The 3-0 pitch has become the last great hitter’s count left in baseball. Last season, there were 7,197 pitches thrown in 3-0 counts across the league and 6,838 of them, or 95%, were fastballs. Compare that to 2-0 counts, where out of 23,542 pitches, only 17, 134 of them, or 72%, were fastballs. Or a 1-0 counts, where out of 69,777 pitches, only 41,801 of them, or 60% of them were fastballs. The only count where a hitter can expect to see anywhere close to the percentage of fastballs they see in 3-0 counts is its closest relative, the 3-1 count. And even that is only 78% of the time. So out of all the so-called hitter-friendly counts in baseball, only one of them, the 3-0 count, did hitters see fastballs more than 80% of the time.
This is all relevant to us because the Braves swung at 3-0 counts at the highest clip in the National League last season, and the second highest clip in all of baseball. Atlanta saw 231 pitches last season in a 3-0 count and swung at 50 of them, for a 22% swing rate. Only the Texas Rangers at 24% ran a higher percentage. And the amount of fastballs they saw in those counts was remarkably similar to the league-wide number. As stated above, the league saw a fastball 95% of the time in 3-0 counts, and as a team, the Braves saw fastballs 94% of the time in 3-0 counts. The 50 times the Braves swung in a 3-0 count last season, 49 of them, or 98%, were fastballs.
So if you are any thing like me, you’re wondering what happened in those 50 swings. Let’s go find out.
In 22 of the 50 swings, the pitch was fouled off. I think my favorite one is this one because Madison Bumgarner threw a 91-mph center-cut fastball to the hottest hitter on the planet at the time and lived to tell about it:
Riley roped the 3-0 pitch foul and then a couple of pitches later, did this:
In 12 of the 22 instances, the Atlanta batter eventually reached base in the at-bat after fouling off the 3-0 pitch, the Riley homer above being an example, but also including 7 walks. In the other 10, the batter was eventually retired. My favorite one of those is this one because I would've given anything to see where this would've landed had Ronnie squared it up:
A fully healthy knee and Acuña sends that one to Mars. Watching all the foul balls, the Braves took mighty hacks in pretty much all of them, which is what you should be doing if you’re swinging 3-0. No one should be trying to poke a 3-0 single through the right side.
So with 22 of the 50 swings resulting in foul balls, that leaves 28 we still need to check.
Of the 28 remaining swings, 6 of them were swinging strikes. The most notable one of those is this one from Austin Riley because it represent the only one of the 50 swings that wasn't a fastball:
That’s a ridiculous pitch 3-0 and all you do is tip your cap, though Riley did eventually walk in the AB. The other interesting one of the 6 swinging strikes is this one from Dansby:
It’s interesting because one, Armstrong challenged Dansby with a fastball right down the middle, which normally is not advisable and two, because Swanson got the last laugh a couple of pitches later:
Again, same with fouls balls, in all 6 instances of swings and missing on 3-0, the Braves were aiming for the fences.
So with 22 of the 50 being foul balls and 6 being swinging strikes, that obviously means the Braves put 22 pitches into play last season on 3-0 counts, which was tied with Houston for the most in baseball. Let’s run through them.
We’ll start with the most fun, the four bombs:
Contreras vs Texas
Swanson vs San Diego
Riley vs Seattle
Contreras vs Philadelphia
Four of them were 100+ mph base hits:
Acuña vs New York
Swanson vs Philadelphia
Contreras vs Philadelphia
Riley vs St Louis
Then of course, there's always your bad luck. Here's three examples where the outcomes certainly could've been more favorable:
And then there are the ones where the hitter certainly wants a do-over:
And the award for absolute worst 3-0 swing of the season, one that ended a game, goes to Orlando Arcia. Apologies Orlando:
All totaled up, the Braves put 22 3-0 pitches into play in 2022, posting a .364 batting average (8-22), a .955 slugging percentage, and a .555 wOBA. The expected stats were also a very similar with a .390 xBA, a .996 xSLG, and a .581 xwOBA. As you can see, when big league hitters get to an actual fastball count, and swing aggressively, they do serious damage.
And there you have it folks. 50 swings on 3-0 counts, 22 fouled off, 6 swinging strikes, and 22 put into play resulting in a .555 wOBA. With “backwards pitching’ becoming more and more prevalent, the 3-0 count has become the only true “fastball count” hitters can rely on and the Braves go for as much damage as possible.
We’ll track it all again in 2023.