Cliff Lee and the importance of throwing strike one

Philadelphia Phillies' Cliff Lee in action during an spring training exhibition baseball game against the Detroit Tigers, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in Clearwater, Fla. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Last season, Cliff Lee threw a first-pitch strike to 71 percent of the batters he faced. No pitcher had been that efficient since 2005, when Minnesota's Brad Radke threw strike one 73 percent of the time.

No, it is not a definitve way to measure success. That season, Radke had a 4.04 ERA but a stellar 5.09 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Still, a sampling of the annual leaders in first-strike percentage reveals some of the better pitchers in baseball.

It is common sense, really. Consider these numbers from all major-league hitters in 2012:

After 1-0 73837 61839 10741 11602 .270 .379 .443 .822
After 0-1 90061 84413 3968 24824 .226 .265 .346 .612

The difference between throwing strike one or ball one is turning an opposing batter into Rod Carew (career OPS of .822) or Billy Ripken (career OPS of .612).

Lee achieved an 0-2 count against 34 percent of his hitters. That, too, was the highest rate in the majors last season. After an 0-2 count, hitters posted a .168/.196/.254 line. At that point, every offensive player basically has the skills of a pitcher hitting. (Pitchers hit .129/.162/.166 in 2012.)

One more thing: The only pitcher age 33 or older to post a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Lee's 7.39 is Curt Schilling. Schilling did it twice in Arizona, with 9.58 as a 35-year-old and 7.51 at age 34.

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