Umpire's counts

There’s probably more things in baseball connected to the “umpire’s count”, than anything else. Its extremely important to pitchers because it has a lot to do with what pitch they’ll choose to throw. And as important as it is to pitching, it may be even more important to hitting. It has a lot to do with base running too, and make no mistake, defensively players pay a lot of attention to it as well.

The counts are also one of the most recognized sports icons too, and I’d venture a guess that most people in this country know them. And each count has its own “tale” too, plus every “tale” is different, which is why people are always asking what the count is. They want to know because it allows them to make an informed guess as to what’s going to happen on the next pitch.

There are 11 different umpire’s counts.

    0-0 0-1 0-2 1-0 2-0 3-0 1-1 1-2 2-1 2-2 3-2

But there are 4 counts which are just a bit more “special” than any of the others because their “tale” can change. Yup. Those pesky 2 strike counts can fake you out if you’re not paying attention.

FI, let’s say you’re one of those crafty old coaches always lookin’ for an edge, so you track the tendencies of your opponents. In doing that, you find the opposing coach, who calls the pitches, TENDS to call a big breaking pitch on 0-2 counts. So, you tell your hitters to look for that pitch when the count’s 0-2, to improve their odds of not making a mistake.

In general I’d say that was an excellent thing to do, and for sure it would be if it was the 3rd pitch coming. But the fly in the ointment is, it could be the 3rd pitch, but it doesn’t have to be because of foul balls. What happens is, if the 3rd pitch, a big breaking ball is fouled off, the chances the 4th will be another one are less. And if it was, the chances of the 5th being the same thing is even less. So really, at some point in time, guessing at what to look for based on past tendencies, could actually be a detriment.

And not only can that same thing could happen on any of the 2 strike umpire counts, for the 2 strike counts that have balls in them, the 1-2, 2-2, and 3-2 counts can come about in different ways. FI, a 1-2 count could have been BSS, SBS, SSB, BSSS, SSBS, SBSS, BSSSS, SBSS, SSSBS, SSSSB, and it goes on and on, and in each different case, the next pitch becomes less predictable. But that’s one of the great things about the game! Coaches and players who understand that and allow for it, are really doing themselves and everyone on their team a favor.

But the question in my mind is, how many people actually consciously think about that? I know in my role as an SK, there isn’t a game that goes by where some batter hasn’t fouled off a 2 strike pitch, but the “chatter” from the other players, coaches, and fans doesn’t change! They’re telling the batter to look curveball in the dirt or something like it on 0-2, whether it’s the 3rd pitch or the 10th!

But how about the coach who’s tracked all those tendencies? Do you suppose he’s broken the tendencies down what pitch it is in sequence, or by the umpire’s count?


In working with a coach on something he does that I’m trying to help him “automate” to some degree, I changed the data I have on individual pitches a bit. I’d always tracked them by their pitch in sequence rather than the umpire’s count they were thrown on.

The reason I never worried about the umpire’s count, is that unlike most people, I’ve never seen that as the driving force for anything, especially given that most of the umpire’s counts can come about in different ways. FI, a 2-1 count could have taken place as BBS, BSB, or SBB, and the decision about what to try to do on that 4th pitch can be very much affected by what took place before.

Because of that, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to even try to come up with any kind of metric based on the umpire’s pitch count. I’ve done 2 different ones which can be seen at

The 1st shows each pitcher and what they did on each count, and the 2nd that starts on page 5 shows each count and what the pitchers did on it. But to be honest, to me all it is, is throwing numbers on a piece of paper that don’t have a lot of meaning.

So, I’m asking what, if anything, any of you use umpire’s counts for, and if you had every pitch of ever at bat and what happened on it available to you, what you might want to see.

You are, of course, assuming that the batter is one of those patient guys who will take pitches, hoping to get the count in his favor (2-1, 3-1, 3-2) and either work a walk or look for a pitch he can hit. But suppose you have a guy at bat who will go after the first pitch no matter where it is. So you have to get ahead in the count and stay ahead of that hitter, and that means getting that first pitch in there for a strike. When you get that 0-1 count you’re already ahead of the game.
It also means you have to know the hitter, his strengths as well as his weaknesses, how he stands at the plate (does he crowd the plate or pull back as he swings?), whether he gives any indication he might bunt, whether he chops down at the pitch or uppercuts, whether he’s a dead pull hitter or will go to the opposite field or just hit the ball where it’s pitched—a pitcher has to be aware of all these things, and that should tell him how to pitch to this guy so as to get him out. And that means get ahead of the hitter and stay ahead of him, whether you’re going for the strikeout or pitching to contact (as my pitching coach once said, “Make the batter go after your pitch, what you want him to hit”).
And the less the ump has to worry about the various ball-and-strike counts the less chance of throwing his arm out! 8)