Two-Strike Fight

marc w · April 23, 2013 at 12:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

You may have seen Geoff Baker’s full-throated denunciation of the M’s “passivity” with two strikes the other day. If you missed it, the M’s beat writer asked some very pointed questions of the M’s line-up, and, by extension, their manager:

“Are they going to be a team that rolls over in the face of adversity? Or are they at least going to go down with a fight?”
“When push comes to shove, do the Mariners fight back? Or do they take it lying down?”

A hitter, quoth Baker, “Has to battle. Has to fight. And this past weekend, the Mariners had no fight in them.”

That sound pretty bleak. Ok, it sounds like a bunch of cliches, but those cliches sound bleak. This being USSM, I immediately went to baseball-reference’s splits pages to quantify this pusillanimity, and see if we could find a way to take it one day at a time and learn to fight again. The M’s are between a rock and a hard place, and frankly, I hate geology. Do the M’s?

With two strikes, the M’s are putting up a lily-livered .513 OPS. They’ve struck out in 40.3% of their two-strike plate appearances. Compared to their overall OPS+, their two-strike OPS+ split (tOPS+) is a meager 59. When the going gets tough, the M’s are noticeably, clearly, worse. So how’s that compare to some other teams – teams that aren’t afraid to battle, teams that aren’t lying down when push comes to shove. The first I turned to was Boston. They’ve struck out in…hmm, 41.5% of their plate appearances with two strikes. They’ve got a .534 OPS, but their tOPS+ split is a pathetic 43. They may be leading the AL East now, but I’m not sure that a group of two-strike pacifists has what it takes to survive a battle with the AL East big boys. We’ll see.

The next team I looked at absolutely astonished me. I’m sure several of them run for cover upon hearing the word “fight.” They strike out in an astonishing 47.6% of their two-strike plate appearances. They’ve put up, no, that’s too active: they’ve timidly submitted a .490 OPS with two strikes, good for a tOPS+ of 32. Just watch them play – they’re only too happy to tip their cap to the pitcher when they strike out (and as a team, they strike out far more than the M’s!). When they’ve got two strikes, they *accept* a strikeout, and you know and I know: that dog won’t cut mustard. In one of the great ironies in sports, this group of cowards is known as the “Braves.” You can’t make this up! They’ve slinked and slithered their way to a 13-5 record, but two-strike hitting may be their achilles heel as the season progresses.

Ok, Ok, that’s enough snark. I’m glad Baker wrote that piece, because he’s obviously picking up on something that the M’s are focusing on. As he noted, Wedge has mentioned this in his post-game interviews, and it seems like some of the players are repeating the message as well. The M’s K% spiked this past week, and while Darvish/Verlander pitched against them, so did Justin Grimm. But the numbers tell us that the M’s are about as hapless with two strikes as literally every other team in baseball. The M’s problem isn’t that they’re a great hitting team that falls to pieces with two strikes – that’s the Braves. The M’s problem is that they get into so many two strike counts to begin with. I’m not going to argue that the lack of “fight” the M’s display is entirely made up. I’m not there, and I’ve always struggled at knowing when to deploy combat metaphors after watching a team solely on TV. I can only say the problem doesn’t *appear* to be related to their especially poor two strike hitting.


33 Responses to “Two-Strike Fight”

  1. spuuky on April 23rd, 2013 12:35 pm

    What is this madness? It’s almost as if having a count of two strikes confers some sort of advantage to the pitcher and disadvantage to the hitter!

    The forty percent strikeout rate is especially concerning, as my analysis shows that the Mariners actually strike out on only 0% of their plate appearances that don’t reach two strikes.

  2. Westside guy on April 23rd, 2013 1:13 pm

    Yeah, it’s amazing how bad hitters will look even worse when they get two strikes on them…

    Fortunately, the team appears to be addressing this with the call-up of Carlos Peguero.

  3. TIFO on April 23rd, 2013 1:31 pm

    The most concerning stat of all is that 100% of the time the M’s hitters struck out, they had two strikes on them before that fateful strikeout pitch came…

  4. gopilots70 on April 23rd, 2013 1:31 pm

    Yes!! Geoff Baker for hitting coach. We have to move away from the “hunting for fastballs” cliché of our current regime and “start battling with two strikes”.

    And, high kudos for the use of “pusillanimity” and “lily-livered” in an M’s analysis piece! It’s “the jam”. (Please ask Nick Swisher what that means)

  5. make_dave_proud on April 23rd, 2013 1:44 pm

    What we *should* be talking about is what happens during the other 60%-ish part of the time with two strikes.

    Going out on a limb and guesstimating it’s worse than outcomes for most other teams.

  6. scraps on April 23rd, 2013 1:52 pm

    Seriously. Does anybody read Geoff Baker? I don’t waste my time with him, and you shouldn’t.

  7. PackBob on April 23rd, 2013 1:52 pm

    To win the Mariners have to score more runs than their opponents. I say they should be more aggressive in both scoring runs and preventing them. If the back end of the rotation is not very good, the hitters have to be better. If the hitters are not very good, the pitchers have to be better. It’s all so simple.

    With two strikes the hitters need to grind their teeth.

  8. marc w on April 23rd, 2013 1:57 pm

    TIFO –

    I almost included that, but decided against it.

    make_dave_proud – Actually, no. At the tOPS+ shows, the M’s aren’t as bad as many teams. Their BABIP actually goes up with two strikes, they’ve hit 8 of their 20 HRs, etc. The A’s, as an example, have hit only 5 HRs, have a BABIP of .254 and a lower tOPS+. They’re more patient, however. The M’s big problem is that the GET INTO two-strike situations too often.

  9. gopilots70 on April 23rd, 2013 1:59 pm


    It was good fortune when The Times started charging for online articles, because now I am not even tempted to read G. Baker.

    Of course, I am missing out on analysis like yesterday’s, I have no idea what players from Canada are doing this year, and my Blue Jays history is becoming a bit foggy.

  10. make_dave_proud on April 23rd, 2013 2:08 pm

    Thanks Marc, that’s interesting.

    I take from your comments that the Mariners are in more two-strike situations than other teams?

  11. CCW on April 23rd, 2013 2:11 pm

    The problem with the M’s hitters is that most of them aren’t very good hitters. Ackley, Smoke and Montero have lost their way (or were never good to begin with). Ryan was definitely never good to begin with. Morse had a career year two years ago, and, unsurprisingly, he isn’t repeating that. Kendrys Morales has been declining for 3 years since his injury / peak at age 27. Guti has really only ever looked good when viewed as a complete package (i.e. taking into account his defense). Saunders and Seager are good players. But that’s not enough. We all wished for some of the above not to be true, and maybe change is still coming, but there is no change in approach – 2 strike approach or whatever – that can combat flat-out low talent level. Sadly.

  12. marc w on April 23rd, 2013 2:32 pm

    make_dave_proud –

    I haven’t done a thorough look at it, but just eyeballing the splits, it looks that way, yeah.

    scraps –

    I hear you. I shall resist in the future. I nearly, er, scrapped this post altogether. And as I said, it’s *interesting* that this is what he and the team seem to be focusing on. Another case where what they seem to really care about and what we care about doesn’t align. But I totally understand where you’re coming from and appreciate the feedback.

  13. msfanmike on April 23rd, 2013 2:37 pm

    Pusillanimity … what a great word.

    Obviously, I was not smart enough to know what it means, but I did look it up.

    It means “cowardliness.” I certainly know what that means.

    Giving up and accepting a “2 strike fate” could be a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts (i.e. more inclined to forfeit than battle = cowardliness around some of these here parts, partner).

    Regardless of whatever it is that leads to the teams overall futility at the plate, I like the word that was used although I very much doubt that I will remember it or be able to slip it into simple every-day conversation.

  14. Westside guy on April 23rd, 2013 2:44 pm

    I am not even tempted to read Baker anymore, but in this case I was glad Marc did because I appreciated reading the results of his analysis.

    I used to have the Times’ Mariners RSS feed on my start page, but now that they’re charging for access I’ved removed it and don’t see the articles at all. In any case I prefer the News Tribune RSS feed because a) I’m already a TNT subscriber; and b) Divish rocks.

  15. Westside guy on April 23rd, 2013 2:49 pm

    BTW I am picturing Mike in his next work meeting…

    “Personally, I don’t believe the pusillanimous approach is the correct one.”

  16. ivan on April 23rd, 2013 2:50 pm

    What Scraps said. Baker is a moron, writing for other morons.

  17. gopilots70 on April 23rd, 2013 2:52 pm

    Yes, Divish is awesome!!

    This is off the point and maybe even heresy here,but: does anybody know what happened to the Seattle Sports Insider site? I keep getting a “forbidden” page popping up.

  18. shamus on April 23rd, 2013 3:01 pm

    Does this mean that you hate Jeff Sullivan if you hate geology?

    And how could anyone hate geology?

    Geology rocks!

  19. gopilots70 on April 23rd, 2013 3:02 pm

    He’s an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill

  20. 68GTCS on April 23rd, 2013 3:05 pm

    marc, bravo and many thanks for this. I think the problem is the bats. The M’s clearly need bigger bats. Literally.-

  21. msfanmike on April 23rd, 2013 3:10 pm

    Is your reference to “Bigger Bats” a euphemism by any chance?

  22. jordan on April 23rd, 2013 3:18 pm

    Don’t hate on Peguero. He goes down a fighter every time. The pitch could be 8 feet outside and he will take the biggest 0-2 hack you’ve ever seen. That’s fight.

  23. stevemotivateir on April 23rd, 2013 4:02 pm

    ^That’s not a fight. Forcing the pitcher to throw you better pitches and making better choices, is a real fight.

    What Peguero has done is entertaining, much in the way of the WWE. The illusion of a fight. That’s about as close as he gets.

  24. scraps on April 23rd, 2013 4:04 pm

    Marc, at least you got a good, funny article out of it. I reacted harshly, probably because I’d so far led a Baker-free season.

  25. Bremerton guy on April 23rd, 2013 4:12 pm

    gopilots (you proud seattle team)-

    It’s working fine for me.

  26. gopilots70 on April 23rd, 2013 4:14 pm

    thanks Bremerton,

    Will keep trying

  27. gopilots70 on April 23rd, 2013 4:15 pm

    And good to see that someone still remembers the Pilots theme song!!

  28. Bremerton guy on April 23rd, 2013 4:39 pm

    I went to Bat Day, a day game against the Yankees, and got a real bat with Tommie Davis’ name on it! I still have the program and yearbook, and the baseball cap I begged my dad to buy me. I lost the bat along the road somewhere though. Sadly, that was the only game I went to before they packed up and moved.

  29. Slats on April 23rd, 2013 4:48 pm

    Baker should have done some research before writing that piece.

    He now looks very foolish.

  30. Paul B on April 23rd, 2013 4:50 pm

    In the famous words of Joe Schultz, tell your statistics to shut up.

    it’s amazing how often cliches can’t stand up to facts.

  31. gopilots70 on April 23rd, 2013 5:02 pm

    I went to a handful of games taking the bus down from the north end of town to old Sicks’ Stadium. At ten years old! How times have changed. Still have a few programs, somewhere I think. Tommy Harper was the coolest! 72 steals?? Go, Tommy Go.

  32. dogkahuna on April 23rd, 2013 5:37 pm

    “I’ve always struggled at knowing when to deploy combat metaphors after watching a team solely on TV.”
    Brilliant–thank you Marc!!

  33. djw on April 23rd, 2013 6:30 pm

    When an baseball analyst resorts to morality plays about toughness and will to win and suchforth, it’s long base time to tune out.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.