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Taking The First Pitch

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Let’s talk about a common issue that we have noticed in the baseball community for quite some time now: taking the first pitch. In our line of business, we have been out to the baseball fields on countless occasions and have seen games being played at every level and in many different places. Regardless of where we have been, time and time again we hear coaches urging their players to take the first pitch when they are at the plate.

Why? Why would we want to miss out on our best opportunity to have success at the plate? Yes; the best! Statistically, hitters are put at a massive disadvantage once they are behind in the count 0-1. What the numbers tell us is that, when a pitchers starts an at-bat with a strike, there is a 92.7% statistical chance that at-bat will result in an out. Additionally, the number of strike outs that start with a first pitch strike is 69%. That leaves hitter with less than an 8% chance to earn a base hit and approximately a 30% chance of even putting the ball in play.

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The comparison between batter’s with the count in their favor vs. when the count is not in their favor is quite staggering as well. When a batter faces a pitchers count, that batter has a batting average of .196 and a slugging percentage of .112. When the hitter has a count in his favor, those numbers skyrocket to .350 BA and a .407 slugging percentage. We’re talking about the difference between a player without a job and an all-star player, respectively.

Knowing this? Why do we still hear coaches being so adamant about taking the first pitch?

It gets really funny when you hear the opposing pitching coaches stressing the importance of first pitch strikes to their pitchers, while the hitting coaches are expecting the same from their hitters. This would be the equivalent of an offensive coordinator in football calling run plays up the middle and the defensive coordinator calling plays to counter everything except for the run up the middle. A basketball coach telling players to shoot 3-pointers and the opposing coach telling players to not defend the 3-point shots.

When you look at it from the vantage point of two competitors wanting the same result is when you realize that there is a problem.

Coaches really only have two reasons as to why they want their hitters to take the first pitch and both of them are born from a defensive mindset. The first is because they choose to rely on the pitchers to get themselves into trouble. Especially at young ages, coaches often take advantage of the pitchers’ inability to throw strikes. The second reason is that the coaches don’t have faith in their own hitters’ abilities to achieve a good result at the plate, so they use these hitters as pawns to further raise the pitch count and, best case scenario, the hitter can earn a base-on-balls. In both scenarios, hitters are being taught to be less aggressive at the plate and these lessons stay with them at every level, even when pitcher’s establish more control.

Whichever way you slice it, taking the first pitch neither gives a hitter their best chance to succeed nor does it allow them to grow into the type of players that do damage in lineups at the higher levels. The next time you hear “take the first pitch strike” at the baseball field, think twice before you choose to follow the command or allow your child to do so. You may just be giving up your only shot at success.

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