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Statistically Speaking: Phillies pitchers falling behind from start

| Thursday, July 3, 2014, 9:15 p.m.

“Throw first-pitch strikes” is more than a bumper sticker mantra for pitching coaches — getting ahead in the count practically takes the bat out of hitters' hands.

When pitchers jump ahead 0-1 this season, they're limiting batters to a .595 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) during the rest of the at-bat. But when they fall behind 1-0, they're getting tattooed (.799 OPS).

The latest edition of the Keystone State rivalry could hinge on which team gets the first-pitch advantage.

The Phillies, sporting the third-worst ERA (3.86) among National League clubs, are backing themselves into lots of hitters' counts. And the patient Pirates — second in the NL in OPS (.750) since the beginning of May — are just the team to capitalize.

Philly pitchers are throwing first-pitch strikes just 59.5 percent of the time according to Fangraphs, the fourth-lowest clip in the NL. All three of the Phillies' weekend starters — Roberto Hernandez, David Buchanan and A.J. Burnett — are falling behind from the get-go.

Pitcher First-Pitch Strike Pct.

A.J. Burnett 54.1

David Buchanan 57.7

Roberto Hernandez 58.3

MLB Avg. 60.4

Pirates hitters, meanwhile, are gaining the upper hand on pitchers like no other NL team. The Bucs have seen the fewest first-pitch strikes (59.1 percent) in the Senior Circuit and boast five regulars who routinely work favorable counts.

Batter First-Pitch Strike Pct.

Russell Martin 51.8

Gregory Polanco 52.0

Pedro Alvarez 53.0

Andrew McCutchen 54.6

Neil Walker 59.5

The Phillies are getting pummeled for an .813 OPS after falling behind 1-0, with Hernandez (.944) and Buchanan (.914) especially getting lit up.

Polanco (1.026 OPS after getting ahead 1-0), Walker (.964), Martin (.945), McCutchen (.909) and Alvarez (.907) are all raking for the Pirates, who have an .812 OPS once they jump ahead in the count.

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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