Hacking on a 2-1 Count

Yesterday we talked about the Padres’ inability to hit on a 2-1 count. We speculated on reasons why this might be so. Reader Anthony suggested that some hard hit balls may have died on the warning track at Petco or that some players might be thinking walk first when they get ahead in the count. Dex suspects there might be an organizational philosophy that leads to an overly aggressive approach in certain situations.

The Padres numbers seemed pretty anemic to me, but it’s difficult to know for sure without any context. I thought it might prove instructive to run numbers on all 30 MLB teams and see how the Padres stack up against others when hitting on a 2-1 count.

Did I say “instructive”? You may want to sit down for this.

Executive Summary

  • The Padres’ SLG on a 2-1 count was .385, worst in baseball. Next worst was Washington, at .454.
  • The gap in SLG between the Padres and the Nats (.069) is roughly the same as that between the Nats and the Dodgers (.071), the latter of which ranked #18 in SLG on a 2-1 count. In other words, the gap between the two worst teams is comparable to that between teams ranked 18 through 29.
  • The gap in SLG between the Pads and the Nats was the largest among any two teams. The second largest gap was between the Braves, whose .711 SLG was .067 better than #2 Arizona.
  • MLB average SLG on a 2-1 count was .540 (as compared to .419 for all counts).
  • Among the 30 teams in MLB, only the Padres had a lower SLG on a 2-1 count than for all counts. The second worst differential belonged to the Devil Rays (.455 SLG on a 2-1 count vs .425 SLG for all counts).
  • Two teams had a lower OPS on a 2-1 count than for all counts: Padres (669 vs 724) and Devil Rays (752 vs 754). The Braves had the highest positive differential (1124 vs 768).
  • MLB average was ~875 OPS on a 2-1 count vs ~749 OPS for all counts (I had to approximate aggregate OBP due to insufficient data; numbers shouldn’t be off by more than a point either way, if that).
  • The Padres had the worst XBH/H among big league teams on a 2-1 count, at .239. The Royals (.287) checked in at #29.
  • The Red Sox topped the charts at .427 XBH/H on a 2-1 count. MLB average was .354 on a 2-1 count (compared to .336 for all counts).
  • The Friars had the worst differential in XBH/H on a 2-1 count vs for all counts (-.071), although for this category, eight other teams joined them in the red (ironically, the Reds and the Cardinals chief among them).
  • The Padres were the worst home-run hitting team on a 2-1 count, knocking 1 per every 76.4 at-bats. Second worst were the Giants (1/47 AB). Best were the Orioles (1/13.89 AB). MLB average was 1 homer per every 24.46 at-bats on a 2-1 count.
  • Only four teams saw their homer frequency decrease on a 2-1 count versus for all counts: The Padres led the way, again, by a wide margin. They were followed (in the sense that the Beatles were followed by, say, Pilot) by the Indians, Giants, and Yankees. Everyone else hit more home runs per at-bat on a 2-1 count than for all counts. On average, MLB hitters took 8.69 fewer at-bats to go deep on a 2-1 count than for all counts.

Ugly Table

I could do this for any number of metrics, but who needs the aggravation. They all say the same thing — that the Padres didn’t hit at all on a 2-1 count in 2005 — so we’ll keep it simple and stick with OPS.

MLB OPS on 2-1 Count vs All Counts, 2005
Team 2-1 count Overall Difference
Stats courtesy ESPN. MLB OPS on a 2-1 count is approximated due to lack of complete data; it should, however, be very close.
Atl 1.124 .768 .356
Ari 1.033 .753 .280
Col 1.005 .744 .262
Tor .999 .738 .261
Tex .999 .797 .201
ChN .962 .764 .198
Ana .911 .734 .178
Mil .929 .754 .176
Bal .916 .761 .155
StL .901 .762 .139
Det .887 .749 .137
Cle .918 .787 .131
LA .852 .721 .131
Bos .941 .811 .130
Oak .860 .737 .123
Hou .851 .730 .121
KC .827 .716 .111
Phi .876 .771 .105
Cin .889 .785 .103
NYN .834 .738 .096
Sea .798 .708 .090
SF .805 .715 .090
ChA .820 .747 .073
Min .781 .714 .067
Pit .783 .722 .061
Was .753 .708 .045
Fla .787 .748 .038
NYA .811 .805 .006
TB .752 .754 -.002
SD .669 .724 -.056
MLB .875 .749 .126

Pretty Pictures

These should be self-explanatory, but the first chart shows team-by-team OPS on a 2-1 count (blue line) vs for all counts (pink line). I didn’t include team names because they cluttered the pretty picture. The important thing to note is that the Padres are at the far left, where the blue point is below the pink one.

2-1 Count vs Overall, 2005 MLB

The second chart is the difference between the two values. Again, the Pads are at the far left. And if you want to see an example of a team that tees off on a 2-1 count, just drift to the right-hand side. That’s the Braves.

(2-1 Count) minus Overall, 2005 MLB

So What?

Well, we haven’t come any closer to solving the problem. But we’ve pretty well established that a problem does exist and we have a better idea of its scope. Most teams had 300+ at-bats on a 2-1 count in 2005, so it’s difficult to dismiss the Padres’ struggles as a fluke. We’d need to look at multiple seasons’ worth of data to get a better idea, but it sure looks like something in the Friars’ approach is causing them to misfire when hacking at what should be a good pitch to hit.

I guess if I could figure out what that was and how to fix it, I’d make a good hitting coach, huh?

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10 Responses »

  1. Good analysis, Geoff.

    I’m still convinced that the hitting philosophy that they’ve instilled is to be extra aggressive once ahead in the count. I doubt they keep stats on this, but the 2-1 count also seems like one where the Padres are very likely to try to put the hit and run on. That could possibly account for the SLG.

    More than anything, I don’t see patience all the way through an at bat as being something that’s ingrained very well in our team.

  2. Outstanding work Geoff. I think you’ve identified the biggest factor in the Padres lack of offense this year. I wonder how many more runs they would have scored with a league average OPS at 2-1?

    Dex I think you’re spot on. It’s one thing to be aggressive and look for a good pitch at 2-1, it’s something else entirely to just swing at any strike. If you watch a guy like Bonds you’ll see him take strikes at 2-1 if they’re not right where he wants it. Just because a pitch is a strike doesn’t mean you have to swing at it. Being overly agressive at 2-1 can lead to swinging at “bad” strikes, or even pitches outside the zone. I’m sure opposing pitchers pick up on this and know that at 2-1 they can make a borderline pitch and still get an out.

    Now I’m really looking forward to Channel 4 rebroadcasts over the winter, just to see the 2-1 counts.

  3. I’ve got no stats, but what Dex says makes sense to me. It’s no secret that Boch is a big fan of the hit-and-run, and 2-1 is a good count to put it on. And as this season went on, and everyone grew more frustrated with the offense, he became even more enamored of it.

    Opposing pitchers are smart enough, or their managers have mentioned to them, that Boch is fond of the play. So on that count they might be more likely to throw stuff off the plate. Result: swinging at marginal or just plain bad pitches resulting in weakly hit balls.

    I’d be willing to bet it’s a factor. How much? I have no idea, but if you looked at 2-1 counts with runners on 1st or 1st & 2nd, versus all other 2-1 counts, you might get an idea.

  4. Hey Geoff

    You want to be the next GM? I hear Alderson is going to want a “numbers cruncher.” ha ha
    Seriously — I realize it’s only one count, but I think it is indicative of a bigger problem. What changed so much between last year and this year? Does anyone think Magadan’s philosophy changed? Or was it b/c guys were pressing, and trying to do too much?
    I mean I wonder if Loretta’s dropoff and injury absence had anything to do with this. It’s hard to attribute everything to one guy, but think about it: Lo is the 2-hole hitter, and kind of made the offense go last year, hitting doubles all over the place.
    I’m sure everyone was down, but here goes:

    Loretta 2-1 count
    2004 .356 BA, .962 OPS in 45 ABs

    2005 .265 BA, .559 OPS in 34 ABs

  5. Khalil gets the take sign every time:

    2005: 23 AB, .043/.043/.043
    career: 76 AB, .145/.145/.211

  6. Holy crap — take, Kahlil! Take!

  7. I think Khalil should take 2 strikes everytime, considering the numbers. His 8 GiDP didn’t help.
    Oh, Ramon had 14 GiDP for the season, tied with Giles. Burroughs had 7. Loretta 11, Klesko 6, Roberts 9, Nady 6.

    So, combine the two with the tendency to hit and run, that’s pretty potent mixture for failure to score runs.

  8. 2005 382 AB .285/.284/.385/.668
    2004 349 AB .321/.320/.516/.836
    2003 343 AB .356/.353/.528/.880
    2002 326 AB .307/.309/.509/.819

    Wasn’t Magadan the hitting coach in 2004? I’d be more inclined to consider this year more of a fluke, and possibly relate it to change in personnel, before I would blame Magadan for this.

  9. One thing to keep in mind is that these stats are based only what happens when the ball is put in play on a 2-1 count. It seems that Giles (and to a lesser extent Klesko) had a strong tendency to take 2-1 pitches. So the numbers here are weighted more strongly by the hackers in the lineup (Khalil, Nevin, Ramon, etc.).

    It would be interesting to see how the Pads did on all at-bats that went though 2-1, rather than just those that ended at 2-1. Yahoo has both types of splits for individual players (for instance, Giles hit .333 and slugged .556 in 42 2-1 AB, but if you count all PAs that went through 2-1, he hit 345/545(!)/538), but I can’t find team totals anywhere.

    Giles’ splits:

  10. Great point, Vinay. I can’t find team totals anywhere either. FWIW, Khalil in 2005: .194/.301/.361.