Home > MLB, Stats > An Observation: the Count seems to be More Important in Baseball than Ever Before

An Observation: the Count seems to be More Important in Baseball than Ever Before

I have no hard evidence to back the theory that I am about to present, but I noticed earlier this month that the teams who were “sellers” at the MLB trade deadline (which just passed this last Sunday) have one common link: their inability to prevent runs.  Now, obviously, this is not a new deal to people in the know: bad teams are bad teams because either they score too few runs, or they give up too many runs.  With the exception of the punchless offenses in Oakland and Seattle this year, it’s pretty much exclusive to just the bad run prevention units that they are out of it.

There are bad offenses all over the place in baseball this year, and many of those teams are still in the hunt.  The LA Angels’ offense isn’t useful at all, but they’re 1.5 games out of first place.  Atlanta leads the wild card race, but they’ve done it without the benefit of an above average offense.  Pittsburgh is fading, but they weren’t scoring much even when they were winning.  The Giants have scored the fewest runs in the AL, and in fact have only outscored the hapless Mariners by 20 runs.  They’re leading their division.  Bad defense/pitching units though?  Pretty much just the Tigers are still in the hunt among teams that have given up 500+ runs this year.

My other observation here is that I’ve found the umpiring (balls/strikes, tag/no tag) to be more erratic this year than in other years.  But empirically, this is not the case.  The difference is that the strong offenses are doing a good job getting themselves into favorable batter’s counts, and likewise, the pitchers on bad teams are doing a bad job of staying ahead of hitters.  The effect of this, I believe, is that struggling teams are more sensitive to the variance in umpire calls.  And that bad defensive units are unable to get out of the cycle of balls and hittable pitches.

In the past, I think baseball had been more balanced between scoring and preventing runs.  The count mattered in the past, but it mattered for all hitters.  I’ve noticed that weaker hitters — more abundant in this current hitting environment — don’t capitalize on the extreme hitters counts (2-0), (3-1) like good hitters do.  That trend isn’t exclusive to this year: good hitters have always dominated in hitters’ counts.  But if you’re a team that has the pitching staff of the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros, or Chicago Cubs, one of the biggest single reasons for all the losing is that it’s become nearly impossible to expect called third strikes to be called in pitcher favorable counts.  Though the umpires aren’t doing anything fundamentally different from any other year, the depressed run environment means that every run counts, and sometimes on the margins, a good pitch that gets called a ball, or a check swing that gets appealed and ruled no swing — those events are having a greater effect on the outcome of the game in this run environment than they were just three years ago.

And it would be great if someone could run the numbers on this, but I believe that this is related to the disparate way that we’re seeing teams struggling with run prevention struggle in the win column, relative to their run differential.

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