The statistical validation for 1st pitch strikes is irrefutable. 92.7% of first pitch strikes lead to an out or strike one; so that means that less than 8% of first pitch strikes become hits. 69% of strikeouts start with first pitch strikes and 70% of walks start with first pitch balls. Major league hitters hit .068 on first pitch strikes (total first pitch strikes which include foul balls, called strikes, & outs divided into hits).
Major league pitchers throw approximately 57% first pitch strikes. They are capable of much better if we just look at the (3-0) strike percentage, which is 80%. This is extreme, but if a big league pitching staff improved their first pitch strike percentage from 57% to 80%, it would translate into one 100 fewer runs allowed over the course of a season. That translates into 10 more big league wins.
There is a lot of focus on throwing two of the first three pitches for strikes. If you throw a first pitch strike, you have an 80% chance of throwing two of the first three pitches for strikes & if you throw a first pitch ball, your percentages fall to 30%. Once you throw a first pitch strike, your slash line falls to .239/.283/.372. The expected runs scored after a first pitch ball jumps to .069 runs vs .029 runs if you throw a first pitch strike.
As long as it’s not a situational at bat, the key is to throw your highest percent quality strike pitch (or pitches) to your highest percent quality strike location. It’s critically important to have more than one pitch (ideally separated by ~10 MPH) that you can use on these 0-0 counts.
Numbers don’t lie. If you want success on the mound: THROW 1ST PITCH STRIKES.
To learn more, check out the NEW 2nd Edition of The Complete Handbook of Coaching Catchers!