I think there is a lot that can be learned from what happens in 3-and-0 counts. There is not everything to be learned — that wouldn’t make any sense. That would be an outlandish claim, had that been the claim that I made! But I think you can learn a lot about pitchers, generally and specifically, and I think the same goes for hitters. You need a good amount of data, but the 3-and-0 situation is unlike any other.
Yesterday, I examined hitters who whiffed on 3-and-0 fastballs more or less right down the pipe. This was the first thing that occurred to me to examine, because in a 3-and-0 count you should be sitting on a fastball right down the pipe and so you shouldn’t miss it if you get it. I was pleased to find that Dexter Fowler, on one occasion, made a fool of himself. But honestly, while I was actually writing that post, I got it in my head that I should be writing a different post. This is that different post. Think of it as a continuation of the series, if you like, where this series has two episodes before getting cancelled.
It’s interesting, sure, to know who whiffed on grooved 3-and-0 fastballs. In that situation a hitter is sitting on that pitch, so if he gets it, he should hit it. But then, a 3-and-0 whiff means the count is still 3-and-1, which is still heavily in the hitter’s favor. And at least the hitter properly identified that he was getting a fastball over the plate. More interesting might be looking at swings at 3-and-0 pitches that weren’t right down the middle. Analytically, this is of minimal value, but at least we can declare that we’re observing a failed process. If you’re a hitter, and you swing at a 3-and-0 pitch that isn’t around the center of the zone, you screwed up. Maybe your hot zone is more inside or outside or low or high, but if the 3-and-0 pitch is a ball, or close to a ball, and you swing, you’re wrong.
So what you’ll find here are the five 3-and-0 swings at pitches furthest from the center of the PITCHf/x strike zone. These are five swings, all by different players, and we can’t learn a lot from these five swings alone. Obviously, you’ll find that there are some talented players in here, and in fact I assume that 3-and-0 green lights are selective for hitters who’re better than average. Just because this isn’t predictive doesn’t mean it’s not worth looking at, though, if only for entertainment. Mike Trout might never again make as amazing a catch as that one he made over the wall in Baltimore. Doesn’t mean it’s not fun to watch Trout make that catch.
Off we go, as we watch talented hitters screw up. The hitters’ only excuse here is that “hitting is really really hard.” And they’re right, you know. Hitting is so hard! And there’s so much pressure! There’s a guy 60 feet away aiming a tiny leather rocket and we get mad at hitters when they can’t immediately tell the difference between a pitch that’ll be 18 inches off the ground and a pitch that’ll be 24 inches off the ground. We are so hard on these players! Now for the criticisms.
As proof that it’s not just bad or undisciplined hitters who swing at the wrong 3-and-0 pitches, here’s one of the greatest hitters in the universe swinging at the wrong 3-and-0 pitch, against a soft-tossing lefty. Pujols chased a pitch away off the plate, and he at least managed to foul it off instead of put it weakly in play. The 3-and-1 pitch was the same pitch in the same location and Pujols grounded into an inning-ending double play. Maybe Vargas is super tricky and super deceptive, or maybe great hitters simply aren’t a consistent level of great all of the time.
A horrible 3-and-0 swing on the same day as the previous horrible 3-and-0 swing. What are the odds! (ed. note: low) Extra damaging is that Howard put this pitch in play and grounded out. In a close game, with a man on, Howard swung at a 3-and-0 pitch as if he thought it was an 0-and-2 pitch. He didn’t even take a good, aggressive cut. It was like he was trying to do exactly what he did. In fact I’m starting to believe Howard really did think the count was 0-and-2, possibly as the result of an elaborate practical joke.
Now that is a dinger swing. Eric Hosmer in a nutshell? Sure, why not, it doesn’t even mean anything anymore. Everything is something else in a nutshell so I don’t see why this swing should be the exception.
Wilin Rosario has a career .286 OBP and a career .524 slugging percentage and I think you could’ve guessed approximations of those numbers just from watching this .gif alone. Throughout baseball history, three regulars or semi-regulars finished their careers with more home runs than walks: Todd Greene, Bill Schroeder, and Fernando Valenzuela. In Rosario’s young career, he’s posted 25 homers and 21 walks. Keep reaching for the stars, Wilin Rosario.
And it wasn’t even a fastball. But better than this .gif in isolation is this .gif in the context of the full at-bat.
This is a candidate for the worst plate appearance of the entire season. Cespedes, so far, has drawn 25 unintentional walks. If he couldn’t turn this plate appearance into a walk, then those he did turn into walks must’ve been truly frightening plate appearances from the pitchers’ standpoints indeed.
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