Change-UpMarch 13, 2008
To Take or Not To Take
By Patrick Sullivan

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.

Update ==========

Apropos of nothing and with a hat tip to Defensive Indifference, check out this curve ball Clayton Kershaw threw to Sean Casey on Sunday. Apparently he was sitting 95-98 all game, too.


I'm confused. If the A's walked all 141 times when they had a 3-0 count, how could they have any ABs in post 3-0 counts?

For all of the times they did not walk...when the count went to 3-1 and after.

So to further clarify, the PA's in 3-0 counts are PA's that ended on the 3-0 pitch.

I've always wondered about whether it was better to hit away on 3-0 or take. It seems like I see a lot hitters take 3-0 pitches right down the middle, only to make an out on a tougher pitch later in the at bat.
The A's did have the best OPS after getting to 3-0, but the Angels were just barely behind, but they also belted out an amazing 1.867 OPS when putting the 3-0 pitch in play.
I notice the slugging percentage is better for almost every team when putting the 3-0 pitch in play, which is why I like the idea of turning hitters loose on 3-0, especially with runners on base.

I did an interview with Travis Snider at the start of the last AFL season and I asked him which pitcher impressed him the most since he became a professional and he told me Kershaw, without a doubt.

He explained that facing this curve ball was really impressive, because it starts toward your face, but ends up as a strike and you HAVE TO stay with the pitch.

Good stuff.

Dave Rouleau

Very interesting.

I took a look at 3-0 pitches last year and found something interesting: hitters who offer at 3-0 pitches tend to better overall hitters than hitters who don't. Makes sense when you think about it.

It could also explain the Oakland/Boston observation you note here. It may not be the organizational philosophy, but rather the organizational resources. Boston has much hitters than Oakland, and the Boston hitters are therefore more likely to swing at a 3-0 pitch.

That is one absolutely filthy curveball, and it's not even a slow loopy one like Zito-- I'd guess it's in the low 80's or so.

Too bad MLB doesn't want us to see the curveball any more.

Good thing I would never, like, consider going to a baseball game or something like that.