Think the Game

Don’t Expand the Zone

The Situation:

The batter is down in the count 0-2 with 2 outs and a runner on third. The pitcher gets the sign for a curveball and comes set, visualizing a swing-and-miss pitch breaking down below the strike zone. It’s his go-to pitch when ahead in the count 0-2 or 1-2. In fact, the pitch tendency chart indicates he throws it over 80% of the time in those counts.

The Play:

The pitcher delivers and executes on his vision. The pitch darts below the strike zone, the bat, and into the dirt. The hitter swings and misses.

The Outcome:

The catcher cleanly blocks the pitch, recovers, and tags the batter out to end the inning before he can even get out of the box.

What Went Wrong?

You never want to find yourself in an 0-2 count, but if you do you have to sharpen your plan instead of panicking. The batter swings at the breaking ball in the dirt because he wants to “swing at anything close,” and failed to remember that the pitcher has a tendency to bounce breaking balls with two strikes. You may remember a similar lesson about using pitch tendency charts to help with approach from last week. If not, check it out here. That’s an important tool he could have used to his advantage, but we want to discuss the 2-strike approach more broadly and dissect the “swing at anything close” idea.

With two strikes, it is a common practice to try to “swing at anything close” in order to try and avoid strikeouts. However, if you take the time to look at most swinging strikeouts that happen in 0-2 and 1-2 counts, you would find that most of them come on pitches that are outside of the strike zone. Taking a second to remind yourself of how the pitcher is likely to try to get you out is a big step in these situations. Refresh your memory on the pitcher’s tendencies, his repertoire, and work to not expand the strike zone for him. Batting average drops like crazy with an 0-2 count because you must defend the entire strike zone. You can no longer rely on isolating certain zones or certain pitches. That doesn’t mean that you should expand the plate beyond 17 inches and make it even harder on yourself!

Most pitchers will have a go-to pitch when ahead and you can use your knowledge of that pitch to your advantage. If you get beat on a pitch inside the zone, tip your cap. But with knowledge of the pitch he’s likely to use to get you out and a focus on staying relaxed and inside the strike zone, you are much less likely to chase the breaking ball in the dirt. When 0-2, take a deep breath, don’t panic, and work hard to stay in the zone.