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July 22, 2014

Moonshot

Accounting for Count

by Robert Arthur


The count controls all aspects of the batter-pitcher battle. From pitch type to location to swing tendencies all the way to the batted-ball outcome of a thrown pitch, nothing escapes the influence of the count. Like many statistics in baseball, credit for the count itself is difficult to parse. If a pitcher falls behind in a count, it could be because he is having trouble locating his pitches, or it could be because he is afraid to challenge the hitter in the zone. Conversely, a hitter’s ability to drive into favorable counts could be because of a good eye or a good approach or the ability to inspire a fear of the zone in the opposing pitcher.

I came to the conclusion recently that, because of the pervasive influence of the count, certain plate discipline statistics must be taken with a grain of salt (or an extra grain, if you were already taking them with the pre-recommended grain). I came to this realization because I was examining a certain hitter’s swing rate, and noticed that while his overall swing rate differed little between years, his swing rate on particular counts had changed quite substantially—that is to say, his approach, as a function of the count, had changed. However, when the positive and negative changes in swing rates were averaged, the overall difference in swing rate became muted, concealing the difference in approach.

It is well-known that swing rates differ depending on the count, but by way of introduction, consider this graph, which plots the league-average swing rate (among regulars in 2013) by count.

pastedGraphic.png

Hitters are generally more liable to swing as they get deeper into counts. The highest swing rate is on 3-2, somewhat surprising, and the lowest is 3-0, unsurprisingly (better to take the near-guaranteed walk). With each strike, swing rate increases massively, perhaps because there is less to lose when a strikeout is imminent.

The above pictures the league-average swing rates by count, however. If we are especially interested in what makes a good approach to the count, one way to examine the question would be to focus in only the best hitters. Consider, therefore, the swing rates of the top 10% (selected by TAv) hitters in baseball.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Minor League Update: G... (07/22)
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Premium Article Moonshot: Separating t... (07/30)
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Premium Article Prospects Will Break Y... (07/22)

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