The Best and Worst by Ball-Strike Count

wOBAs by Pitcher and Pitch Count

I am fascinated by how each dimension of a pitch’s context affects the outcome. To further explore this, I analyzed the expected wOBA for each hitter and pitcher at every possible count using 2018 Major League Baseball results. The results show who takes advantage when they’re ahead in the count, who squanders those opportunities, who battles when they’re behind, and who gives up.

Methodology

Using our Expected wOBAby at-bat, we tabulated the results for both batters and pitchers across every count for the 2018 season. In other words, for all at-bats in which Mike Trout ever saw a 0 balls, 1 strike count, his wOBA was 0.518for those at-bats, which was the 5th best for all players after going 0-1. To reduce noise and outliers, we only included players in each count with at least 20 at-bats going through that count. So if Craig Kimbrel only went 0-3 six or seven times in 2018, then he wouldn’t show up in this analysis.

We analyzed pitchers and batters in the same way, but separated their results in the interactive tools below.

5 Takeaways from Batters

  1. Mookie Betts is comparatively very good, except for 3-0 counts. His wOBA in these situations is a mere 0.456, compared to highs reaching almost 0.800.
  2. The secret to getting Mike Trout out is starting with an 0-2 count. He is very good, except only above average in 2-strike counts.
  3. Albert Pujols can barely get on-base even if you spot him 3 balls. Let me put it this way – Mookie Betts has a 0.100 wOBA advantage at the start of his at-bats over Albert Pujols’ at a 3-0 count.
  4. Joey Gallo is very, very Three-True-Outcomes-y. If he gets ahead in the count, he’s a very good bet to get on-base. If he gets behind in strikes, then he’s heading towards an out.
  5. Howie Kendrick doesn’t waste 2- and 3-ball counts. In these situations, he’s one of the best. With a 0.752 wOBA in full counts, he’s almost a lock to get on-base.

5 Takeaways from Pitchers

  1. The Top 5 positions are dominated by relievers. This could be because they have lower sample sizes, which helps them resist reversion to the mean; as well as specialization in their repertoire which is more repeatable in specific situations.
  2. The Bottom 5 positions are also dominated by relievers. I suspect this because most of these guys are flash-in-the-pans and they fall out utilization and/or get demoted/released before they have a chance to improve their ratings. Starters typically have more opportunities to normalize their results (a few starts for a starter vs. a few innings for a reliever).
  3. Closers close. They jump ahead in the count and they don’t relent. Aroldis Chapman and Wade Davis were among the best in two-strike counts, and Craig Kimbrel didn’t even qualify for the leaderboards in most two and three-ball counts.
  4. David Price is one of the best after being really bad. In three-ball counts, he is consistently the best or one of the best in keeping hitters off base. I don’t play, but is anything in this situation analogous to Fortnite? That might explain it.
  5. Jacob Degrom is surprisingly bad in 3-0 counts. He’s great everywhere else, but allowed a 0.674 wOBA after reaching a three-balls, no-strikes count.

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