To Take or Not To Take
I can't imagine that many readers of this site do not have at least some form of addiction to Baseball Reference, a veritable data goldmine for any baseball junkie. I know I sure do.
Recently I have taken to coming up with some point of interest, and really digging in to see if any trends or incremental insights can be gleaned. Even if they cannot, it can be fascinating to present data in an organized format to see how teams differ with regard to their approaches (and abilities). What follows is a summation of how the American League fared when the count was 3-0 in 2007, with the final column presenting the AVG/OBP/SLG line for teams after 3-0.
PA AB AVG SLG Post-3&0 AVG/OBP/SLG BOS 175 11 .455 1.182 .277/.761/.563 NYY 153 7 .429 .571 .350/.776/.675 TOR 148 9 .444 .667 .327/.767/.523 BAL 129 3 .333 .667 .235/.713/.395 TBR 133 8 .500 1.500 .316/.749/.518
CLE 176 16 .375 .813 .330/.789/.594 DET 128 9 .444 .778 .324/.732/.613 MIN 125 6 .333 .500 .315/.773/.554 CHW 132 6 .333 1.333 .324/.732/.613 KCR 101 7 .286 .714 .232/.717/.316
LAA 168 15 .600 1.267 .371/.806/.670 SEA 130 10 .200 .200 .301/.743/.398 OAK 141 0 NA NA .351/.815/.670 TEX 105 4 .250 .500 .297/.739/.525
I am not sure that there are conclusions to be drawn from any of this, but it sure looks interesting. What stuck out most for me were the Oakland Athletics, and what seems to be evidence of an organizational approach to hitting. We have long-known that the A's favor a patient style at the plate. A casual search looking at past articles related to Oakland's philosophical beliefs on how to approach an at-bat will yield a lot of words like "patience" and "selectivity" and "taking a walk".
It may just be semantics and not reflective of meaningful differences between the two clubs but being a Red Sox fan and living in Boston, when Theo Epstein speaks of an organizational approach, he will use a term like "strike zone management" or "pitch recognition". Oakland seems to believe that taking more pitches is an end to itself, while Boston might think that so long as you can recognize effectively a ball and a strike, aggressiveness is not necessarily a bad thing.
It's hard to say who is right based solely on the data above (or if there is any right way at all). Oakland did not put one ball in play on a 3-0 count in 2007. Of their 141 recorded plate appearances with three balls and no strikes, Oakland walked all 141 times. Equally interesting, they led the American League with a 1.485 OPS after 3-0.
There does appear to be a downside to this approach, however. Only Texas found themselves in more 0-2 counts than Oakland in 2007. If your mandate is to take pitches, you can find yourself in a quick hole. When the count was 0-2 last year, Oakland hit .150/.161/.238. After 0-2 they hit .175/.216/.281.
I am not sure that there are meaningful conclusions to be drawn with respect to whether or not there is an optimal hitting strategy; on 3-0 or otherwise. But mining the data gets you closer to answers, and Lord knows there is more than enough data out there.