Back in the early 80s, when Dale Murphy was one of the best players in the game, my brother had him on his fantasy team and thought he was the greatest. Looking to take him down a peg, I told him – you get to 0-2 on Murphy and throw him a curve out of the strike zone and it’s a guaranteed strikeout. His reply was – okay, good luck getting to 0-2.

My theory in 2018 is that Mets pitchers don’t have a ton of problem getting to 0-2 (or 1-2) but struggle to put hitters away. And the reason they struggle is that they throw pitches that never appear to be strikes. It’s okay to throw pitches out of the zone. But at some point they have to look like a strike in order to get a hitter to chase. So, instead of being out of the AB in three or four pitches, those consistently last six or more, driving up pitch counts and leading to early exits and unsatisfying results.

So let’s go ahead and test this theory. Baseball-Reference shows that when the PA ends immediately after the 0-2 pitch NL hitters post a .141/.147/.210 triple slash line for a .357 OPS. At 1-2, those numbers are .148/.155/.223 and .379, respectively. Clearly, you want to end the PA when you get that far ahead. The longer the batter stays alive, the higher his OPS gets. With a full count, NL batters have an .800 OPS.

Over at they have the ability to look at pitch locations by counts. We’ll examine what pitchers do at 0-2 and 1-2. Let’s start by looking at Max Scherzer, arguably the best pitcher in the NL right now. In the month of May, Scherzer has gotten to an 0-2 count 28 times and thrown pitches in the zone 12 times and ones outside the zone 16 times. That doesn’t sound all that impressive. But, the key is that those pitches outside the zone are ones that the batters think might be strikes. Of those 28 pitches, batters have swung at 21 of them. Meanwhile, Scherzer has thrown a 1-2 pitch 26 times this month. Of those, 16 have been out of the strike zone but batters have swung 15 times.

The majority of pitches Scherzer throws in these counts when he’s way ahead with two strikes are out of the strike zone. But batters are still swinging the majority of the time. Now let’s compare that to Mets pitchers.

Jacob deGrom has been on the DL, left one start early and had another last just one inning this month. So he has just eight pitches with an 0-2 count. Seven of those have been out of the strike zone yet batters have swung at five of them. He’s thrown 16 pitches this month with the count 1-2 with seven of those out of the zone. Batters have swung at 13 of those pitches, with one of those that they took being a called strike three.

Noah Syndergaard has 16 pitches at 0-2, seven out of the strike zone and batters swung at 11 pitches. He’s thrown 19 1-2 pitches and 11 of those have been out of the zone. Batters have swung at 12 of those.

Steven Matz has nine pitches this month at 0-2 and six of those have been outside the strike zone. Batters have swung at four pitches in this count. At 1-2, Matz has thrown 13 pitches and five of those have been outside the zone. Batters have swung at eight of them.

Zack Wheeler has thrown 20 0-2 pitches so far this month and 13 of them have been outside the strike zone. Batters have swung at 10 pitches in this count. Wheeler has 26 pitches at 1-2 and has thrown 15 outside of the zone. Batters have swung at 16 of these offerings.

Jason Vargas somehow has gotten to 0-2 eight times and has thrown five balls outside the zone. Batters have swung three times against him at this count. At 1-2, Vargas has 13 pitches, of which five have been outside the zone. Batters have swung nine times.

Let’s put this into chart form:

Player 0-2 Counts Balls/Strikes/Swings % Balls % Strikes % Swings
Scherzer 28 16/12/21 57 43 75
deGrom 8 7/1/5 88 12 63
Syndergaard 16 7/9/11 44 56 69
Matz 9 6/3/4 67 33 44
Wheeler 20 13/7/10 65 35 50
Vargas 8 5/3/3 63 37 37

And here’s the same chart for 1-2 counts:

Player 1-2 Counts Balls/Strikes/Swings % Balls % Strikes % Swings
Scherzer 26 16/10/15 62 38 58
deGrom 16 7/9/13 44 56 81
Syndergaard 19 11/8/12 58 42 63
Matz 13 5/8/8 38 62 62
Wheeler 26 15/11/16 58 42 62
Vargas 13 5/8/9 38 62 69

At an 0-2 count, the difference between Scherzer and Wheeler/Matz is striking. While Scherzer throws more pitches outside the zone than in the box at this count, Matz and Wheeler throw roughly twice as many pitches outside the zone. And they’re not getting batters to chase as many of these as Scherzer. And that’s not even taking into account pitches that get fouled off in these situations. The end result is fewer outs and more pitches.

Scherzer has not been as efficient with 1-2 pitches this month. For the year as a whole, batters have a .162 OPS against Scherzer with an 0-2 count, less than half the league average of .357 mentioned above. Hitters have managed a .330 OPS against Scherzer at 1-2, much closer to the .379 league average.

Let’s do one more chart. This time let’s track how many swings and misses our pitches get at 0-2 and 1-2 counts:

Player 0-2 Counts Whiffs W% 1-2 Counts Whiffs W%
Scherzer 28 9 35 26 6 23
deGrom 8 1 13 16 3 19
Syndergaard 16 4 25 19 1 5
Matz 9 0 0 13 3 23
Wheeler 20 5 25 26 6 23
Vargas 8 0 0 13 1 8

The lefties fare the worst in this regard, not getting a single whiff on an 0-2 count. For the year, opposing batters have a .692 OPS against Matz when the PA ends after the 0-2 pitch. And Vargas has a .500 OPS against in this situation – both of those significantly higher than league average. And they’re the worst in 1-2 counts in whiffs, too. And the OPS follows suit, with Matz surrendering a .538 OPS and Vargas’ mark is at .700, again both considerably worse than league average.

While Wheeler does quite well getting strikeouts, it’s not like he’s cleaning up in the OPS category, either. Opposing batters have a .619 OPS against him with an 0-2 count and a .419 mark at 1-2, even with the strikeouts he’s getting. Syndergaard is much better, at .310 and .285, respectively.

There’s no one size fits all approach here for the Mets’ pitchers. Maybe Syndergaard needs to throw a fastball to make hitters move their feet when he gets far ahead. Perhaps Wheeler needs to quit trying to strike guys out with a breaking ball. And whatever Matz and Vargas are doing, they should try the exact opposite. But deGrom should just keep doing what he’s doing. And all of the other pitchers should take notes.

11 comments on “How Mets pitchers fare at 0-2 and 1-2 counts

  • Pete

    Maybe you can remove when an opposing pitcher bats as well to get a more complete understanding for the numbers?

    • Brian Joura

      That would be a lot of additional work for very little payoff.

      Future areas to look at would be location of individual pitches (fastball, slider, curve) in these counts, along with results. And also see if the pitch/location calling changes with different catchers. Those would be a bunch of work, too, but my guess is they would deliver valuable information.

  • eraff

    The Stats say that the Eyes are right…these guys are lacking concept and command. That 0-2/1-2 count demands a Pitcher to be a Predator for defensive hitters. Expand the Zone…Change the Eye Level…Move their Feet.

    An 0-2 Gopher ball is just about unforgiveable…. and an 0-2 fastball a foot outside is absolutely Unprofessional—that’s the best word for it….an absolutely Wasted Pitch.

    The Trainees are well past their Probabationary period—move up or move them out.

  • Pete In Iowa

    In a nutshell, the problem throughout MLB — and has been for years now — is that pitchers no longer learn how to pitch in the minors. They simply throw as hard as they can for as long as they can with a “drop-dead” pitch count on them.
    No more complicated than that.
    The same parallel can be applied to hitters as well. Most have no clue how to adjust to the count and/or situation. It’s all homers all the time.

  • Chris F

    Been saying this for at least 2 years now. On top of this, which is so thoughtfully presented, I believe the number of 0-2 or 1-2 huts, esp HR is a Mets pitchers issue. But I really popped in to say: foul balls. The number of defensive swings leading to soft get me over strikes that get wolloped (see above) is depressing.

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks Chris!

      FWIW – so far this year NL pitchers have given up 30 HR on 0-2 count. Mets pitchers have given up 1 HR. The team that’s given up the most? The Nationals with 6. On 1-2 counts, NL pitchers have given up 48 HR. Mets pitchers have given up 3. The team that’s given up the most? The Marlins with 6.

    • MattyMets

      Brian, really nice research here. I also like Chris’s point about the foul balls. Wheeler reminds me of Sid Fernandez or John Maine in this regard. Regaining command and bite on his slider would help.

      Matz has temporarily made his change up his go to pitch while he struggles with his curve ball.

  • Steevy

    Yes this has been going on for years as Chris pointed out.I was hoping the new regime might fix it….

  • TJ

    Awesome work, thanks for the effort.

    My question is this – are the poor results due to a lack of pitching sense/gameplan or a lack of the ability to execute? The answer is essential to the Mets’ future, since one is easily correctable and one likely not correctable.

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Afraid I don’t have an answer for your question. Another thing that would be good to try would be to compare the pitch calling/location last year compared to this year in the first 11 games before the two catchers went on the DL to what they’ve done with Lobaton/Nido and see if there are any differences anywhere.

      My personal belief is that the catcher makes a difference. Now, that may be wishful thinking on my part. But a lot of our bad outings from the pitching staff sure do seem to follow Lobaton around.

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