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Dukes and the Deuce (Part II)

February 1, 2010

In my post on Elijah Dukes’ curveball woes (Dukes and the Deuce), I noted Elijah’s ugly .107 batting average against curve balls last year.  If you remember, the average MLB player hit .205 in 2009. A reader posed the question “What if you control for count? Any hitter would do worse against a curveball on an 0-2 count than on a 3-1, where he can sit back and wait for a hanger.” It’s an excellent question which is fairly easier to answer, so I fired up the database to find out.

The first thing I looked at was the percentage of curve balls Dukes faced versus the MLB average. 9.38% of the pitches Elijah faced were curve balls, versus the MLB average of 9.15%.  Next I looked at the percentage of curve balls thrown as “payoff pitches” (ball put in play, strike-out, walk, interference).  No big news there either – Dukes had a 8.17% curveball payoff pitch ratio, compared to the MLB average 8.75%.

Here’s where it started to get interesting.  I grouped all curveballs thrown in 2009 by the number of strikes in the count.  So, 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 were in 1 group, 0-1, 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, were in 1 group, with the remainder in the “2-strike” group.  With no strikes on him, the average MLB batter faced a curve ball 6.5% of the time.  Dukes saw a curveball 8.56% in the same situation.  Obviously, MLB advance scouts coached their pitchers to throw Dukes a curve ball more often than normal early in the count, but why? Look at Dukes reaction to a curveball with 0 strikes.  Almost 41% of the time, with no strikes, Elijah Dukes swung at the pitch.  Major league batters only swung at a curveball 18% of the time with no strikes in the count.   Nearly 28% of the time Dukes swung and missed or fouled it off.  Close to 13% of the time, he put the ball in play.

Even more incredible, with 1 strike on him, Dukes was a little better than the major league average.

With 2 strikes on him, Dukes drew a ball over 50% of the time.  His plate discipline seemed to increase the deeper he got into the count.

Honestly, I am surprised by the 2009 numbers.  I was fairly certain that we were going to see poor performance with 2 strikes.  In fact, we saw the exact opposite.  These number should be good news for Nats fans.  It seems like Elijah simply needs to be more selective with 0 strikes in the count. That has to be an easier problem to solve than a fundamental swing flaw.  Here’s hoping for a better 2010 for Elijah Dukes.

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