Updated: Dec 5, 2019
There are a lot of different philosophies related to swinging early in the count, two strike hitting, 3-0 hitting, etc. I believe we can analyze swing data to formulate informative decisions that will lead to more productive hitters.
First, lets look at offensive batting average by count:
As we would likely assume, this chart shows that hitters are largely more successful prior to two strike situations. Hitters hit a combined .183 in two strike counts during the 2017-2019 seasons.
Now lets look at the NCAA swing rates by count:
This is the chart that I find most interesting. Look at the swing rates of two strike counts compared to some of the more favorable hitter's count swing rates. In all two strike situations, hitters are swinging over 50% of the time. Hitters seem to swing the most in a 3-2 count at 66.5%. Ironically, hitters are swinging much less in counts with less than two strikes. The only count that hitters attempted a similar swing rate is in the 2-1 count. The data suggests that hitters are much more aggressive and swinging more often in counts that average a much lower success rate while being extremely passive and swinging less often in counts that produce a much higher success rate.
Why are hitters swinging less often prior to two strikes and so much more often when they have two strikes? Are hitters getting better pitches to hit in two strike situations? Probably not! I believe this is one of the most important pieces of information to analyze and change as it relates to a hitter's approach and ability to have success at the plate.
In the 0-0 count, hitters swing about 28.8% of the time. In 0-2 counts, hitters are swinging almost 53% of the time. I firmly believe if a team, organization, or player could flip this percentage, swinging more often with less than two strikes and swinging less with two strikes, it would lead to higher offensive production for a variety of reasons.
Reason 1 Data shows that pitchers throw first pitch strikes about 58% of the time and 69% of strikeouts start with a first pitch strike. If hitters are getting a first pitch strike at such a high rate it seems much more beneficial to swing. Pitching coaches everywhere want their pitcher to get strike one because it is crucial for the pitcher's success. Look at the value of the 0-0 count in the image below:
Hitters did a lot of damage in the 0-0 count during the 2018 season. On the other hand, when a pitcher wins the 0-0 count and gets strike one (0-1 count) the average success of a hitter for the remainder of the at-bat in the 2018 season dropped significantly.
Looking at the swing rate data, hitters attempted a swing about 43% of the time in an 0-1 count situation. As mentioned earlier, hitters only swung about 28.8% of the time in the 0-0 count. Moral of the story - hitters need to anticipate getting a first pitch strike and be ready to swing!
Reason #2 Pitchers have a common goal: throw two strikes within the first three pitches of an at-bat. According to Jerry Weinstein, pitchers who throw a first pitch strike have an 80% chance of getting a 1-2 count. Hitters need to control the AB early in the count and attack pitches in the zone versus letting the pitcher have the upper hand!
Reason #3 Pitchers don't throw as many strikes in two strike counts. Pitching coaches get irritated when their pitchers give up two strike hits. I know this sounds familiar: "You're ahead in the count 0-2, stop giving the hitter something to hit." If pitchers don't throw as many strikes in two strike counts, hitters need to decrease their swing rate in those situations.
In situations when a pitcher is trying to miss the strike zone and entice the hitter to chase, it doesn't make sense for hitters to swing at such a high rate. Meanwhile, in counts with zero strikes, hitters swing less than 39% of the time.
In summary, hitters need to be more aggressive early and control the at-bat. Hitters need to swing more often with less than two strikes and swing less often with two strikes. Analyzing opponent pitching data and the swing decisions of your team or an individual player can help find strengths and/or weaknesses in the overall offensive approach. Adjustments can be made as necessary. Sometimes a hitter has a great swing - they just have a crappy plan at the plate.
Hope this helps!
See you on the diamond!