Green Light a Sign of Change in Approach at the Plate
Mike Brandyberry | On 23, Mar 2013
By Mike Brandyberry
Statistics and records don’t matter in Spring Training, but little things inside the game and how a team plays the game makes all the difference.
Thursday, the Cleveland Indians sent a subtle message to the American League they may be much more aggressive than they have been in seasons past. With two on and two out in the top of the first inning, Michael Brantley had a three ball, no strike count against the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Ian Kennedy. Brantley was given the green light to swing and drove the 3-0 fastball deep into the right field lawn beyond the fence, giving the Tribe an early 3-0 lead.
Brantley admitted later the green light on a 3-0 count was surprising and something he would not have seen in previous years. However, Indians Manager Terry Francona thinks it’s an opportunity to be aggressive if used correctly.
“When you have men on base, and you have a good fastball hitter, hitting, I think it’s great,” Francona said. “The idea is to put guys in position to do some damage and you saw what he did.”
The old adage is that if a hitter is ahead in the count 3-0, it’s best to take the next pitch. Another ball, from a pitcher not throwing strikes, results in another base runner and keeps the lineup moving. However, Francona feels the opportunity doesn’t just present a chance at a walk, but at a chance to select pitch in their hitter’s zone and take a trot around the bases.
“I never quite understood why so many people just automatically take 3-0,” Francona said. “If you’re a smart enough hitter and you’re able to just say, ‘I’m gonna get a certain pitch in a certain spot,’ it’s like a free swing.”
Some managers are fearful that free swing could result in a poor decision. Since the best hitters in Major League Baseball are only successful three out of ten times, taking an unnecessary swing can have negative results. Francona thinks even missed aggression can build confidence for the next pitch.
“A lot of times if a guy swings 3-0 and fouls the ball back, because they took a good healthy swing, they feel better about the next pitch. And I think it breeds confidence,” Francona said.
But what about hitters who take a poor swing, pop out or take a unproductive swing resulting in an out. Could a red light have been more beneficial?
“When you think about it, if he swung at a 3-0 pitch and popped it up, chances are you’re going to do the same thing on 3-1,” Francona said. “You’re just trying to put yourself in the best position to succeed. If a guy happens to swing at a bad pitch on 3-0, it’s not the end of the world.”
“Too often, you take the best hitter’s count there can possibly be and take the bat out of the hitter’s hand. It doesn’t make sense to me,” Francona said.
After Brantley’s three-run homer, Mark Reynolds struck out swinging to end the inning. Had Brantley walked, the Tribe may not have scored. Considering how prone the Tribe will be to strikeouts this season, being extra aggressive in hitter’s counts seems like a fair way to tilt the offensive advantage back to the Indians.
So while the Indians may be more aggressive in counts, Francona does acknowledge the importance of picking the appropriate place to swing away at a 3-0 pitch. While he doesn’t think the hitter matters—a power hitter or contact hitter—the right game situation does make a difference.
“When it’s more important to get a base runner, then you give a take sign,” Francona said. “If you can’t tie the game up with one swing, then you don’t swing and our guys know that. Other than that, it’s a great time to hit.”
In the meantime, look for the Tribe’s light to be a bit greener than the past, along with a different offensive approach and production.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer