We can wax poetic about baseball fairly easily — some have pretty much made a career out of it. The greenness of the park, the sheer number of games, and it’s tight ties to history are all bullet points in the “why baseball is the best sport” argument. There’s also the pace of the game. Baseball doesn’t have a clock! It can go on forever! While this can get overplayed at some times, it certainly is a draw. We perhaps aren’t interested in watching six-hour games every day, but the inherent pace of the sport brings with it another facet — drama.
Every sport has dramatic moments. There are always points in a game where one’s palms can get sweaty and knees bounce in anticipation. College basketball — specifically the NCAA tournament — may hold a monopoly on this, at least as far as intensity goes. But baseball has the most high-drama moments, simply due to the fact that there are so many games. But that’s the exact reason we don’t think of baseball — at least regular season baseball — as high-drama. There are so many games. No matter what happens, there is a game tomorrow. The effect of one at-bat on an entire team’s season is far less than the effect of one play on a football team’s season. That’s just the numbers. But baseball has the most, certainly. And the king of dramatic situation — the great bringer of the bouncing knee — is the full count.
In almost every conceivable situation, a 3-2 count benefits the hitter. If a pitcher is walk-averse (which they usually should be), then a full count forces them to throw a pitch in or very near the stike zone. Hittable pitches are hit more easily than non-hittable pitches — hence the very well-labeled term. In 2013, the league had an .804 OPS in at-bats that reached a full count, versus a .714 OPS overall. Reaching a full count also means that the pitcher had to throw more pitches, which is something the opposing team likes. This is all coming back to the original point that 3-2 counts benefit the hitter, and if a hitter can work a full count, that is beneficial to his team. And in this, albeit narrow, sense, Paul Goldschmidt was very valuable in 2013.
The above is a list of all the hitters that saw 150 or more full-count pitches in 2013. Goldschmidt comes in second, with 195. The man at the top should come as no surprise. Joey Votto is famous (or infamous, depending on the source) for his patience. It makes sense that that would convert to many 3-2 pitches. But this just tells part of the story. While getting to a full count is good for a hitter, it also matters what he does with it.
When it comes to production on full counts, Goldschmidt and Shin-Soo Choo lead the pack. Votto cannot seem to hit 3-2 pitches for beans. He does have an insane walk rate, but his lack of production with the bat drives him down to the middle of the overall-production list. Some of the most patient hitters in the league can be seen above , which actually makes it kind of boring. It’s expected, almost. But there’s something I haven’t shown you yet.
Goldy not only works full counts, he stays in full counts, fouling off nearly 40% of the 3-2 pitches he sees. These are what radio and TV announcers refer to as “good at-bats.” I would probably also call them that, but I don’t carry the clout of a person on TV. Dave Cameron has been on TV, and he might call them “good at-bats,” but I’m too afraid to ask him and don’t want to remind him that he still lets me write here.
Where were we? Oh yeah. How? How is Paul Goldschmidt able to foul off so many pitches? It seems like where those pitches are thrown has a lot to do with it.
For some reason, pitchers are just not that interested in pitching around Paul Goldschmidt. Almost every full-count pitch he sees is in or near the strike zone. This confuses me. Certainly some of this has to do with the pitcher he’s facing, or perhaps the game situation, but it looks like a good deal of pitchers were unconcerned with throwing a 3-2 meatball to one of the best hitters in the league.
These are the 3-2 pitches thrown to Joey Votto. He saw many more pitches out of the strike zone, and pitchers also concentrated on pitching him away or tight inside. Very few meatballs here. Votto certainly (and deservingly) has a reputation as a formidable hitter. But Votto and Goldschmidt were tied this season in wRC+. Goldschmidt slugged better and had a higher wOBA. This was a down year for Votto, no doubt, but his reputation carried with him. It’s taking a while for Goldschmidt’s reputation to catch up, it seems
Are you one of the smarter pitchers that thinks it’s a good idea to not throw Goldschmidt such hittable pitches in full counts? Well tough crap! Because he’s just going to foul those off, too. He’s an eel waiting in the weeds for the juicy pray to come along. He has no interest in these scraps.
Goldschmidt’s ability to foul off so many pitches allows him to extend the at-bat and wait for a more hittable pitch. This plays at least some part in his impressive full-count stats. And while those stats carry a small sample size tag, full-count at-bats did make up 16% of his total this season, which isn’t insignificant. He hasn’t been in the league long enough for us to make a fair assumption as to whether this is an actual skill or not, but his combination of patience and foul-off-ability (totally not a real term) certainly contributed to a season that saw him rank sixth in wRC+ and ninth in WAR. It also allowed me to use a Bee Gees reference in the title, which has to count for something.
(PitchFX charts via Texas Leaguers)