The 3-0 Count: Hitters 1-5 vs. 6-9
Getting the green-light on 3 and 0 is very rare, but when a batter does get the go-ahead, how do they fare?
Fangraphs data suggests that it may depend on where a batter is in the lineup.
As shown in the following figures, walks and on-base percentages are declining. This seems mind-boggling because in these situations, a batter is only one pitch away from being awarded first base.
So, why are these statistics changing?
The answer may lie in an interesting advanced statistic: Hard%.
Hard% (Hard Contact Percentage) shows the percentage of hits coming off the bat at 95mph or more. Hits like these only happen when a batter puts a ferocious swing on the ball. When this percentage is high, it shows that batters are recognizing the correct pitch type and connecting with it very well.
As we can gather from the yellow lines in both tables, Hard% data has been steadily increasing over the last ten seasons, with hitters in the 1-5 spots finally cresting over 40% in 2018. This tells us that these batters are becoming more confident in knowing what pitch is coming on 3-0–and are doing some serious damage because of it.
From 2014 to 2018, we see a significant enough increase in Hard% that we may be able to predict a spike in OPS in the near future. Supporting our claim, OPS has risen alongside Hard% since 2014 for both halves of the lineup (although batters 1-5 tend to be having a bit more success). If batters are connecting with 3-0 pitches at 95+mph swing speed, then they are hitting those pitches with some tremendous exit velocity and launch angles, which explains higher OPS.
In conclusion, because pitchers aim to avoid walks, they almost always throw a fastball down the middle in a 3-0 count. As batters at both ends of the lineup begin to take advantage of the fastballs being thrown during 3-0 counts and swing harder and more often, walks and OBP decrease while solid contact and OPS increase.