Ball Two, or the most boring play in baseball

Tom Scocca pays homage to ball two, or what he describes as the most boring play in baseball. 

“Ball two stands alone, above any of the other dull business on the diamond. The intentional walk at least adds a base runner to the game. The halfhearted throw to first to check the runner is a sign that the pitcher is feeling tension. But ball two signifies almost nothing,” he writes for the Boston Globe

It is disapointing then, that for a self-professed baseball lover, Scocca misses the mark of the significance of ball two.  Baseball is a game of long con, of team chess, where winning depends largely on strategic decisions and subtle variances. 

Contrary to signifying nothing, ball two is one of those subtle variances.  Ball two can indirectly change the entire complexion of a game of baseball. 


Using a statistical measurement from Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski, Scocca argues that not much changes when a batter takes ball two. 

But the numbers also show the points where nothing happens. Batters who fell behind 1-2 batted .190. If they got ball two, their average crept up to only .205. “[T]here is nothing really even about a 2-2 count,” Posnanski wrote. “The pitcher is still firmly in control.”

But those numbers are completely misleading.  The statistics you need to examine are the players batting averages when ball two affects the count.  Based on statistics from the 2007 MLB season, ball two had a significant, if subtle, effect on games.  Here are the batting averages based upon count.

You’ll notice that there isn’t much difference between 1-2 and 2-2 counts, as Posnanski notes and Scocca reiterates. 

0-0 = .344
1-0 = .341

2-0 = .351
3-0 = .394

0-1 = .324
1-1 = .327

2-1 = .338
3-1 = .368

0-2 = .166
1-2 = .178

2-2 = .195
3-2 = .233

But there is a markedly huge difference between counts 2-1 (.338) and 1-2 (.178) and a slight difference between 2-0 (.351) and 1-1 (.327).  Those are the counts when ball two matters.  Ball two matters in relation to it not being a strike. 

So yes, while ball two, may on the surface, have little significance to the overall complexion to a baseball game — at least in comparison to say, more impactful offensive strikes like: the triple, the walk-off homerun, the stolen base or suicide squeeze, — it is the essence of baseball.  It is a minor event that can have drastic impacts.  For ball two is the minor rumble which makes all major quakes possible.

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