By Ryan Sienko
Although every pitch is very is very important, learning what counts are the most important will not only make you a smart catcher, but it will help keep pitchers in the ball game longer and translate into more wins for the team.
Here are the counts of a ball game listed in order of urgency:
0 Balls 0 Strikes
First pitch strikes are essential to a successful battery. If a 1st pitch strike is thrown, you have an opportunity to not only have the batter put the ball in play, but to be ahead of the hitter for the entire at-bat.
1 Ball 1 Strike
This count is called a swing count. The pitcher has an opportunity to either get ahead or fall behind the batter. The 1-2 count will dictate many things. In a 1-2 count situation you have a lot of options as a signal caller, but in a 2-1 count you are challenged more.
2 Balls 1 Strike
This is called an action count. Many times you will see movement with runners in a 2-1 count. The reason being 2-1 is a fastball count, because the pitcher needs to throw a strike making it a perfect time for a hit and run or a chance to score easily from first on a double because the runner can get a running start. A pitcher and catcher do not want to fall further behind (3-1) so the count dictates the pitcher’s command pitch which, in most cases, is a fastball. A pitcher that can command a change-up can have some success in a 2-1 count because of the aggressiveness towards fastball swings.
0 Balls 2 Strikes
Once the pitcher gets into an 0-2 count, the hitter is really on the ropes. He must expand his strike zone slightly to protect from striking out. The options in this count are endless. In baseball, lead-off walks and 0-2 hits are deadly to pitchers so one must look at an 0-2 count as an opportunity to put a hitter away. 0-2 counts are a great time to, 1) Bounce breaking balls 2) Elevate fastballs 3) Paint a corner or 4) Move a batter’s feet to set up another pitch. Pitches above the head or way off the plate are wasteful and do not set up anything else. Let the pitcher know to 1) Miss down if trying to bounce a breaking ball 2) Miss up, shoulder high, if trying to elevate 3) Miss away if trying to paint an outside corner and 4) Miss in-off if trying to move the feet inside. All of these scenarios are basically saying keep the ball from the middle of the plate in this count, and if you follow these guidelines the worst that can happen is a 1-2 count in which you still have many options.
1 Ball 2 Strikes
1-2 is an action count even though the pitcher is still ahead, because he doesn’t want to get the count back to even (2-2). Another reason 1-2 is an action count is, being the 4th pitch of the at-bat, the pitcher is on the verge of throwing too many pitches to the hitter. If a starting pitcher averages three to four pitches per at-bat, he will be able to pitch longer into games not only qualifying for wins, but saving the bullpen from having to be over-worked. Most of the best hitters in the game average over four pitches per at-bat. At the All-Star break of 2009, Jason Werth leads the Major Leagues with 4.5 pitcher per at-bat. Kevin Youkilis averages 4.47. Chase Utley averages 4.1 and the Tampa Bay Rays average 3.99 per at-bat as a team.
2 Balls 2 Strikes
2-2 is another swing count. The pitcher can either get the hitter to put the ball in play, get a foul ball, get a strikeout, or the count runs full at 3-2. This is a count where you have to be sure you throw a command pitch. The command pitch is the pitch that one knows he can throw for a strike. The 3-1 count can be put in this same category.
3 Balls 2 Strikes
For obvious reasons this is an important count to throw a strike in. A ball equals a walk. Walks find many different ways to score and outs get the game over with. As a general rule, whatever pitch you threw 2-2 you should throw 3-2. The command pitch to make sure it is a strike. By throwing a strike, you put the pressure on the hitter to make something happen.
Ryan is the founder of Catch & Throw and also is the Catching Coordinator for the 2017 & 2018 National League Champions, and 2020 World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. He held the position of Assistant Catching Coordinator for the Los Angeles Dodgers from January 2015 to Oct 2018. Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org