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Swing at First Pitch and Game Theory

Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

Joe Mauer and Kevin Youkilis are two baseball players that are notoriously patient at the plate, and rarely swing at the first pitch of an at-bat. When they do swing at the first pitch how well do they do though? James Gentile (Doesn't that sound familiar?) of The Hardball Times looks at how we can use game theory to answer this question.

To answer this, I looked at wOBA on first pitch balls in play including home runs (or wOBA/CON for "wOBA on contact") for all hitters with at least 2,500 plate appearances since 2002. I then compared their wOBA/CON on first pitch against their wOBA/CON in all counts.

The hitters who put the ball in play least often on the first pitch are mostly players you would probably expect, that is, players with prominent reputations for having a patient approach at the plate.

The leaders in BIP% (balls in play percentage) since 2002 are all guys that we should expect. Their first pitch wOBA/CON was much higher than their overall wOBA/CON, and the difference was .024.

On the other hand the lowest BIP% since 2002 include players like Delmon Young and Melky Cabrera.

Overall there wasn't any evidence that hitters who swung less at the first pitch got any type of advantage when occasionally swinging at a 0-0 pitch.

Questions for the community:

1) How would you improve the study?

2) Why doesn't game theory in 0-0 counts have any significant payoffs?