Here’s a big, boring truism you surely don’t want to read an article about: as a pitcher, it’s better to be ahead in the count than behind. Good, great, fine. Thanks for the information, Ben, but let’s move along. We all know that, there’s no need to further prove it.
But wait! Here’s another truism that complicates the first one. Better hitters get ahead in the count more often. Mike Trout gets to 1-0 a lot more frequently than Billy Hamilton does — in roughly 48% of his plate appearances, as compared to a mere 36.8% for Hamilton.
So here’s a fact presented without context: major league hitters, as a whole, had a .363 wOBA after 1-0 counts and a .270 wOBA after 0-1 counts. Get ahead, hit better. But here’s some context, which at least slightly confuses the issue. The average wOBA of a batter reaching a 1-0 count was .322. In contrast, the average wOBA of 0-1 batters was .317. Better batters, in other words, really do reach advantageous counts more often. If you don’t account for that, you’ll probably end up over-valuing getting ahead in the count.
In fact, as a general rule, bad batters get to all of the worst counts more often. The best count in…