Getting ahead of the batter 0-1 instead of behind him 1-0 is hugely important for a pitcher. One way you can tell is by looking at the results of plate appearances in which the pitcher got ahead or behind.

The chart below shows the batting average and slugging percentage that batters hit to against the Phillies in plate appearances where the pitcher got behind 1-0 or ahead 0-1. Also included are the results of the plate appearances where the ball was put in play on the first pitch (no on-base percentage is included because a batter cannot walk on the first pitch of his plate appearance):

firstpitch1.jpg

So it’s good to get ahead. Duh. The curious thing, of course, is that the chart makes it look like the pitcher is better off when the count is 1-0 than if the batter put the ball in play on the first pitch. I don’t think you want to jump to that conclusion, though. In the same way the batter can’t walk on the first pitch, he also can’t strike out. If you take all the strikeouts away from the plate appearances, opposing hitters hit .345 and slugged .551 against the Phils in ’08 when they got ahead 1-0.

I don’t want to profess to have any idea what goes through a pitcher’s head when delivering the first pitch of plate appearance. I would guess, though, that the intention is rarely to deliver ball one. I would also guess that it is, by a wide margin, to throw strike one rather than have the batter hit the ball in a way that creates an out — the consequence of that is putting the ball over the plate where it can be hit at a time the batter expects just that.

In 2008, 11 of the 16 NL teams saw batters hit to a lower OPS in the plate appearances where the pitcher got behind 1-0 than the plate appearances where the plate appearance was over with one pitch. The Phillies were one of the five teams that saw batters hit to a lower OPS in plate appearances that ended in one pitch.

The five teams that did put up a better OPS against the batters that got ahead of them 1-0 than the batters whose plate appearances ended on one pitch were the Phils, Dodgers, Rockies, Marlins and Braves. Every one of those teams, like the Phillies, still saw batters hit to a higher batting average and slugging percentage on the first pitch plate appearances than they did on the plate appearances when they got behind 1-0 (again, perhaps in large part because you cannot strike out on the first pitch).

So a lot of teams are getting hurt on their plate appearances that end on the first pitch, presumably for the benefit of getting ahead in the count. All of the teams in the NL did not benefit equally by getting ahead in the count, though. The table below lists, for each NL team, the OPS that opposing batters hit to against them in plate appearances when they got ahead and behind in the count:

Team 1-0 PA OPS 0-1 PA OPS Diff
HOU 2440 .908 2915 .611 .297
FLA 2678 .886 2890 .592 .294
MIL 2589 .855 2871 .583 .272
PHI 2554 .858 2897 .610 .248
ATL 2628 .868 2931 .645 .223
LAD 2478 .800 2951 .580 .220
SDP 2608 .829 2938 .609 .220
STL 2524 .857 2997 .644 .213
SFG 2710 .830 2956 .624 .206
PIT 2888 .892 2839 .693 .199
CIN 2636 .886 3055 .688 .198
CHI 2551 .784 2937 .586 .198
ARI 2332 .798 3038 .602 .196
COL 2640 .872 2944 .676 .196
NYM 2627 .820 2990 .627 .193
WSN 2676 .853 2925 .677 .176

So the Astros had the biggest difference in the OPS that batters who got ahead 1-0 put up against them and the batters who got behind 0-1. Batters who got ahead 1-0 hit 294/399/509 (.908 OPS) against them and batters who got behind 0-1 hit 222/265/345 (.611 OPS). The difference between the two is .297. At the other end of the list was the Nats, who saw hitters that got ahead hit 274/394/459 (.853) and hitters who got behind hit 248/293/384 (.677) — that difference still seems dramatic, but was the smallest of the 16 NL teams.

The Phillies, meanwhile, were near the top of the list in terms of the benefit they got by OPS by getting ahead of hitters on the first pitch. So at least they got something out of all those first-pitch home runs they gave up.

Yesterday the Phillies scored three runs in the top of the ninth to beat Toronto 7-6. They are 10-11 in spring training.

Park got the start for the Phils and allowed three runs over four innings on four hits and a walk. He struck out seven and has a spring ERA of 2.87. Durbin and Madson each threw a scoreless inning for the Phils. Majewski went two innings and allowed two runs on four hits and a walk, pushing his spring ERA up to 3.27.

Park has amazing strikeout and walk numbers this spring training. He’s thrown 15 2/3 innings and allowed one walk while striking out 18.

Back from the World Baseball Classic, Rollins and Victorino were atop the lineup for the Phils. They both went 0-for-2 with a walk. Cairo was 1-for-1 with a walk. He’s hitting .303 this spring. Coste was at DH for the Phils and went 1-for-4 to raise his spring average to .111. Werth was 2-for-3 with his fourth spring home run. Utley hit his first, a two-run shot in the seventh. He’s hitting .278.

The Phillies do not play today.