In an excellent article, Thomas Boswell brings to our attention the importance of a two-strike count. He seems to prove that before there are two strikes, major league batters are Babe Ruth but after two strikes are more like Mario Mendoza. It's fascinating stuff and well worth the read. So this Fan won't be offended if you go here to read it.
The story got the Fan to thinking about how the game has changed so much that working the count and getting the pitcher to throw a lot of pitches seems to be the latest and greatest thing to do these days. It seems that in order to facilitate that new mantra, major league hitters are encouraged to take that first pitch. Heck, most little league players are told to take the first pitch, so that goes back a long way. But if the first pitch is a strike, then doesn't the hitter lose one of his best opportunities to get a hit? Isn't he giving away an opportunity?
Of course the subtle difference here is that batter who aggressively swings at the first pitch if it is a strike and the guy who "chases" the first pitch that isn't in the strike zone. But the Fan isn't talking about the latter, but the former.
The Fan was thinking about this article and about Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner of the Yankees. Jeter loves to look for a first pitch fastball and drive it somewhere. It truly is surprising that pitchers still throw him fastballs on the first pitch. Jeter has put the ball in play on the first pitch 36 times this season, the most for any count. His average on those balls in play is .417 with a .957 OPS. Predictably, as Boswell so aptly points out, once Jeter gets two strikes on him, he's much less effective. So Jeter likes to take advantage of one of his best opportunities to hit.
Brett Gardner always takes the first pitch. Always. And quite often, it's a strike. Gardner has only put six first pitch pitches in play all season or one sixth of the time that Jeter does. But on those six times, Gardner has a .500 batting average. So if Boswell is right, and this Fan knows he is, Gardner is losing precious opportunities. With two strikes, Gardner is a .250 hitter, so why make it easy for the pitcher to get there? Gardner is great when he is ahead in the count and his ability to get on base and make the pitcher throw a lot of pitches are all admirable things. But Gardner shouldn't let so many grooved fastballs go by on the first pitch, at least according to Boswell it seems.