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Driving up opponents’ pitch counts

Apr 1, 2011, 2:58 PM EDT

Photo by Bob Youngentob / CSNwashington.com
Jayson Werth’s patience at the plate has rubbed off on his new teammates.

Most of the positives that have been outlined from the Nationals’ 2-0 Opening Day loss to the Braves have centered around the club’s solid pitching and defensive performance. It’s difficult to find positives out of an offensive performance that included five hits, none of them with runners in scoring position, right?

Not so fast. The Nationals’ lineup may have lagged behind the rest of the club during yesterday’s loss, but it did offer a glimpse of something positive fans should become accustomed to this season: its ability to make opposing pitchers work.

Though Braves starter Derek Lowe dominated in earning the victory, the Nationals’ ability to work the count and wear down the veteran right-hander forced Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez to pull him after only 5 2/3 innings.

Read more about the Nats’ new emphasis on driving up pitch counts on CSNwashington.com.

  1. Manassas Nats Fan - Apr 1, 2011 at 3:21 PM

    There is a negative to driving up a pitch count. To take a pitch just to take it is not always the right move. Often times the most hittable pitch is the first pitch as often it is a fast ball over the middle part of the plate. So to take that just to fall behind 0-1 is not necessarily a good thing especially if you are going against a good pitcher.

  2. Doc - Apr 1, 2011 at 3:21 PM

    Good point Mark. The better offensive teams, e.g. Yankees, Bosox, work the count. It's not as though Nats didn't have models of it in the recent past, with Dunn and Willingham.Maybe guys like Espinosa and Desi will grab on to it. Particulary Desi, if he's going to bat #1. Morse does it, and is getting better at it.Be interesting to hear Eckstein's perspective on some of these offensive strategies.

  3. joemktg - Apr 1, 2011 at 3:48 PM

    This has been a staple of the Yankees since the Torre years: work the pitch count then get the bullpen overworked. Makes for a very successful 3-4 game series. Here's the underlying secret: a lineup that can consistently hit.We'll see…

  4. N. Cognito - Apr 1, 2011 at 3:55 PM

    The main point of patience at the plate (i.e. working the pitch count) is to get your pitch to hit. Walks and high pitch counts on the pitcher are added bonuses.

  5. Steve M. - Apr 1, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    N. Cognito, I think it is working into hitter's counts which Werth has been so adept at the last few years while seeing a lot of pitches with almost a dual objective of wearing out the starting pitcher which is something the Nats weren't great at the past few years except for Dunn and Willingham.I agree with Doc with regards to Desi in the #1 spot as he has to really work that count too but more importantly working the count in his favor where you still have the ability to take a strike.There were a lot of 3-2 counts which are good but it is those 3-1 counts which are to the hitters greatest advantage.

  6. JD - Apr 1, 2011 at 4:44 PM

    Steve M. I watched Desmond a lot last year; he is a very aggressive hitter. I don't see him converting into a strong leadoff hitter who gets on base 38%- 40%; I,m afraid we will see a lot of Werth hitting with one out and none on in the 1st inning; this is still better than 2 outs and none on which would have been the case with Morgan and Desmond hitting 1 2.

  7. Steve M. - Apr 1, 2011 at 5:07 PM

    JD – We are in agreement there on Desi as I just don't have the confidence in seeing him get above a .340 OBP which is an important level for leadoff guys to get above or anywhere near that .380+ you say.My prediction to add to all of Mark's predictions is that the Nats make finding a leadoff outfielder (prospect) a priority in any trade talks this season. In the meantime, Riggleman will give this Desi in the #1 a while to see how it progresses.Yesterday was a rare occurence of Desi leading off the inning 3 additional times after the start of the game.

  8. masnstinks - Apr 1, 2011 at 5:14 PM

    The Jello-Like strike zone seemed to be a factor yesterday, too. Once, Zim should have walked, once Morse should have walked. The next inning those very same pitches that were called strikes were balls. Those backwards K's could have been baserunners. There were also balls that got through for the Braves, ours didn't get through or fall in. Two balls went to the warning track. Just those situations show how close we were. By the way, the reigning World Series champs lost 2-0 yesterday and Lincecum was pitching. Perspective, please.

  9. PAY TO PLAY - Apr 1, 2011 at 5:29 PM

    masnstinks, Good stuff but the Giants lost 2-1 to the Dodgers and Kershaw looked great! Burrell got a pinch-hit HR off of Broxton in the 9th!

  10. Steve M. - Apr 1, 2011 at 5:38 PM

    P2P, Burrell did hit the HR but wasn't a pinch hitter though you are correct, 2-1 and the Giants had 3 errors and Lincecum had his only run given up as an unearned.A really Opening Day showing by their team's Aces.

  11. md_schmidt - Apr 1, 2011 at 5:42 PM

    masnstinks / PAY TO PLAY — Not only did the Giants lose, they will probably lose an additional 60+ times this year. In addition, the Nats are playing last year's wild card playoff team….a team that very nearly took the Giants out of last year's playoffs. Bottom line, as several have pointed out, there were several very legitimate reasons for optimism (fielding, pitching, working Lowe deep into counts, etc); even though every loss stinks. I'm looking forward to a year of gradual progress and development of some key pieces to the Nats' future.

  12. JD - Apr 1, 2011 at 6:11 PM

    I am not lamenting yesterday's loss as much as I'm pointing out problems which are inherent with no potential short term resolution namely: 1) poor leadoff hitter. 2) poor manager.

  13. JamesFan - Apr 1, 2011 at 6:35 PM

    The Nats yesterday were so much better than the team the last few years. I don't get all the gloom and doom.

  14. Anonymous - Apr 1, 2011 at 6:45 PM

    Werth looks like he could star along side of Ryan Z. in those GEICO caveman commercials

  15. Tim - Apr 1, 2011 at 7:31 PM

    Interesting article, Mark. One thing I'm wondering: Is that also Rick Eckstein's philosophy? Is that what he's teaching the young guys? Judging from last year, I'd guess that's not at the top of his priority list. I look at Morgan, Desmond, and Bernadina, and I see first-pitch swinging. That drove me crazy with Nyger.I like patience and composure at the plate. Maybe Espy will make a better leadoff hitter than Desi. We'll have to see how it goes.

  16. MicheleS - Apr 1, 2011 at 7:31 PM

    Great points Mark! (as always) I thought the biggest improvement was the defense. I was about 12 rows up along 1st base and there was that 1 throw by Desi that was off and I thought I was going to get nailed in the face, but then low and behold a big mitt came into view and snagged the slightly errant throw. I am going to like the new Adam!I bought a Werth Jersey – he is here for 7 years, so I think i am good. Plus i like the way he hustled from first to third, the two nice catches in the outfield were a good sign (despite that bobble that let chipper move along). In spite of the loss, it was nice to see a well played game at Nats park and THANK GOD we were not invaded by those jerks up I-95. The braves fans around us (only a couple) were very polite.

  17. Carl in 309 - Apr 1, 2011 at 8:29 PM

    While I share the views of many on this blog that Ian Desmond is not an ideal lead-off hitter and that we don't possess a clear alternative (would Espinosa be a better choice?), I don't understand why some consistently berate Manager Riggleman. Though I doubt he's likely to be a Hall of Fame manager (Tony LaRussa he is not), I don't have a beef with his approach and emphasis; I certainly believe he's a qualitative step up from his predecessor. If the team's performance doesn't improve with what is a consensus better line-up, then we have beef. But we aren't there yet.By the way, our friend, Adam, as in Dunn, is having a great opening day with the White Sox: 2-3 so far with a 2-run homer and a 2-run double. Not that I'm paying attention, mind you!

  18. The Joker - Apr 1, 2011 at 8:29 PM

    Perhaps the Nats can win bonus points like the losers of hockey shoot-outs by winning the category of pitches force by batters.

  19. JD - Apr 1, 2011 at 9:10 PM

    Carl, The reason Riggleman is such an easy target is that he makes a million moves in every game but they are IMHO almost always not the correct moves. If you have a player such as Stairs you have to leverage his potential in such a way that he has a chance to alter a game with a big hit. To me if you lose a game by a run or 2 and Stairs was never used then you messed up. I think he is also way to quick on the trigger with starters who are pitching effectively causing severe over use of the bull pen.

  20. Anonymous - Apr 1, 2011 at 9:13 PM

    We're buying Werth jerseys, Chisox fans are buy Dunn jerseys, as the world turns.Whynat? 205

  21. Feel Wood - Apr 1, 2011 at 9:29 PM

    "I don't understand why some consistently berate Manager Riggleman. "If Riggleman was even a mediocre manager, with as many games as he's got in with the Nats by now there should be at least one instance where the consensus opinion is that he made a decision or a move that helped to win a game or at the very least kept the team in a game. But there's not. Anyone – even a trained monkey – can play it safe and manage by the book. But there's a name for managers like that: losers. Winners take chances, they think outside the box, they make something out of nothing. Not always, mind you. Sometimes they fail or their decisions backfire. But it's the times that they don't that make a good manager.Can anyone name one instance, just one, where Riggleman made a move or a decision that made a positive difference in a game? I can't think of any, I know that. Riggleman's idea of managing is to play it by the book, play it safe, don't rock the boat. That's why he's not a good manager, and ultimately why he's a loser. There's good reason why his option for the next year never gets picked up until the last possible moment. When the Nats are ready to not be losers any more, they'll be ditching Riggleman. Expect it.

  22. Anonymous - Apr 1, 2011 at 9:31 PM

    I am overjoyed that baseball has returned, that the Nats are back, and that they are clearly better than any team we've had since 2005.But I do want to address Mark's main question, which is whether emphasizing pitch-count is the best strategy.I think it is the wrong strategy. And to one poster who asked if it was Eckstein's strategy, it absolutely is.There is a chicken-and-egg quality to the age-old argument about pitch-count vs. hit the best pitch you see, whenever it comes in the at-bat.I believe the Nationals draw unusually high numbers of 0-1, 0-2, and 1-2 counts because of this philosophy. I also believe this philosophy helps account for why the Nats (see Boswell yesterday) have such high numbers of strikeouts.When I think of the number of 0-1, 0-2, and 1-2 counts Zimmerman sees, I am amazed he hits .300. In my unscientific (but pretty methodical) study, I count large percentages of at-bats where the best pitch he sees is the first one, and, in service to the Pitch Count God, he watches it. I also see a correlation between this strategy and his propensity for hitting into double-plays. By the time he's down 1-2, he's just looking for contact, and voila! a double play ball.The last flawed element of the philosophy is that it "gets you into the opponent's bullpen." (This always reminds me of the the scene in Dumb and Dumber where the guy brags he couldn't have been hurt by bullets because he was wearing a bullet-proof vest. To which Jim Carrey responds, "Dude, what if he shot you in the face?") Leading me to the question about "getting into their bullpen." Big deal, dude, what if they have a GOOD bullpen?Anyway, I understand the strategy and respects its practitioners (including the excellent Coach Eckstein), I just completely disagree with it. If the first pitch is good, smash it.

  23. sjm308 - Apr 1, 2011 at 9:36 PM

    Except for not using Stairs, Riggs was OK yesterday. He removed Livo for the lefthanded Slaten vs. Heyward who had taken Livo deep earlier. With this years team he really doesn't have to make a lot of double switches for defensive purposes. I was in 308 (3rd base side) and loved the two plays Adam made that Dunn would never have made. Also thought Chippers double was more a product of the wet field but I can't be sure of that. Nice to hear Werth was upset about it. Speaking of Jones, man he has made a nice comeback from his injury. He looked strong in every at bat. Hope we can bounce back tomorrow but these guys are really good and I think we will see even better pitchers Saturday and Sunday then we saw yesterday.Go Nats!!

  24. Anonymous - Apr 1, 2011 at 10:45 PM

    One recent(ish) Nat not mentioned here who could work a count; Nick Johnson.

  25. JaneB - Apr 2, 2011 at 12:33 AM

    Don't you think that the "work the pitch count" thing is about putting a good face on not winning? I don't think it's more complicated than that.

  26. Feel Wood - Apr 2, 2011 at 12:42 AM

    Bad managers like Riggleman always strive to put the best possible face on not winning. Good managers figure out how to win with what they've got. See Showalter, Buck.

  27. Mr. NATural - Apr 2, 2011 at 1:54 AM

    I think yesterday's loss is a relatively good (albeit small) example of the emptiness of pitch-count worship. We knocked Lowe out after, what, 5 & 1/2 innings? And what good did it do us? Their bullpen came in and shut us out the rest of the way. I guarantee you if you watch a replay of the game, and tally the Nats at-bats to see the kind of pitches they were taking early in the count, you will find 10 at-bats where our guys took the best pitch, early in the at-bat.I think it's a poor hitting philosophy also.

  28. Scooter - Apr 2, 2011 at 2:05 AM

    Hey, JaneB: I once knew and worked with a woman named Jane, whose last name begins with B, and I'm starting to wonder whether you may be she. It would be a pretty big pasta coincidence, but stranger things have happened to us mere mortals. Anyway, if you recall an ASM named Scooter … hi!

  29. Rob Dibble's Ghost - Apr 2, 2011 at 2:27 AM

    Not only did Dunn have a great day at the plate, Josh Willingham just hit a 2-run homerun in his first at-bat with the A's.

  30. The Great Unwashed - Apr 2, 2011 at 2:54 AM

    On the flip side, if everyone swung early in the count and Lowe lasted deep into the game, people would be complaining about that too. Relax folks, there's 161 more games to scrutinize.

  31. Mr. NATural - Apr 2, 2011 at 4:49 AM

    Since this is a discussion about hitting philosophy, I want to point out that my comments are based on playing and watching baseball over 50 years, not just one game.

  32. NatsJack in Florida - Apr 2, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    The key to developing pitch count is the ability to fight off the opponents best pitches. These are the ones on the corners, low and well placed.Too many times a pitch on the corner and away gets yanked weakly to an infield position for an out. A truly good pitch count guy fouls them off rather than putting them in play. This is what concerns me on the opposite end when Lannan pitches. He rarely misses bats and the opponent fights off his best stuff and pounds his mistakes. Watch today and see if there is an inordinate amount o foul balls or whether he is able to get HIS pitches in play.

  33. Tim - Apr 2, 2011 at 11:18 AM

    On the flip-side of the pitch count argument is the prevalence of pitching coaches (including McCatty) teaching first-pitch strikes. Sooooo… If pitchers are gonna put something in the zone to get ahead, why not be lookin' for it?It's a tough balancing act. I don't want the Nats to give 'em "three pitches/three outs", but I don't want our batters to be in the hole all the time either.

  34. dale - Apr 2, 2011 at 11:26 AM

    To be able to get an unhittable pitcher out of the game after 5 and 1/3 innings is what pitch count management is all about. That, my fellow posters, should always be one of the goals of this ball club. If they keep this up throughout the course of a season the team will see chances against the third or fourth best reliever in the opponent's bullpen–once again a hoped for result. A secondary benefit is that over the course of 4 consecutive games against the same team you will wear down the opponent's bullpen, thus improving your chances to win in the last game of the series.Thursday's loss can not be blamed on hitting philosophy or Riggleman or Eckstein. The simple fact is that the Nats failed to get the clutch hit when a runner was on base and that the Nats deep fly balls stayed in the park.

  35. Another_Sam - Apr 2, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    I listened to OD last couple of innings, due to the inconvenience of working for a living. Nobody was working the count then. Then I listened to a no name shill on local terrestrial call-in radio. He even shilled when a caller lamented no Budwieser. LOLOD was, sadly, Deja vu – workmanlike professional work from Livan and mo support. But there're 161 left. Play ball

  36. Big Cat - Apr 2, 2011 at 12:38 PM

    Read the article in today's Wash Post about Pudge. Sounds to me like he thinks he is still 25 years old and isn't gonna concede anything to anyone. This could be a problem brewing. Also, this 3000 hit thing could be like Bruce Smith trying to get the sacks record. A stumble bum hangin on and hangin on, at the expense of the team.

  37. sjm308 - Apr 2, 2011 at 1:10 PM

    Jane: If working the pitch count was just putting a good face on not winning, why do the Yankee's constantly make this a huge issue in their approach to the game – I can't watch one national broadcast without hearing the announcers brag or stress how great they are at running up a pitch count. Its only one game but if they keep this up I think you will see good things developing. I still don't think Desmond is the answer at the lead-off position but I guess I should follow my own advice, its only one game.NatsJack: great tip and I will absolutely be watching that.Go Nats!!

  38. JaneB - Apr 2, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    Scooter! It IS me! What a pasta coincidence! Are you going today or tomorrow?

  39. Scooter - Apr 2, 2011 at 4:53 PM

    JaneB (if you come back here and see this): my first game isn't until Sat, 4/16.I think I turned up an email for you at your new gig; I'll try to get you that way, so we can take the tearful reunion off-list.

  40. Anonymous - Apr 3, 2011 at 12:18 AM

    Well gee….the way to counter that type of strategy is not to be so predictable in your game planning around starting pitchers…..have them pitch longer!!! Is it against the freakin law for a starter to throw a complete game anymore???!!!

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