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two-strike tango

the biggest pitch of last night's win came in the second inning: 2 on, 2 out, and an 0-2 count on eckstein. clement threw him a cutter low and away, and eck yanked it through the left side of the infield for a two-run single. a couple more run-scoring hits followed, and by the time it was all over the cards led by five and the game was basically over. if eck makes an out, stl takes a 2-1 lead to the top of the third and has a win expectancy of 65 percent. instead they established a 6-1 lead and a win expectancy of 94 percent. game basically over. (if you don?t know what win expectancy is, read about it here.)

another blow to my hypothesis (introduced in excruciating detail at curveblog) that eckstein's tendency to take strikes and hit from behind is a bad thing. i was only making the common-sense (or so i thought) observation that it's hard to hit effectively when you constantly have two strikes on you. . . . . well with that 2d-inning single last night, eckstein is now batting .520 on 0-2 pitches this year. he's 13 for 25. . . . .520, people. and he's batting .333 on all two-strike counts combined, with an ops of .793. when hitting from behind in the count -- ie, 0-1, 0-2, or 1-2 -- eckstein's batting .357 and slugging .440, as opposed to a .290 avg / .384 slg when ahead or even in the count.

so my theory's in tatters. the original observation -- that eck hits from behind more often than usual -- still holds. eck has had 222 at-bats this year, and exactly half -- 111 -- have ended on a two-strike count. that's a high percentage; teamwide, about 40 percent of at-bats end on two-strike counts. but eck is even further off the charts in terms of the results he gets with two strikes. again, he's batting .333 in those at-bats. albert is batting .269; grud'k, .188; edmonds, .196; reggie, .163. . . . which illustrates why eckstein's nonchalance about taking strikes bothered me in the first place. two-strike hitting is defensive hitting; it's unagressive hitting. eckstein, though, pounced like a panther on that 0-2 pitch in the second last night. and it wasn't a meatball pitch by any means -- probably six inches higher in the zone than clements and varitek wanted it, but away and with good movement. eckstein hammered that sucker anyway.

you'd think i would give it up . . . . but let's get real here: eck's not going to hit .520 on 0-2 all season long, nor .333 on two-strike counts. historically, he's as feeble a two-strike hitter as anyone else -- just .227 in 802 at-bats from 2002 through 2004, with a .535 ops. if his average starts to slide later this season, i know which data i'm going to look at first. . . . . and if those numbers rehabilitate my theory, you can be damn sure i'll make a big deal out of it, lol.

one last interesting split re eckstein: his isolated power with no one on base is just .066, but with men on base it goes up to .141. with men in scoring position, it goes up again to .233 -- and with men in scoring position and two out, eck's iso power is .360. these are limited sample sizes, but let's just take them at face value. what the numbers suggest is that eckstein becomes aggressive at exactly the right times. with no one on base he might take a pitch right down the middle, working the count, but in rbi situations he attacks that same pitch and drives it into the gap. as i've suggested all along, eckstein should see a lot of fat pitches in rbi situations -- pitchers can't afford to nibble when the big bats are due up behind him. well, apparently when he sees those pitches he knows what to do with them.