WC Fields once said, “There are only two real ways to get ahead today — sell liquor or drink it.” In baseball at least, you can also throw strike one.

In Sunday night’s post I pointed out that the Phillies give up both a lot and a high percentage of their home runs on the first pitch. Today’s post will take a look at how often NL teams got ahead or behind in the count on the first pitch. Later this week I’ll look at which teams got the best results by getting ahead in the count on the first pitch.

After the first pitch of a plate appearance, the plate appearance can be over or the count can be 1-0 or 0-1. The chart below shows how often each of those things happened for the NL teams last season. For each team it shows, for the batters they faced, how many had their plate appearance end on one pitch, how many of them the team’s pitchers got behind 1-0 and how many they got ahead of 0-1 (and their NL rank for each of those categories):

Team %
one-pitch
Rank % 1-0 Rank % 0-1 Rank
CHI 11.4 9 41.2 6 47.4 6
PHI 12.5 2 41.0 5 46.5 11
SFG 10.6 15 42.7 15 46.6 10
SDP 11.8 8 41.5 8 46.7 9
HOU 12.6 1 39.8 2 47.6 5
STL 11.9 7 40.3 3 47.8 4
NYM 11.4 11 41.4 7 47.2 7
WSN 11.2 12 42.4 13 46.4 13
ARI 12.2 4 38.1 1 49.6 1
LAD 11.4 10 40.4 4 48.2 2
COL 11.9 6 41.7 10 46.4 12
PIT 12.3 3 44.2 16 43.5 16
MIL 12.1 5 41.7 11 46.2 14
CIN 10.4 16 41.5 9 48.1 3
FLA 11.2 13 42.7 14 46.1 15
ATL 11.0 14 42.1 12 46.9 8

Arizona clearly wins the prize for getting ahead of hitters in 2008. They got ahead of 49.6% of the hitters they faced 0-1, which was the best rate of the league. They got behind 38.1% of them 1-0, which was also the best rate in the league. Not far behind them are the Dodgers.

At the other end of the scale, the Pirates are the clear winners of the don’t-go-to-the-head-of-the-class award with both the worst rate of getting ahead and the worst rate of getting behind.

This all seems pretty simple — the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers were really good at pitching last year and the Pirates were really bad. Case closed. Sadly, if you look a little deeper things get perplexing. The Astros and the Cardinals were both very good at getting ahead of hitters and not getting behind them and neither team pitched exceptionally well in ’08. The Brewers pitched well last year and were miserable at getting ahead of hitters.

The Phillies, meanwhile, saw a high percentage of their plate appearances end in one pitch. Including that, though, they weren’t especially good at getting ahead of hitters. They did, however, avoid falling into a 1-0 count pretty well.

Here’s what the getting ahead and getting behind numbers look like if you take out the plate appearances that ended on the first pitch:

Team % 1-0 % 0-1 Rank of %
PA got ahead 0-1
CHI 46.5 53.5 6
PHI 46.9 53.1 8
SFG 47.8 52.2 14
SDP 47.0 53.0 9
HOU 45.6 54.4 2
STL 45.7 54.3 4
NYM 46.8 53.2 7
WSN 47.8 52.2 13
ARI 43.4 56.6 1
LAD 45.6 54.4 3
COL 47.3 52.7 11
PIT 50.4 49.6 16
MIL 47.4 52.6 12
CIN 46.3 53.7 5
FLA 48.1 51.9 15
ATL 47.3 52.7 10

Again, Arizona and LA are really good, but are joined by staffs with worse numbers like the Cardinals, Astros and Reds atop the list. The Pirates are still bad, but so are the Brewers.

The Phillies, meanwhile, are still not especially good at getting ahead of opposing hitters despite all they have going on during the first pitch.

JA Happ got the start for the Phillies yesterday as the Phils topped the Yankees, 8-3. With the win the Phils are 9-11 in spring training.

Happ went five innings, allowing two runs on five hits and three walks. Only one of the runs was earned and he dropped his official spring ERA to 3.15. Condrey, Eyre and Lidge all threw scoreless innings. Koplove pitched the ninth and allowed a run on two hits and a walk. The outing puts his ERA on the year at 1.42.

Ibanez was 3-for-3 with two doubles in the game. He’s hitting .263. Bruntlett also had a big day, 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles to raise his average to .340. Cairo hit a three-run homer in his only at-bat in the game. Giles was 1-for-1 with a double but is still hitting just .182. Donald 0-for-3 with a walk. Paulino is hitting .185 after going 1-for-4 with a strikeout.

Toronto this afternoon with Chan Ho Park and his worrisome hamstring expected to pitch.

Kyle Kendrick will not be the fifth starter for the Phillies to start the season. Kendrick, Lou Marson and Brad Harman were sent to minor league camp yesterday. Also sent to minor league camp were Donald, Borkowski and Woods.

This suggests that Hamels could start the fourth game of the season.

On Sunday night Team USA lost to Japan 9-4 and were eliminated in the World Baseball Classic. Jimmy Rollins had a fantastic game, going 4-for-4 with a triple, a walk and a stolen base. Shane Victorino did not get an at-bat in the game. The US team was eliminated with the loss. Rollins hit 417/500/750 in 24 at-bats in the tournament. He also stole four bases. Victorino got 19 at-bats and hit 316/350/316.

Japan beat Korea last night, 5-3, to win the tournament for the second-straight time. Ichiro had a two-run single in the top of the tenth to break a 3-3 tie.