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Elephant Rumblings: Are ‘hitters counts’ a thing of the past?

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MLB: Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Friday, Athletics Nation!

Eno Sarris gets deep into baseball nerd-lore like few others. Yesterday, in a terrific piece in The Athletic, he detailed the demise of the hitters’ count and its root cause: the rise of the slider. He also worked this fantastic sentence that any South Park fan should appreciate into the opening paragraph:

That was the time-honored, well-worn script for the hitter: step one, get a hitter’s count; step two, get a hittable fastball; step three, profit.

Sarris points out that the proportion of fastballs thrown in hitters’ counts—in which there are two or three more balls than strikes—dropped below two-thirds about ten years ago, and are now at an all-time low of 57 percent, at least since statisticians began keeping track.

More organizations are fostering less fastball usage and having a lot of success with it:

Pitchers by and large are using the slider more often, and hitters haven’t caught up to it yet: despite its increased usage, the breaking ball’s whiff rates have held steady since 2008. When pitch tracking started in 2003, pitchers threw 90 mph on average and went with fastballs 63 percent of the time. Only a single pitcher has fit that profile in recent years: Julio Teheran.

Will hitters adapt by sitting on sliders in the future? Maybe, but the high variability with which breaking balls can be thrown might make it more challenging to adjust. And pitchers who can get 85+ mph on their breaking balls complemented by 95+ mph fastballs will be especially tough to catch up to.

Head on over to The Athletic for loads more detail on this phenomenon. And have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend! I hope yours will be a long one full of watching the A’s mess with Texas—and not just the Rangers. The Astros are finally coming to Oakland on Monday for the two teams’ first face-off of the season!

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