What Should Pitchers Throw in an 0-2 Count? Red Sox AAA Pitching Coach Weighs In

Both Sides of the 0-2 Debate

Today we are diving into a pitching discussion about what a pitcher should throw in a 0-2 count. Essentially, there are two sides of this passionate argument:

1.   DO NOT in any circumstance throw a strike.  Either throw a breaking ball in the dirt, high fastball, or something off the plate.  The pros?  It gives the batter a chance to get himself out.  The cons?  A pitcher frequently wastes a pitch on something nowhere near the zone and gives that batter a free ball.

2.   A pitcher should do everything to be efficient.  Throwing pressure pitches (pitches close, but not in the strike zone) is preferred and contact is encouraged, because it will normally be weak if the pitcher hits his spot.  The pros?  It keeps pitch counts low and the pitcher aggressive.  The cons?  The pitcher is more likely to miss in the strike zone and give up a 0-2 hit.

I’ve heard both sides argued adamantly.  Before I share with you the perspective of a professional pitching coach I recently spoke with, let me share a little bit about my last 24 hours …

Side Story 

So, I have spent the last two days in Santiago, Dominican Republic.  Even though it was supposed to be a relaxing vacation with my wife, I found myself surrounded by great baseball people… I promise I wasn’t trying!  First off, in case you missed it, Manny Ramirez played in his first Dominican Winter League game of the season yesterday and went yard (hit a HR) on the first pitch he saw… Then he ate breakfast at the hotel we were staying at, and I was told by our waiter that we’d missed him by 15 minutes. AHHHHHHH!!! Hanging out with Manny is #4 on my top 10 baseball bucket list.  Guess it’ll have to wait.

Second, I met Royals’ back-up catcher Brayan Peña playing pool at our hotel.  Awesome dude, and generous enough to do an NLB interview with me (coming soon).  The guy has a great story, coming from Cuba, to Costa Rica, and eventually signing with the Braves and working his way up to the big leagues… more to come!

 

Third and finally, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with former big league pitcher and current Red Sox AAA pitching coach Rich Sauveur.  Rich is currently in Santiago as the pitching coach for Las Aguilas (Manny and Miguel Tejada’s team) in the very competitive Dominican Winter League.

Red Sox AAA Pitching Coach Shares His 0-2 Philosophy

The conversation turned to 0-2 counts after I asked him,“What’s the biggest adjustment you’ve had your pitching staff make so far this season?”

Rich’s answer (paraphrased):

“The biggest adjustment I’ve had our guys make has been our approach with 0-2 counts.  Early on this season, we were giving up way too many 0-2 hits.  A week ago, I finally had a sit-down meeting with our entire pitching staff and got after them a little bit.  Essentially what I said was this:  ’From here on out, every 0-2 pitch is going to either be a curveball in the dirt or a high fastball.  No exceptions!  Since then, we have gone 6-1 and haven’t given up an 0-2 hit until tonight.’ “

Side note: When their pitcher gave up that 0-2 hit, the pitcher threw a change up that turned into a double. Rich may have showed me his black and blue shin from kicking a nearby bat after that exchange. 

Rich went on to say that he does the same thing with his AAA guys.  Essentially he says,

“Give the hitter one chance to get himself out, and if he doesn’t, then do whatever you want.”

So what do you guys think?  Should pitchers waste that 0-2 pitch or go after the batter with something in or close to the strike zone?

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6 Responses to What Should Pitchers Throw in an 0-2 Count? Red Sox AAA Pitching Coach Weighs In

  1. Dennis Burtt says:

    I agree with Rich. Fastball up and in or breaking ball down and away. You’re not giving the hitter a ball, you are setting the hitter up for the next pitch. Fastball ball up and in keeps the hitter from diving in to hit the outside pitch. If you do it early in the game and the hitters notice it, you can change and go away later in the game. Mix it up and sometimes double up on the same pitch. If you go Fastball up and in maybe throw Fastball inside for a strike on the next pitch. Use each pitch to set up the next pitch. Just stay away from the 0-2 hit!

  2. Franco,

    Excellent topic! I think you have to weigh a few things when looking at an 0-2 count. First, what are the pitcher’s strengths? Can he execute a “purpose” pitch to set up the hitter? (I don’t like to call them waste pitches. Every pitch should have a purpose when it’s thrown.) Second, what type of hitter is at the plate? Can you go right after him, or do you need that set up pitch to turn the AB into an out?

    I think if a pitching staff as a whole is giving up lots of 0-2 hits, then you can do what Rich did and address the bigger picture by laying down an easy to follow game plan for the staff.

    All that being said, a high and tight fastball or low and away breaking ball are not the only two options for purpose pitches on 0-2 counts. 0-2 fastballs about 2-3 inches off the outside corner can sometimes get an umpire to ring a guy up looking. Then there’s the 2-seamer down and in that appears to be a strike when thrown but dives down and out of the zone when the hitter offers at it. There are plenty of other options. The guy on the mound just has to execute correctly.

  3. John LaCorte says:

    Franco,

    Great post! I do not believe that any pitch should ever be “wasted”, there should be a purpose behind every pitch that you throw. My philosophy is that you never know what pitch you are going to throw next until you throw the pitch before it. How the hitter reacts to the 0-1 pitch may change your mind on how you thought you were going to approach the hitter 0-2.

    0-2 hits aren’t necessarily a bad thing in my opinion…now if we are giving up 0-2 extra base hits or 0-2 hits with 2 outs then we may have a problem. My question to him would be, “what does wasting a pitch set-up?” I think 0-2 pitches in the dirt and high are appropriate when the pitcher really believes that this is his best chance of getting the hitter out.

    I am a firm believer that you can get hitters out by pitching in the strike zone. Change speeds, location, and pay attention to a hitters body language to certain pitches and you will have success in 0-2 counts pitching in the zone.

  4. ZITA CARNO says:

    My wise and wonderful pitching coach, who was also a member of the Yankees’ Big Three rotation from 1948 to the middle of 1955, told me that as a strategic move he would throw pitches that looked like strikes. By that he meant pitches that were just off the corners—close enough that the umpire could call them either way. He also emphasized the importance of changing speeds, changing the batter’s eye level, getting him to chase after such a pitch. So I would do that once in a while, but because I was a natural sidearmer who used the crossfire almost all the time I preferred to go after the batter on the 0-2 count—and nine times out of ten that batter would just stand there and go “duh” on a knuckle-curve or some such pitch that clipped the corner for a nice neat strike.
    And I gave up very few hits. All singles. No walks—oh, how I hated those walks! And there was The Bug…:)
    My wise and wonderful pitching coach once told me that he would throw pitches that looked like strikes—change speeds, change the batter’s eye level, get him to go after a pitch out of the strike zone. I did that once in a while, but I preferred to go after the guy on an 0-2 count and just plain strike him out. And he would go back to his dugout fuming and foaming at the mouth and cussing a blue streak.

    • ZITA CARNO says:

      WHOOPS! This computer of mine refuses to behave itself; it jumps around like a jackrabbit on steroids. Anyhoo, I’ve said my piece.

  5. Fred Franco says:

    Great comments from knowledgeable pitchers! A lot of insight on the details of pitching!

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