The Problem With Memorable Outcomes

by on August 27, 2010 · 1 comment

So Matt Holliday popped up on the first pitch of an at-bat in the ninth inning with the game on the line Tuesday night and everyone freaked out. I’m here to address that.

The adage of taking the first pitch has been preached since little league, and it appears that it has stayed with most casual fans who anger over an aggressive at-bat well into adulthood. The problem with this is that over the course of a players development through high school, on to college, and into pro-ball, exceptional athletes can outgrow things like taking the first pitch. It simply doesn’t apply. Is taking pitches a good thing? Absolutely (See Pedro Feliz). While Holliday is no Scott Hatteberg, he isn’t patient enough to be a well above-average hitter. Which leads me to my next point…

Above-average players are above-average players no matter what the count. In fact, Holliday is more than above-average when swinging at the first pitch. Check out a blurb from Derrick Goold’s Bird Land Blog:

Holliday has about the equivalent of a full season of swinging at the first pitch, according to the splits available at Baseball-Reference.com. He has 594 at-bats when he’s swung at the first pitch, and in those at-bats he has a .386 average, 45 home runs, 50 doubles and 149 RBIs. That is a pretty good season. Subtract his first pitch-swinging at-bats from his career totals, and here is how they compare:

1st-pitch … .386 BA, .724 SLG

All other ABs … .303 BA, .508 SLG

While this should end the discussion for most of us, but it won’t for some of you who want to argue that while Holliday has had success on the first pitch as a total, when the game is on the line, he has now — twice, actually — failed to come through. “In the clutch,” if you will. The problem with this is the power of the noticeable outcome. It’s a situation that your opinion of the play is decided by what happens. This may seem kind of silly to a lot of people, and I hope I’m not coming off as preachy, but there’s a better way to watch and access baseball. Why should Holliday popping out on the first pitch be deemed reckless AFTER he does so? Aren’t we smart enough to decipher if a hypothetical action would be a good or bad decision before it actually happens? If so, and you still don’t think Matt Holliday should have swung at Evan Meek’s slider, I can live with that. But forming an opinion based on a couple memorable hacks – that is reckless.

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Baseball enthusiast. I analyze the game from what I consider a fair perspective: a mix of numbers and observations. The 1967 Cardinals were really awesome.
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