The 3-0 Pitch: Swing or Don’t Swing

by Teegan Leader     

Growing up, almost every baseball player was told to take the next pitch if they had 3 balls and no strikes against them. The idea behind that philosophy is that the chance of getting on base with that count is very high because the pitcher only has one more shot to hit the zone before walking the batter. 

What about for Major League hitters?

Photo Credit: Pierre Etienne Vachon

Photo Credit: Pierre Etienne Vachon

Surely they have the green light, right?

Not necessarily.

Numbers show that MLB hitters only swing 7.6% of the time when in a 3-0 count. In fact, from 2009 to 2015 there were just over 3,500 swings at 3-0 pitches.

But what happens when a batter swings at a 3-0 pitch?

When batters have put the ball in play, the result has been in their favor. From that same timeframe of 2009-2015, players had a Batting Average of Balls in Play (BABIP) of .353. That’s astonishing, considering they didn't even think about swinging at the previous 3 pitches. 

This happens in largely because on a 3-0 count, the pitcher is going to trust their most used pitch to get a strike over the plate: their fastball. 94.7% of the time that a pitcher was in a 3-0 count from 2009-2014 they threw a fastball. With such a high percentage of fastballs thrown in 3-0 counts, batters can be all but certain that their next pitch is going to be in the zone.

Photo Credit: Jose Morales

Photo Credit: Jose Morales

However, are these numbers successful enough to promote more swings on 3-0?

During 3-0 counts, only 33% of the next pitches have resulted in a ball. Even in scenarios where the result of the fourth pitch is a strike, the batter is still in a favorable count of 3-1.

Game situations also come into play. Depending on what is happening in a game, certain players may or may not get the green light. For instance, 76% of 3-0 swings come between innings 1-6.

There are a few rare occasions when a player will swing at a 3-0 pitch late in a game. In 2014, Reds manager Bryan Price said, “In a tie game, Votto has the green light on 3-0.” That was after Joey Votto hit a game-winning home run on a 3-0 fastball. Game situation and where a batter is in the lineup both play key roles in a manager giving, or not giving, the green light on a 3-0 pitch. 

Photo Credit: Gerald Klein

Photo Credit: Gerald Klein

So, what's the verdict?

3-0 pitches will be fastballs located in the zone 94.7% of the time. 95.9% of those fastballs in the zone will be down the middle. Batters historically haven't swung much in this batting situation, but when they have, the numbers show tremendous success. As BABIP rises in 3-0 counts, we could possibly see more and more batters take advantage of the unsurprising 3-0 fastball, right down the middle.