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Posted: Wednesday April 22, 2009 4:48PM; Updated: Wednesday April 22, 2009 5:13PM
Joe Posnanski Joe Posnanski >
INSIDE BASEBALL

The count of counting counts (cont.)

2-0 count

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Action pitch: 2.7% of the time -- one out of every 37 at-bats
Batters hit: 351/.351/.625

Well, this is a interesting situation ... batters very, very rarely put the ball in play on a 2-0 count. In fact, batters don't put the ball in play much more on a 2-0 count than they do on a 3-0 count. When they connect, though, they do connect hard ... batters bang home runs once out of every 16 at-bats.

And you know, if I was a batting coach, I would want my batters to be a bit more aggressive on 2-0. Because here's something else ... pitchers only very, very rarely hit a batter with the count 2-0 (one out of every 179 or so at-bats). That tells me they are simply looking to get a pitch over the plate to get back into the count. It sure seems to me that 2-0 is an underutilized opportunity for hitters.

1-1 count

Action pitch: 8.8% of the time -- one out of every 11 at-bats
Batters hit: .325/.330/.512

This is more or less a repeat of the first pitch. I have heard scouts and players say that, generally speaking, the most important pitch of the at-bat is the third pitch. And there does seem some truth to that. Most of the time (roughly 54% of the time), batters face a 1-1 count going into the third pitch. And the next pitch will, pretty often, determine the fate of the pitcher and the batter. Look what happens if a pitcher gets a strike:

1-2 count

Action pitch: 13.6% of the time -- one out of every 7 at-bats
Batters hit: .177/.185/.263

Yes, pitchers are dominant in the 1-2 count. And this is actually the most common situation in baseball ... a 1-2 count action pitch. And the batter is all but helpless. But when the third pitch is a ball ...

2-1 count

Action pitch: 5.6% of the time -- one out of every 18 at-bats
Batters hit: .337/.338/.554

Yeah, that's a sizable difference. Batters hit 160 points better and slug twice as much when that third pitch is a ball rather than a strike. Batters may not know these numbers, but they instinctively know how much their chances go up when the count goes to 2-1.

Here's a fun experiment: Next time you're at a game, watch the batter's reaction when the count goes from 1-1 to 1-2. They will, often, hit their bats with their hands or kick at the dirt or gripe at the umpire. I've never counted but I would bet that batters visibly react more than half the time.

3-0 count

Action pitch: 2.4% of the time -- one of out every 42 at-bats
Batters hit: .390/.958/.780

A few facts about the 3-0 pitch.

1. Batters put the ball in play on 3-0 only about 7% of the time. In fact, over the course of a season, you will only see batters put the ball in play about 300 times on 3-0 ... that's about 10 times per team, per season. it does seem like in today's game lots of batters get the green light on 3-0, but the numbers say that you really don't see them hit the ball on 3-0 very much.

2. When you DO see them hit it, there's a good chance you will see them hit it a long way. Batters hit 3-0 homers roughly one out of every 10 at-bats.

3. Jim Thome, in his long career, has only put the ball in play 58 times on 3-0. He has hit SIXTEEN home runs. For the record, that's one homer per every 3.6 at-bats.

4. Or how about Mike Piazza. In his whole career he only put the ball in play FOUR TIMES on 3-0. That's all. Four times. Apparently nobody was throwing Piazza a good pitch 3-0. And that was a good idea: Two of them were home runs.

5. Batters almost never get hit on the 3-0 pitch -- one out of every 640 plate appearances.

6. Very, very few base runners try to steal on the 3-0 pitch, for obvious reasons, but those that do are ultra-successful -- 89%. What's interesting is that the 3-1 pitch -- which has conventionally been called the perfect pitch to steal on -- is anything but: Only 61% of base stealers are successful on 3-1.

2-2 count

Action pitch: 12.9% of the time -- one out of every 8 at-bats
Batters hit: .194/.199/.299

You will often hear announcer say "He evened the count at 2-2." But there is nothing really even about a 2-2 count. The pitcher is still firmly in control. If a pitcher consistently can make it so the action pitch is always 0-2, 1-2 or 2-2, he will do very nicely for himself and make quite a lot of money.

3-1 count

Action pitch: 4.9% of the time -- one out of every 20 at-bats
Batters hit: .355/.691/.638

Well, here is the ultimate hitter's pitch ... I've called a few home runs over the years, wowing friends and impressing strangers, but it's really not that hard. When you see a good hitter at the plate (or a lousy pitcher on the mound) and a 3-1 count, go ahead, make the call. If you want to play the 3-1 homer game yourself ... here are a few good players to consider:

Josh Hamilton: .611/.833/1.167
Chase Utley: .444/.713/.852
Adam Dunn: .392/.777/.908
Alfonso Soriano: .435/.694/.848
Jermaine Dye: .406/.656/.767

Full count

Action pitch: 12.3% of the time -- one out of every 8 at-bats
Batters hit: .229/.468/.381

A couple things interest me here. One, I find it interesting that one out of every eight or so at-bats goes to a full-count. That seems like a lot to me ... that means you should see, seven to 10 full counts every single night. I wonder if that number has gone up through the years. I have no idea how to find out.

Also, it really is telling -- again and again -- that hitters really do swing defensively with two strikes. In total, with two strikes, batters hit .190/.257/.293.

I think that's one of the takeaway as a baseball fan. Pitchers do not (and should not) give up many two-strike hits. And they certainly should not give up two-strike extra base hits.

Another takeaway is that until the pitcher gets two strikes, the advantage* is with the hitter. Batters hit .334 and slug almost .600 when not facing two strikes.

* Of course, it's tricky when you say the hitter has an advantage ... even Ted Williams, the purest hitter who ever was, was retired more often than he reached base (his .482 on-base percentage is the best ever, but it means he also had a .518 out percentage). But this is something that's tricky about baseball -- pitchers always have an advantage. You will hear announces say all the time: "This just goes to show you that good pitching beats good hitting." I have no idea what this means ... it is literally true, but bad pitching also beats good hitting. Pitching beats hitting. That's the game. That's why even when a manager makes what seems an obviously dumb pitching move, it is still likely to work.**

** This "still likely to work" rule is not in effect when it comes to Royals manager Trey Hillman, who has now gone EIGHT DAYS since pitching Joakim Soria. EIGHT DAYS. Maybe he's saving Soria for private functions, birthday parties, bar mitzvahs and so on.

And the last takeaway is this: I spent way, way too much time on this.

Joe Posnanski is a columnist for the Kansas City Star and the author of joeposnanski.com.

 
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