Green Lights Going Wrong, Take 1

Last night, the Yankees played the Blue Jays, and in the fourth inning, Phil Hughes faced Yorvit Torrealba. Odds are you weren’t watching that game, and even if you were watching that game, odds are you weren’t paying particularly close attention to Phil Hughes facing Yorvit Torrealba in the top of the fourth. Anyhow, Hughes fell behind in the count 3-and-0 with three straight curves. Hughes came back with a fastball in the zone, and Torrealba was given the green light. Torrealba swung right through it. Two pitches later, Torrealba struck out, and the inning was over.

Including intentional walks, there have been nearly 7,000 3-and-0 counts so far this season. Excluding intentional walks, there have been fewer than that. If my numbers are correct, then in 471 3-and-0 counts did the batter swing. There were four such swings Tuesday night. Jeff Bianchi homered with one of them and you probably don’t even know who that is. Congratulations to Jeff Bianchi on baseball’s 23rd 3-and-0 dinger of the year.

It seems to me there’s nothing inherently wrong with a 3-and-0 green light, because pitchers will throw a lot of hittable pitches and it’s good to swing at hittable pitches. It also seems to me that it should never be easier to make contact than it is in a 3-and-0 count. In that situation, as a hitter, you’re looking to swing only at something fairly straight, and only at something more or less down the middle. “Dead red,” basically. If you don’t get that pitch, you shouldn’t swing. If you do get that pitch, you should hurt it, because you were looking for it.

Of course, there’s theory and then there’s reality. Hitters aren’t perfect, and sometimes when they’re given the green light 3-and-0 and they swing, they screw up. What follows is a brief examination of one of the ways in which they can screw up: getting that pitch and swinging right through it. What follow are .gifs of the five 3-and-0 whiffs on fastballs closest to right down the middle from 2012 to date.

Note no. 1: it is very difficult to hit a major-league fastball! I probably could not do it! Major-league hitters are well trained and we take their abilities for granted, but every pitch they see is a major-league pitch and major-league pitches are the best pitches in the world. It only looks bad to swing through a heater down the middle when you compare the guy swinging to the very best swingers. That is a very high standard.

Note no. 2: even when you whiff on 3-and-0, you’re still ahead 3-and-1, and that is a very hitter-friendly count. Better to whiff on 3-and-0 than to make weak contact on 3-and-0, because one of those is only a strike and the other is probably an out. These are not the worst swings of the season.

Note no. 3: this has zero analytical value and is intended only as fun. I don’t even know if I’ve set it up properly; I just wanted to see who whiffed on the most dead-red 3-and-0 fastball. I got my answer and I’m satisfied. For actual analysis and content of value, read what Dave has written about FDP and pitcher WAR. For this, read this.

And now for our list and our .gifs. I have never felt more Internet than I feel at this very moment.

(5)

Batter: Nick Swisher
Pitcher: Tim Hudson
Date: June 19
Pitch Location: 5.6 inches from center of PITCHf/x zone

Something you’ll observe with a lot of attempted 3-and-0 swings is a hint of extra vigor. Not only are hitters sitting dead red; they’re sitting dead red and preparing for a power swing. If you’ve ever played a baseball video game, you know that power swings result in less frequent contact. Baseball video games are modeled after baseball so they have to be correct. It would be interesting to see contact rates on all counts. It would also be interesting to see what the contact rates on all counts would be if hitters attempted the same swings. 3-and-0 contact is probably a little lower than it should be, because hitters might take more chances. Swisher had a little oomph in that swing up there.

(4)

Batter: Dayan Viciedo
Pitcher: Brad Lincoln
Date: August 15
Pitch Location: 5.6 inches from center of PITCHf/x strike zone

This isn’t a tie with the pitch to Swisher because this pitch was nine-thousandths of an inch closer to the center of the zone. Viciedo swings and then falls across to the other batter’s box. I am pretty sure this is what every Dayan Viciedo swing looks like. The very next pitch was a fastball in the exact same spot and Viciedo mashed it for a dinger. Who knew that it might not work again!

(3)

Batter: Carlos Quentin
Pitcher: Travis Wood
Date: May 28
Pitch Location: 5.4 inches from center of PITCHf/x strike zone

This is footage of Carlos Quentin not getting hit in the arm by a pitched baseball. This is the only such footage that exists.

(2)

Batter: Colby Rasmus
Pitcher: Octavio Dotel
Date: July 27
Pitch Location: 5.1 inches from center of PITCHf/x strike zone

Look at how well located that pitch is, given the target. Look at how fluidly it’s caught. Look at Rasmus’ silky-smooth swing. Split into components, this was a very beautiful baseball play. The only problem is that Colby Rasmus swung through a 3-and-0 fastball just about right down the middle of the zone.

(1)

Batter: Dexter Fowler
Pitcher: Tom Gorzelanny
Date: June 25
Pitch Location: 0.9 inches from center of PITCHf/x strike zone

That camera angle is horribly off-center so you can’t tell just how much of a meatball that pitch really was. Thankfully the MLB.com Gameday angle is not off-center. What did you think about this pitch, MLB.com Gameday?

Dexter Fowler was batting righty, and he was ahead in the count 3-and-0. Tom Gorzelanny pitches lefty, and he threw a fastball right down the very middle, and nothing about Tom Gorzelanny’s fastball could ever be considered overpowering. This clocked in at 91.7 miles per hour. Fowler swung right through. He proceeded to strike out. There was no other way for this to go because that 3-and-0 execution was downright embarrassing. Relative to the rest of the world’s elite baseball players. Always gotta remember that.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


21 Responses to “Green Lights Going Wrong, Take 1”

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  1. Jack says:

    Coors Field is goofy. Awful camera angles, weird sciencey shenanigans, and a stupid purple dinosaur trying to devour the souls of many young children.

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    • Urban Shocker says:

      Dinger’s shenanigans must be stopped. Bud can continue depriving MLB of replay as long as he does something about that stupid camera-hogging, belly-shaking dinosaur

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      • Ludwig von Koopa says:

        Oh wow… he looks like a cross between Barney and Baby Bop. I’ll escort myself out.

        (I would happily trade Wally for Dinger though… please take that fat green Elmo away.)

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      • Urban Shocker says:

        You have not watched enough Rockies home games then. It is not just his appearance. It is that he is always on screen and acting like a total jackass. When the Rockies are up to bat, Dinger stands behind home plate, turns his head around and/or shakes his belly at the opposing pitcher. It is awful.

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      • Jason says:

        couldnt agree more … isnt it a question of player safety? I mean… he is trying to distract the pitcher right? that’s the whole intent. A Rockies player is likely to pay the price in the batter’s box if Dinger is succesful.

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    • Brian says:

      I think Dinger is the only current mascot that is reviled by both the home fans and the visiting fans.

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  2. chri521 says:

    Wait so who whiffed most on 3-0 counts? Was it Soriano?

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  3. Mel says:

    Thank you, Jeff. Dave’s stuff on FDP and pitcher WAR is great, but this was a hell of a lot easier to get through at work.

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  4. Colin says:

    It looks like Fowler was supposed to take the 3-0 pitch and then, after seeing just how much of a meatball that pitch was, belatedly decided to swing. That was a very late swing for 3-0 and that is the only thing I can think of that would explain it.

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  5. Mitchell says:

    Kevin Youkilis has never swung at a 3-0 pitch.

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  6. Olerud is God says:

    Favourite sentences in the article
    “Including intentional walks, there have been nearly 7,000 3-and-0 counts so far this season. Excluding intentional walks, there have been fewer than that.”
    Awesome work Sully!

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  7. Ruki Motomiya says:

    I love Quentin’s little hop.

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  8. snoop LION says:

    so has anyone actually make put the ball in play on a 3-0 count this season?

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  9. Andre says:

    This piece is an excellent example of good writing backed by interesting research. I like it.

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  10. Schuxu says:

    Swinging through a 3-0 strike is far away from being the worst result. Hitters who have the green light and decide to go for the pitch should really put everything in their swing. The result should be either hard contact or a miss. Putting on a contact swing and grounding out weakly is what should never happen on a 3-0 count. A miss at least gives you 2 more opportunities and is no way worse then to just let the ball sail through the zone for a strike.

    Interesting would also be swings at 3-0 pitches out of the zone or week contacts on 3-0 pitches.

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  11. Aaron (UK) says:

    This green light went right last night: http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=24316963

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