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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The 3-0 count: As off-topic as I can get

I cannot say that I am a big baseball fan. When I was a kid, sure, I knew all the players and the statistics, I memorized records, I knew batting lineups. Since then, my baseball knowledge has atrophied and I certainly do not watch any games during the season.

But I still follow my Philadelphia Phillies in the standings, and I try to watch their post-season games even as I am blissfully ignorant of the players and what they did all year outside of the standings.

So I am catching up, hoping for a Phillies/Yankees (Turnpike?) World Series, as nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see the Phillies beat the despised Yankees.

But, you gotta admit - much of the game is really boring. Sure, the sportscasters try to make up for it with flashy graphics on the screen; the pitch placement chart that TBS' HD games show is fairly cute, as are the graphics showing the pitching count and the speed of the fastballs and the first base runner lead. Even so, the fact that there is no problem with going to an interview of the first base coach during the gameplay itself indicates that, for most of the three hours, the game is pretty dull. The very dullness is what spawns the new statistics that the viewers are peppered with, of how well a certain player did against left-handed pitchers in odd-numbered years when the temperature was between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Which brings me to the point of this post: the 3-0 count.

It is accepted wisdom that almost invariably, a batter will take a 3-0 pitch, and get the green light for a 3-1 pitch. For the life of me, I cannot figure out the former.

In both cases the pitcher does not want a walk and will try to keep the ball over the plate. Why not swing away at 3-0? 3-0 pitches are hardly ever balls; they are hardly ever breaking pitches. Unless the batter is a singles hitter and the pitcher is struggling (where the odds of a walk are higher than of a single) wouldn't it make sense for batters to get the same green light for 3-0 as they do for 3-1?

Am I missing something?

(Now that I wrote this, I see this article makes a pretty good case for taking, but I think the stats are deceptive. The NYT looked at this a couple of years ago and gave reasons to swing away. This article is interesting as well.)