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Don Mattingly swinging at the first pitch

Posted by Andy on December 28, 2007

I thought I'd show you some of the cool data you can get with the PI Batting Splits.

As any huge Mattingly fan would know, he was well known for rarely swinging at the first pitch of an at-bat.
From his splits page, we can see the breakdown of data for career plate appearances by pitch count:

I Split          G   GS    PA    AB    R    H   2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  IBB  SO  HBP  SH  SF ROE GDP  SB   CS   BA   OBP   SLG   OPS  BAbip tOPS+ Split
+-+------------+----+----+-----+-----+----+----+---+---+---+----+----+---+----+---+---+---+---+---+----+---+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+------------+
   First Pitch   385        465   444       161  26   0  10   88    0   0    0   7   0  14   3  18           .363  .361  .489  .850  .337   105 First Pitch
   1-0 Count     467        564   560       167  31   4  13   89    0   0    0   0   0   4   5  26           .298  .296  .438  .734  .279    76 1-0 Count
   2-0 Count     227        262   257        87  22   1  12   55    0   0    0   0   0   5   3   7           .339  .332  .572  .904  .300   114 2-0 Count
   3-0 Count     175        187     5         1   0   0   0    7  181  86    0   0   0   1   0   0           .200  .973  .200 1.173  .167   214 3-0 Count
   0-1 Count     444        548   543       157  27   0  15   69    0   0    0   1   0   4   8  18           .289  .288  .422  .710  .267    70 0-1 Count
   1-1 Count     479        598   588       192  41   1  15   89    0   0    0   0   0  10   7  14           .327  .321  .476  .797  .304    91 1-1 Count
   2-1 Count     294        346   342       115  19   0   8   48    0   0    0   3   0   1   4   8           .336  .341  .462  .803  .319    93 2-1 Count
   3-1 Count     198        211   115        33   5   1   4   20   94   2    0   0   0   2   2   3           .287  .602  .452 1.054  .257   164 3-1 Count
   0-2 Count     202        218   215        45   5   0   2   10    0   0   40   1   0   2   3   7           .209  .211  .260  .471  .246    14 0-2 Count
   1-2 Count     413        500   496       114  27   0   7   45    0   0  121   2   0   2   4   8           .230  .232  .327  .559  .289    34 1-2 Count
   2-2 Count     338        384   381        86  27   0   4   27    0   0   69   0   0   3   5   2           .226  .224  .328  .552  .264    32 2-2 Count

Note that this data is for only 1988 to 1995, as the data is not available from before that. So, as you can see, of Mattingly's 4643 career PAs from 1988 to 1995, 465 of them (10.0%) ended on the first pitch. Since he had only 444 first-pitch at-bats, we see that 21 were something else, and it turns out they were 7 hit-by-pitches and 14 sacrifice flies.

Firstly, I wanted to see whether Mattingly really did swing at the first pitch rarely. The batter he is most similar to is Cecil Cooper, but unfortunately almost all of Cooper's career came before B-R's detailed pitch data. However, we can take a look at the second most-similar batter, Wally Joyner.

From Joyner's splits, you can see that he had 6788 PAs from 1988-2001 and of those, he had 1015 that ended after the first pitch. That's 15.0%, as compared to 10.0% for Mattingly.

One more quickie: similar batter #5 is Garrett Anderson, whose entire career has pitch-by-pitch data. Anderson has 7887 career PAs, and 1191 ended after the first pitch. That's 15.1%, very close to Joyner.

Obviously this is by no means a detailed study, but initial data does back up the idea that Mattingly did indeed look at a lot of first pitches.

Take a look above at Mattingly's 3-0 count PAs. Of 187 such PAs, only 5 ever became official at-bats, and one became a hit. So he had a .200 BA with 3 balls an no strikes, but a .973 OBP thanks to 181 walks. (Again, this is 1988 to 1995, and keep in mind that this is for PAs that ended on a 3-0 count. It doesn't include PAs where the next pitch was a strike.)

To see everything that happened once the count got to 3-0 on Mattingly, you need to look a little further down.

I Split          G   GS    PA    AB    R    H   2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  IBB  SO  HBP  SH  SF ROE GDP  SB   CS   BA   OBP   SLG   OPS  BAbip tOPS+ Split
+-+------------+----+----+-----+-----+----+----+---+---+---+----+----+---+----+---+---+---+---+---+----+---+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+------------+
   After 1-0     987       2337  1990       606 131   6  50  301  321  86   96   2   0  24  23  52           .305  .398  .452  .850  .298   107 After 1-0
   After 2-0     600        866   585       191  43   2  20  108  269  86   31   2   0  10   8   9           .326  .533  .509 1.042  .314   157 After 2-0
   After 3-0     282        321    86        31   5   0   3   21  232  86    9   0   0   3   2   1           .360  .819  .523 1.342  .364   240 After 3-0
   After 0-1     932       1798  1740       456  86   1  38  189   41   2  165   5   0  12  21  45           .262  .279  .378  .657  .270    58 After 0-1
   After 1-1     899       1634  1530       437  96   1  34  193   86   2  120   3   0  15  18  34           .286  .322  .416  .738  .290    78 After 1-1
   After 2-1     571        802   695       201  42   1  17   90   99   2   48   3   0   5   7  12           .289  .378  .426  .804  .290    96 After 2-1
   After 3-1     287        326   196        59  11   1   7   30  127   2   13   0   0   3   4   4           .301  .571  .474 1.045  .291   160 After 3-1
   After 0-2     430        523   512       110  20   0   6   31    7   0  110   1   0   3   5  10           .215  .226  .289  .515  .261    24 After 0-2
   After 1-2     607        822   786       182  44   0  11   67   31   0  164   2   0   3   9  12           .232  .262  .330  .592  .279    43 After 1-2
   After 2-2     468        586   528       125  34   0   9   48   54   0   87   0   0   4   6   5           .237  .305  .352  .657  .266    60 After 2-2
   Three Balls   523        715   348        99  18   1  12   58  362  88   31   0   0   5   5   7           .284  .645  .445 1.090  .281   175 Three Balls
   Two Strikes   837       1419  1320       310  72   0  21  113   87   0  261   3   0   9  15  21           .235  .282  .337  .619  .276    50 Two Strikes

So after the 321 PAs that went 3-0, Mattingly ended up with an official at-bat 86 times (26.8%). All the rest of the time he walked. That's a .320 batting average with an .819 OBP.

Compare that to Joyner who had 452 PAs with the count 3-0, and then went on to have 152 ABs (33.6%) So Joyner took fewer walks, and also managed a lower BA (.309) and OBP (.761.) Anderson, to date, has had 330 PAs with a 3-0 count, and 117 ABs (35.4%), with a .291 BA and .745 OBP.

These arguments seem to be in favor of Mattingly, although some argue that for years he was the Yankees' best hitter and maybe would have been better off swinging more with 3-0 counts rather than walking and leaving it up to a lesser hitter, such as an over-the-hill Jack Clark. (I have heard a similar criticism made of Wade Boggs.)

This entry was posted on Friday, December 28th, 2007 at 7:21 am and is filed under Splits. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to “Don Mattingly swinging at the first pitch”

  1. David in Toledo Says:

    So Don Mattingly was less likely to swing at first and at 3-0 pitches than Wally Joyner -- but more likely to swing at the others. Mattingly's walk rate is 7.4% (per plate appearance); Joyner's is 10.9%. Part of Mattingly's 3-0 looking comes from the 28 more times he received an IBB.

    Injury is the main thing that keeps Donnie Baseball from the Hall. But I also figure he could have helped his case if he'd been a little more selective. He grounded into more double plays than Joyner (in fewer times up), and he never managed a seasonal OB% of .400. Compare Mattingly's career stats to Minnie Minoso's (they are 11 plate appearances apart, and Minnie had a late start while Don had an early exit). Don had more power, Minnie had more speed, but the biggest difference is that Minnie got on base more (and, yes, part of that is because he got plunked 171 more times).

    Garret Anderson looks like a poor man's Andre Dawson in terms of his walk rate (4.7%) and OB%.

  2. A reader pointed out that I forgot the 3-2 pitches in the first Mattingly chart above. If you want to see the data, just click on the link above to his splits page.

    Agreed on all counts, David.