the first pitch. By design, those stats aren't going to include the swings and misses, nor the foul balls. Or the balls out of the strike zone.

My two takeaways, then:

1. Pablo is never going to change, so at least he's Pablo when it comes to stuff like this. This kind of aggressiveness has ended many a career prematurely, but somehow Sandoval turns it into an advantage.

2. Someone told Belt to be more aggressive, and he processed it the only way he knew how: by swinging at the first pitch. It shows. Maybe as he gets more comfortable in his own skin, this will even out a bit.

The Giants are an aggressive team. Last year, at least, it appears as if that didn't work out. So, in conclusion, sample size hedging bets appeal to the unknown a reference to sample size again and open-ended question.