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Saturday, August 21, 2004

The Impact of Count

It's often said as Tim McCarver did today on the Fox broadcast of the Red Sox/White Sox game that the count matters tremendously. He backed up his statement with the fact that AL hitters are hitting .186 with 0-2 count in 2004. I remember tracking batting averages by count by making tally marks on paper back in 1982 when watching Braves and Cubs games on TV. As I recall I enlisted my sister to help on occasion, perhaps turning her into the rabid Braves fan she is today. For that I'm sorry but I did use the data I collected in a speech for high school speech class. I don't remember the grade. Palmer and Thorn also include a table of averages by count in The Hidden Game of Baseball.

But is the count that significant?

Fortunately, retrosheet makes tabulating averages by count much easier than my method of 1982 and so I spent about 10 minutes during the Olympic basketball game today creating the table shown below for the 1992 AL.


Count  AB    H  2B 3B HR    TB   BB IBB HBP   SO  AVG SLUG A-SO  S-SO

0-2 5090 854 134 20 54 1190 0 0 66 2232 .168 .234 .299 .416
1-2 10683 1879 314 36 121 2628 0 0 90 4249 .176 .246 .292 .408
2-2 10488 2027 346 40 160 2933 0 0 56 3714 .193 .280 .299 .433
3-2 7052 1575 324 41 154 2443 3248 4 16 2001 .223 .346 .312 .484
0-1 6942 2099 334 36 142 2931 0 0 81 0 .302 .422 .302 .422
0-0 10986 3347 555 60 315 4967 0 0 142 0 .305 .452 .305 .452
3-0 192 59 13 1 6 92 1530 593 3 0 .307 .479 .307 .479
1-1 7554 2338 427 45 195 3440 0 0 63 0 .310 .455 .310 .455
1-0 7647 2399 471 42 223 3623 0 0 35 0 .314 .474 .314 .474
3-1 2319 738 137 12 108 1223 2300 29 8 0 .318 .527 .318 .527
2-0 2838 925 207 20 120 1532 0 0 8 0 .326 .540 .326 .540
2-1 5356 1766 334 33 178 2700 0 0 17 0 .330 .504 .330 .504

At a glance what this clearly shows is that McCarver is correct. Hitting with an 0-2 count produced a batting average of .168 with a slugging percentage of .234. Conversely, hitting with a 2-0 count produces a .326/.540 result.

But what's missing from that first-look analysis is considering the impact of strikeouts. In counts where the batter has two strikes he has a chance to strikeout. By excluding strikeouts from the calculation (the last two columns in the table) on the argument that when there are less than two strikes taking a strike or swinging through a pitch does not negatively impact the average, you can see that both the averages and slugging percentages are close to the non-two strike counts. This makes perfect sense since the odds of a ball put in play turning into a hit cannot logically be much impacted by the count. You can also see, however, that the slugging percentage is more impacted than the average. Again this make sense since with two strikes hitters tend to protect the plate and cut down their swings a bit. Aggregating these numbers you get:

Count   AVG SLUG A-SO S-SO

Ahead .303 .478 .318 .501
Behind .215 .300 .298 .415
Even .269 .395 .305 .447
So the real lesson is that a hitter's potential for extra bases goes down when behind in the count but their batting average doesn't suffer that much as long as they can put the ball in play. Of course, that's why great contact hitters like Tony Gwynn still hit well with two strikes.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

How does one measure, if it exists, the impact a pitcher has on a batter and visa versa? i.e. If a pitcher doesn't respect a hitter, he'll throw more strikes and be ahead in the count more often, thus reducing the success rate of the batter. With poorer class pitchers, the batter can afford to be more patient and thus increase his success rate. Does this sound reasonable?

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