An interesting thought crossed my mind in the first inning of tonight’s Baltimore Orioles game against Cleveland. Starter Miguel Gonzalez threw a one-strike pitch to a Cleveland hitter that was well high of the strike zone. Yet the hitter swung at the pitch, and fouled it off behind him. We spend a lot of time talking about quality at-bats in games, and hitters that seemingly have no problem fouling off pitch-after-pitch-after-pitch. Obviously when this happens it pressures the pitcher in that at-bat, and ultimately drives up his overall pitch count. Advantage: hitter. Hitting coaches love this, and it obviously drives pitching coaches crazy. However given the above-mentioned scenario, have we possibly found an inverse-type of situation?
It’s not a true reverse-type of situation in that it’s not an apples-to-oranges comparison. The hitter in theory can stand there for an infinite amount of time at-bat; if a pitcher throws too many pitches he’s not going to be able to continue in the game. However in this age of sabremetrics in baseball when numbers are raked high and low to find competitive advantages, could we perhaps find a way to measure pitches that pitchers “get back?”
The term get back might not be the most romantic way of putting this concept into words, but work with me here! If a pitcher throws a pitch that is obviously out of the strike zone (and in many cases is not even designed to be in the strike zone) and the hitter bites, in my view there’s a net gain of a pitch for the pitcher. Granted pitchers in essence throw pitches out of the zone purposely for the sole reason of trying to get hitters to bite. However if the hitter records a strike (regardless of whether or not it’s strike one, two, or three), the pitcher comes one pitch closer to his goal than he might have originally thought possible.
Again, I’m probably doing a lousy job of describing this. Yet I think it’s something worth mentioning. The pitch in question with Gonzalez tonight was simply a rising fastball. If the hitter lays off that pitch, Gonzalez has wasted a pitch and he’s one pitch closer to a base runner. However if it gets fouled off (which in this case it did), that pitcher gains an advantage that he otherwise wouldn’t have had. A better way of looking at it is that if the count is 1-1 and the batter lays off of that rising fastball, the count is now 2-1, you’re a pitch closer to a base runner, and the pitcher has to then potentially waste another pitch to obtain strike two. Again, not a true inverse of a hitter fouling off multiple pitches, but it does strike you as a bit of a pitch-saver in the long run.