Ahead in the Count

Blake Beavan is not an exciting pitcher. He doesn’t have electric movement or blazing speed. At least, his pitches don’t. I haven’t seen him on the dance floor. Although he once threw in the mid-90s, he doesn’t much anymore and he mostly throws fastballs in the strike zone that look rather pedestrian and ordinary. He looks like the sort of pitcher who should get shelled a lot and/or play for the Twins. Perhaps there’s something in his delivery that is interesting, but we don’t have the technology yet to deduce it.

As it happened, Blake Beavan was facing the Twins a little while back. While trying to come up with a new way to summarize a very typical Blake Beavan start, I noticed that he had thrown an unusually high, even for him, percentage of strikes (74%) and furthermore, that he had thrown a first-pitch strike to 20 of the 24 batters that he faced. Blake Beavan’s one Major League skill is his control and those are both excellent rates.

The thought struck me then that, having thrown so many strikes overall and having gone 0-1 to so many of the hitters, that Beavan probably didn’t throw that many pitches while behind in the count. I was halfway through individually counting them when I realized that was a waste of my brain’s computer power and instead wrote a database query to count them.

There were seven. Only seven I should say because Blake Beavan threw a total of 97 pitches that day. Of the 73 pitches where it was possible for Beavan to be behind in the count (97 minus the number of batters faced), he was behind — in a 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 2-1 or 3-1 count — on only seven. Looking at the other side, 49 pitches came in the favorable counts of 0-1, 0-2 and 1-2.

It took longer to write that query than it would have to finish counting myself, but the benefit isn’t with the first task, it’s in the scale. Seven total, seven out of seventy-three and forty-nine to seven all seemed like possibly exceptional numbers, but I didn’t have any comparisons.

Because I am a Mariners fan, my first thoughts went to Felix Hernandez and his recently thrown perfect game. Having watched Felix slice up and bludgeon the Rays’ hitters that afternoon, my recollection was that he was so firmly in control that entire game that it came as a surprise to see that Felix’s numbers from his perfect start were 22 pitches behind in the count and 35 ahead, out of 86 non-first-pitches.

No-hitters and perfect games are well noted and remembered. Speaking generally, I think those two result in too much fawning for the pitcher himself since not allowing hits is a burden that also falls on the defenders, perhaps mostly on the defenders. The difference between zero and one hit allowed in a start shouldn’t mean as much as it is treated.

High-strikeout games are also seen as dominant and those are probably more legitimately bestowed upon the pitcher’s skill than the zero-hit starts. What I wonder is, was Blake Beavan’s start, by keeping the Twins behind in the count so absurdly much, a quietly dominant outing? Do we collectively have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to the process of pitchers working into advantageous counts?

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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Ruki Motomiya
Ruki Motomiya

I would say yes, as long as he didn’t get shelled doing it obviously. Getting and staying ahead in the count is up there in terms of importance for a pitcher and only throwing seven pitches from behind is pretty amazing.

A question, if you have the data: Were all seven pitches thrown in different at-bats or were some in the same at-bat?