Last night, the Yankees played the Blue Jays, and in the fourth inning, Phil Hughes faced Yorvit Torrealba. Odds are you weren’t watching that game, and even if you were watching that game, odds are you weren’t paying particularly close attention to Phil Hughes facing Yorvit Torrealba in the top of the fourth. Anyhow, Hughes fell behind in the count 3-and-0 with three straight curves. Hughes came back with a fastball in the zone, and Torrealba was given the green light. Torrealba swung right through it. Two pitches later, Torrealba struck out, and the inning was over.
Including intentional walks, there have been nearly 7,000 3-and-0 counts so far this season. Excluding intentional walks, there have been fewer than that. If my numbers are correct, then in 471 3-and-0 counts did the batter swing. There were four such swings Tuesday night. Jeff Bianchi homered with one of them and you probably don’t even know who that is. Congratulations to Jeff Bianchi on baseball’s 23rd 3-and-0 dinger of the year.
It seems to me there’s nothing inherently wrong with a 3-and-0 green light, because pitchers will throw a lot of hittable pitches and it’s good to swing at hittable pitches. It also seems to me that it should never be easier to make contact than it is in a 3-and-0 count. In that situation, as a hitter, you’re looking to swing only at something fairly straight, and only at something more or less down the middle. “Dead red,” basically. If you don’t get that pitch, you shouldn’t swing. If you do get that pitch, you should hurt it, because you were looking for it.
Of course, there’s theory and then there’s reality. Hitters aren’t perfect, and sometimes when they’re given the green light 3-and-0 and they swing, they screw up. What follows is a brief examination of one of the ways in which they can screw up: getting that pitch and swinging right through it. What follow are .gifs of the five 3-and-0 whiffs on fastballs closest to right down the middle from 2012 to date.
Note no. 1: it is very difficult to hit a major-league fastball! I probably could not do it! Major-league hitters are well trained and we take their abilities for granted, but every pitch they see is a major-league pitch and major-league pitches are the best pitches in the world. It only looks bad to swing through a heater down the middle when you compare the guy swinging to the very best swingers. That is a very high standard.
Note no. 2: even when you whiff on 3-and-0, you’re still ahead 3-and-1, and that is a very hitter-friendly count. Better to whiff on 3-and-0 than to make weak contact on 3-and-0, because one of those is only a strike and the other is probably an out. These are not the worst swings of the season.
Note no. 3: this has zero analytical value and is intended only as fun. I don’t even know if I’ve set it up properly; I just wanted to see who whiffed on the most dead-red 3-and-0 fastball. I got my answer and I’m satisfied. For actual analysis and content of value, read what Dave has written about FDP and pitcher WAR. For this, read this.
And now for our list and our .gifs. I have never felt more Internet than I feel at this very moment.
Something you’ll observe with a lot of attempted 3-and-0 swings is a hint of extra vigor. Not only are hitters sitting dead red; they’re sitting dead red and preparing for a power swing. If you’ve ever played a baseball video game, you know that power swings result in less frequent contact. Baseball video games are modeled after baseball so they have to be correct. It would be interesting to see contact rates on all counts. It would also be interesting to see what the contact rates on all counts would be if hitters attempted the same swings. 3-and-0 contact is probably a little lower than it should be, because hitters might take more chances. Swisher had a little oomph in that swing up there.
This isn’t a tie with the pitch to Swisher because this pitch was nine-thousandths of an inch closer to the center of the zone. Viciedo swings and then falls across to the other batter’s box. I am pretty sure this is what every Dayan Viciedo swing looks like. The very next pitch was a fastball in the exact same spot and Viciedo mashed it for a dinger. Who knew that it might not work again!
This is footage of Carlos Quentin not getting hit in the arm by a pitched baseball. This is the only such footage that exists.
Look at how well located that pitch is, given the target. Look at how fluidly it’s caught. Look at Rasmus’ silky-smooth swing. Split into components, this was a very beautiful baseball play. The only problem is that Colby Rasmus swung through a 3-and-0 fastball just about right down the middle of the zone.
That camera angle is horribly off-center so you can’t tell just how much of a meatball that pitch really was. Thankfully the MLB.com Gameday angle is not off-center. What did you think about this pitch, MLB.com Gameday?
Dexter Fowler was batting righty, and he was ahead in the count 3-and-0. Tom Gorzelanny pitches lefty, and he threw a fastball right down the very middle, and nothing about Tom Gorzelanny’s fastball could ever be considered overpowering. This clocked in at 91.7 miles per hour. Fowler swung right through. He proceeded to strike out. There was no other way for this to go because that 3-and-0 execution was downright embarrassing. Relative to the rest of the world’s elite baseball players. Always gotta remember that.
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