Staying Away From 0-2

Pitchers are not afraid of Jack Wilson. One way that might be illustrated is by the percentage of pitches he sees that are located within the strike zone. With 55.9% of the pitches he faces being located in the strike zone, Wilson would rank first in that category were he qualified. The following does not entirely capture the decision process, but I believe offers a good outline of how a pitcher might approach any given hitter:

Decision Flow

If the hitter lacks patience at the plate then the pitcher has less incentive to throw strikes, knowing the hitter is more likely to chase after anything. However, that is counter-acted upon by the hitter’s raw power. If the hitter lacks power then even if you throw him a strike, the pitcher has less worry about how much damage the hitter can do and so it becomes better to throw strikes.

The above should be obvious enough, but I wanted to put some specific numbers behind it. Like most of my statistical investigations, I had a particular player acting as the impetus. In this case, it was Jack Wilson. Wilson is one of the weaker hitters out there with isolated slugging peaking around the .100 mark and projected to be more in the .075 range now.

These thoughts had been on my mind for a few days when it took the next step to noticing just how many 0-2 counts Jack Wilson subsequently found himself facing. Again it should be obvious how difficult it is to hit once in an 0-2 count. Hitters average a .454 OPS if they arrive at 0-2. Therefore, avoiding 0-2 counts by either laying off pitches out of the strike zone or by being enough of a threat that pitchers skirt more of the strike zone should be considered an admirable goal for a hitter.

Which hitters are the best and worst at that? To determine that I took the number of plate appearances for each hitter that went to 0-2 and divided it by the number of plate appearances for that hitter that lasted at least three pitches. I wanted to avoid having the numbers skewed by hitters that are swing-happy and contact-prone. While this method by no means sparks a metaphorical light bulb in ranking hitters, I did find it interesting.

Among the hitters most adapt at avoiding 0-2 counts are the high-power and high-walk sluggers you’d expect. David Ortiz leads the list at 14.5%, Jim Thome is 4th, Alex Rodriguez is 5th, Albert Pujols is 8th. There are some surprises though like Casey Kotchman being 2nd. Unsurprisingly, much worse hitters populate the other end of the ranking. Aaron Rowand has the worst mark at a whopping 40% followed by Wes Helms (37%) and Mark Ellis (35%). In fact, there are virtually no successful hitters above the 30% mark aside from maybe Cody Ross.

Getting into 0-2 counts is borderline crippling for a hitter’s chances to succeed. Avoiding them, however, does not guarantee success. A hitter still has to possess the ability to turn those hitter’s counts into something productive and that largely requires slugging power.

Print This Post

Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

8 Responses to “Staying Away From 0-2”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Bobby says:

    Wait. Where does Jack Wilson rank in this metric?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. DCStack says:

    I’m not really sure what this analysis adds. It seems completely obvious that patient power hitters are less likely to be down 0-2. Hitters with a good eye are likely to swing at strikes and lay off balls, hence fewer 0-2 counts. Power hitters are less likely to have pitchers challenge them, again resulting in fewer 0-2 counts. Add a protection in the lineup factor to this and you have the perfect scenario for minimizing 0-2 counts.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • DCStack says:

      Another factor to add to the equation is the number of runners on base.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bobby B. says:

      What seems “obvious” is not always true. Isn’t that the whole point of this blog?

      Add in the fact that avoiding 0-2 counts does not necessarily ensure success, and I feel better off reading it than not. And by definition that adds something. Unlike your comment.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. ARF says:

    “Getting into 0-2 counts is borderline crippling for a hitter’s chances to succeed”

    You are mixing up causation and correlation. It could just be that hitters with no chance to succeed are the ones who wind up in 0-2 counts most often, not necc. that the 0-2 counts are crippling their chances to succeed.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Temo says:

      That’s an easy causation to test: see if good hitters (lets say, with wOBA over .350) hit better in 0-2 counts than bad hitters (lets say, with wOBA less than .300).

      And of course, they do hit better. Because, well, they’re just better than the bad ones. But they still hit way worse in 0-2 counts than in other counts.

      For instance, Chipper Jones’ career OPS in 0-2 counts is .509. His overall career OPS is .941. He’s well over 1.000 OPS in 3-1, 2-1, 3-0, and 2-0 counts. He’s over .900 in ALL counts EXCEPT for 0-2,1-2, and 2-2, where he’s got a .509, .520, and .599 OPS respectively. That’s a huge spread.

      I think it’s fair to say that 2 strike counts are death even for good hitters.

      (Chipper by the way, despite being one of the most patient hitters in MLB history– by BB%– avoids 2 strike counts VERY well… he’s reached 0-2 counts on only 396 PAs in his career).

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. CircleChange11 says:

    There are different ways of getting to 0-2.

    [1] Hitters that refuse to swing at a pitch that is not “their pitch”, until they get to 2 strikes. These guys will get to 0-2 occasionally, but they did so by getting to 0-2 by laying off pitcher’s pitches that they couldn’t hit anyway.

    [2] Guys that are so aggressive they swing at everything, foul off pitches, and swing through pitches. It is possible to go 0-2 while being aggressive.

    [3] Guys that get to 0-2 by fouling off or swinging through an 0-1 pitch. IMO, this is probably the most common.

    It isn’t that Pujols and the like are consciously better at avoiding 0-2, it’s that they make good contact more often than other batters. Pujols takes some very hittable pitches early in the game. Pujols makes more and better contact.

    I’d be willing to bet that ~50% of all 0-2 counts are the result of an 0-1 foul ball. Pitchers, in that count, are trying to make a quality pitch, in the strike zone, bot on the border of it. Good enough pitch be strike 2, but also good enough pitch that batters will swing, but not be able to hit well.

    0-2 at the major league level “should be” and “is” death to the hitter, just as extreme counts in the hitter’s favor work drastically against the pitcher.

    Something like 75% of baseball action is on “neutral counts”. No one wants to give away the advantage.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. AJS says:

    Of course OPS is low in 0-2 counts, because a swing and a miss or a called strike automatically ends in an out. But that doesn’t tell you specifically whether an 0-2 count is “borderline crippling” to a hitter’s chance of success. All it tells you is the obvious, that having two strikes against you is bad because it makes you more likely to strike out.

    Here’s what I wonder: When hitters don’t strike out in 0-2 counts — that is, when they put the ball in play — how well do they hit? Do they have a lower ISO or hit fewer LD or HR because they are trying to fend off pitches that could possibly be strikes (“pitchers’ pitches”), generating weaker contact? Or this there no appreciable difference? Are there different results hitting with a 1-2 count rather than an 0-2 count? If so, why? If not, why? Are the strikeout chances less great?

    Answering those questions will really let us know if there’s something inherent to the 0-2 count that makes a hitter struggle, or if it’s just because a strikeout results from that count a large percentage of the time.

    Vote -1 Vote +1