Like everyone, Matt noticed the Nats swung at a lot of pitches, and that includes first pitches. He was curious on how they did on these pitches and if we'd see a change in philosophy that encouraged more patience.
Where did these stats come from? Baseball-Reference has first pitch swinging stats, and also gives you player-level stats for pitches put into play by count. You can get first pitch strike stats from fangraphs.Given all the information I think there could be a lot you can tease out from here. Unfortunately first pitch swinging strikes is not one of them.
So what does the information we do have say about the Nats and first strikes? As expected the Nats swing at the most first pitches in the majors (32%) and that means they have a high percentage of first pitch "strikes"*, third in the majors at 61.6%. The first number does not really track with success but the second number mostly does. The Yanks, Braves, Rangers, A's, Tigers, and Cardinals are all in the bottom 10. This doesn't preclude success (the Reds were 1st) but it does seem to point to a hole in the Nats game. They swing a lot at the first pitch, and that's ok, but they aren't all that great at identifying if the first pitch is a ball or not. I didn't get the exact percentage but they are 12th in the NL in 1-0 counts, even though they are 3rd in plate appearances. That means they are not seeing a lot of counts in their favor.
*This includes ball put into play
Who's the "worst" offenders. As you'd expect, Ian Desmond swings at 47% of all first pitches (2nd in the major), Espy at 43% (7th), Bryce at 41% (10th). Ian is 1st in first pitch strikes, Espinosa 6th (remember - includes balls put into play). So are the Nats going to change their ways? I doubt it and that's mostly ok.
You see if you can put the ball in play on the first pitch you usually do pretty well. The league line for that is .333 average, .545 slugging (OBP is meaningless for first pitches). The Nats do pretty well .326 / .539. Now that is kind of a relative drop in hitting compared to overall. They were 8th in the majors is OPS but only 17th on first pitches, but it's still nice number to have. If you can put the ball in play. And for someone like Desmond this appears to work. His 1st pitch swinging percentage is WAY up, and he's had the season of his life.
The question is not if first pitch swinging is a good idea, it's is this philosophy being applied in the right way for everyone. Some guys can't do it. Zimmerman rarely swings at the first pitch and is terrible when he makes contact (at least this year). His line was .143 / .159 / .286. The uber patient Werth also doesn't swing much at the first pitch (Suzuki is the only other Nats regular under league average). When Jayson does swing he does make good contact (.333) but his power is not all there (.467 SLG). Danny doesn't have a problem when he makes contact but given his high strike number on the first pitch and overall low average I bet there are a ton of swings and misses there. He might be better served with a more patient approach.
The Nats aren't going to stop the aggressiveness. As a team it's worked very well. Perhaps next year other teams will catch onto it and will feed the Nats more junk on the first pitch, but let's see them do it before adjusting. However, they need to look at how it is effecting these players on an individual basis. They may be letting Werth and Zimm get a pass because they are vets but they shouldn't try to apply this as a blanket policy to all their young players.
Would you trade Morse for Cobb? Wally
In a heartbeat. Strictly contract/age wise it's a no-brainer. Morse is 30 and will make nearly 7 mill next year and then will be a free agent. Cobb is 24 and he's in pre-arbitration meaning he'll be a free agent sometime around the World Cup in Qatar (which isn't the next one). Also Alex Cobb is built for this team. He throws lots of groundballs, (58.8% - best on the Rays) Of course that being said I see no way Tampa makes this deal.
And what about David Price for one of our MIs? Kevin Harris