Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Work the Count - Take a Strike

Matt Schilling ProfileMatt Schilling: From the Batting Cage

"Work the Count."

"Take a Strike."

These two famous phrases that we always hear from hitting coaches have been around for a long time. While I partly agree with some of what "they" are saying, ultimately I believe that these are flawed, incomplete and misleading comments for hitting coaches to make.

For years I have been told as a hitter, "The more pitches you see, the better your chance to hit." I have also been told to, "work the count deep." So this would lead me to believe that batting averages on deeper counts SHOULD be better. These well accepted hitting philosophies must be right because I have been hearing them for as long as I can remember. In fact, they have become an unwritten rule in baseball. I personally have never bought into these ideas, mostly because I liked to swing at the first pitch. So I did some research and came up with some very interesting findings. The following numbers were obtained from and are based on the 2007 Major League Season.

Batting average by count for all MLB players in 2007:

0-0 = .344
1-0 = .341
2-0 = .351
3-0 = .394
0-1 = .324
1-1 = .327
2-1 = .338
3-1 = .368
0-2 = .166
1-2 = .178
2-2 = .195
3-2 = .233

Based on these numbers you can see that simply "working the count deep" and "taking a strike" is not necessarily effective. If it were, then the 3-2 count should be the best count to hit in and clearly it is not. The fact is, the less strikes you have and the more balls that you have the better off you are. Just another reason why it is so important to swing at strikes only. Also it appears that the first pitch of an at-bat is a GREAT pitch to hit! So why on earth would we want to take a strike? (unless of course the pitcher can't throw strikes)

Take some time to review these statistical facts and tune in next week for a deeper discussion on this topic. Oh, and one last thing, what count do you think gives up the most homeruns?


Anonymous said...

These comments based on the numbers are a little bit flawed.

Take into account the fact that when the hitter is behind in the count, the lesser ones at least, they get way more aggressive. What is known as the "Whitey Herzog theorem," hitters should be swinging at almost anything. However in what is known as the "Moneyball theorem," the hitter should be doing whatever he can to not get out.

I know that what the press coins as the Herzog vs. Moneyball debate is a little touchy. Many baseball fans see Herzog "cited" by greats like Joe Morgan and Keith Hernandez and are convinced that these Moneyball jackasses are indeed jackasses, but I am going to use common sabermetric knowledge to prove why taking pitches is much more effective.

The fact is, many people are still in the mindset that Juan Pierre once was and many sportswriters and announcers still are. "Swing with two strikes, strikeouts are evil!" However, how would these numbers be distorted if everyone thought like Billy Beane or God of Numbers Bill James? That is certainly something to be mindful of.

Another reason the info is flawed is that it uses batting average. As many sabermetricians know, batting average is easily the most overrated stat in baseball, and tells nothing about what a hitter is capable of doing and what he has done. In this scenario, it would probably be better to use OBP, which would still only tell a small part of the tale in this instance.

To really drive in the point, show the OBPs of hitters with the statistically proven better mindset at the plate. Look at hitters like Scott Hatteberg, Kevin Youkilis, Derek Jeter, David Wright, Adam Dunn, Luis Castillo who tend to have very good approaches at the plate. Or, when baseball uses Bill James strategy.

Matt Schilling said...


Good post and some good comments. I would disagree with your first reason for the numbers being flawed. These numbers take into account all hitters, the ones who do get way more aggressive and the ones that dont. With that being said I believe the numbers are a pretty true indicator of what most hitters do when behind in the count. I do like the theory of doing whatever you can not to make an out, Thats why the 9th inning is such a difficult inning for closers. I am not a believer that strikeouts are evil. I believe Ryan Howard won the MVP in the NL in the same year that he set the single season record for punch outs. Clearly he struck out a ton and clearly he produced a ton. Ultimately major league clubs are paying these guys to drive the ball, I dont think it is a positive idea to have a talented hitter cut down his swing just because he has two strikes. I would rather him use all three strikes afforded him to take aggressive offensive swings. I dont want Ryan Howard to just put the ball in play with no outs and runners on first and second, good chance he rolls into a double play and kills the inning. I'd rather him take his hacks and if he strikes out, he gives Pat Burrell a chance to drive the ball with less than 2 outs.

Your second point for the numbers being flawed does hold some value. Although I think pitchers wins and loses is the most overrated stat but thats another argument. Truth is the value of batting average is different for each spot in the order. Leadoff and two hitters need a high OBP not a high average. 3,4, and 5 hitters need to have a better average, and more specifically a good average with RISP. I dont need them to get on base, I need them to get hits with runners on base. So I do believe in the moneyball theory but not in its entirety. But I will give you some of the numbers that I have handy. OBP by count, AFTER the count:

1-0 .394
2-0 .516
3-0 .760
0-1 .281
1-1 .321
2-1 .404
3-1 .595
0-2 .211
1-2 .242
2-2 .306
3-2 .263

Again note that these numbers are based on AFTER the count, meaning what happens after the hitter has worked the count to that point. Hope this helps and thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

It's sort of disingenuous to say, "look at that batting average on 0-0 counts, it's great to swing at the first pitch!" ... That's selection bias, the only pitches that get swung on 0-0 are by definition extraordinarily easy pitches to hit, otherwise they wouldn't get swung at. That's why the average is so high. If you went ahead and swung at every first pitch (or even every first strike), your average would be much lower than .344, because you'd be swinging at much more than just the meat pitches represented in that sample.

Anonymous said...

I think the point is to not "take" a pitch at 0-0. Many coaches tell players to take the first pitch to get a look at the pitcher. Meanwhile, the pitcher is told to not get behind in the count and throws a strike. Taking a pitch means not swinging at all. Being ready to hit an 0-0 pitch does not necessarily mean it will be swung at.