With all of this talk about swinging away on a 3-0 count, it seems like a good idea to go over the twelve different possible counts in baseball so as to avoid upsetting Tony La Russa. While La Russa is not the only one who is upset about Yermin Mercedes hitting a home run on a 3-0 pitch, he is definitely carrying the largest pitchfork, even though he is Mercedes’ manager. But what is so wrong with hitting a home run on a 3-0 count, or on any other count for that matter? And why are old Tony and the rest of the keepers of tradition so up in arms about it?
First, let’s start with what a count is. Simply put, a count is the number of balls and strikes a batter has against him in his current at-bat. For example, let’s say that Willie Mays is batting and Don Drysdale is pitching. Drysdale throws his first pitch off the plate. “Ball one,” calls the umpire. That means the count is 1-0 (balls are the first number and strikes are the second). Drysdale throws another pitch and this time it catches the corner. “Strike one,” bellows the umpire. The count is now 1-1 (read “one and one”). This can go on all the way to a full count, which is 3-2. Why is this as far as it can go? Because four balls ends the at-bat with a walk and three strikes ends it with a strikeout. Past 3-2, there is no need for a count because the at-bat has concluded.
Different Counts and Their Significances
There are twelve different possible counts in baseball. They are 0-0 (meaning no pitches have been thrown), 0-1, 0-2, 1-2, 2-2, 3-2, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 1-1, 2-1, and 3-1. Some counts favor the pitcher, meaning they give the pitcher the advantage, and some counts favor the batter, meaning that the batter has the advantage. Furthermore, there are counts that don’t particularly lend favor to either party. Certain counts also carry baggage with them. This baggage is not written into the rules of major league baseball, but it is programmed into the DNA of a lot of major league players, managers, and coaches. The baggage can be called unwritten rules or baseball codes. That is what La Russa is so mad about.
There are three counts that tend to give an edge to a player that already has an edge. Let’s be honest, the pitcher already knows what kind of pitch is being thrown, what location they are throwing it to, and for the most part, how hard they are throwing it. The batter doesn’t know any of these things, unless, of course, you were a part of the Houston Astros during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. So, the counts that give the pitcher the edge are, drum roll please, 0-1, 0-2, and 1-2.
These three counts give the pitcher an unequivocal edge because they put the batter in a hole, meaning at a disadvantage. This is because these counts cause the batter to hit defensively. The counts 0-1, 0-2, and 1-2 are the three counts that make the batter most uncomfortable, nervous, and likely to make mistakes. They also force most batters (although this has changed of late, just take a look at the strikeout totals) to change their approaches at the plate in order to avoid striking out. Also, these counts give the pitcher some room to work with. They can throw a few sucker pitches and try to get the batters to swing at something that they shouldn’t.
Don’t worry, while it does seem that the lowly batters have the world against them, there is no need for total desperation. The batters actually have five counts that favor them. And these lucky counts are 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-1, and the center of all the controversy, 3-0. These counts favor the batter because the pitcher is afraid of falling behind in the count. The more the pitcher falls behind, the less they can afford to try to get batters out by causing them to chase bad pitches. These five counts mean that the pitcher is more likely to throw the ball right over (or closer to) the plate in order to avoid walking the batter. The batter knows this. This knowledge causes the salivary glands of the batter to secrete saliva (drooling). This means that the batter is hungry and on a 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-1, and 3-0 count, they can go hunting for their perfect pitch. Simply put, the batter is more likely to knock the cover off of the ball on one of these counts.
The Other Counts
The other counts don’t necessarily make the batter or the pitcher feel all that nervous or excited. Although, 3-2 makes everyone feel both of those things.
So Tony Is Still Mad
Oh yeah, Tony. Why is he so mad at his own player for hitting a home run? La Russa is steaming because of a few of those unwritten rules. The first perceived problem is that the Chicago White Sox (Tony’s and Mercedes’ team) were beating the Minnesota Twins by a score of 15-4 when Mercedes came to the plate. The baseball code here is that you don’t run up the score, thus embarrassing your opponent. The second problem is that La Russa told Mercedes to take the pitch. The code here, and just good work-life knowledge, is that you should probably listen to your boss when they tell you to do something. If you don’t, your boss, or in this case manager, is most likely going to be mad at you. But those aside, what does any of this have to do with counts?
Mercedes was batting with a 3-0 count. This count is the granddaddy of batters’ counts. The pitcher is going to groove one right over the plate. The batter knows this. The pitcher knows this. And it puts lots of advantage in the hands of the batter, in this case, Mercedes’. This count also carries with it an unwritten rule. You don’t swing away on 3-0, especially when you are leading by that much. So what did Mercedes do? He swung away and tattoed the pitch over the fence. Tony and the protectors of tradition are mad. Mercedes and the new school are just trying to play ball the best that they can. Is anybody really wrong here? Let’s just live and let live. Time moves on. Things change. You can roll with it or not, but either way, the counts will stay the same.
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