What are pitchers like Stroman, Smyly, Giolito thinking on an 0-2 count?

Throughout my short — and mostly unsuccessful — pitching career as a youth, I had coaches who drilled one thought into my head whenever the count went to no balls, two strikes.

“Throw a waste pitch.”

High, low, outside, inside — make the guy go fishing, but do not throw a strike.

As the years went by, I was always flabbergasted when a major leaguer would give up a hit in that situation. And not just meaningless hits: Two-run singles, bases-clearing doubles — heck, even grand slams.

How can you do that??? What were you thinking???

So I set out to investigate exactly that — what ARE guys thinking when the count goes 0-2?

A half-dozen pitchers chimed in, as did Cubs manager David Ross.

So let’s get started …

Have a plan

Years ago, former Cub and Hall of Famer Greg Maddux chimed in on this subject and said he goes “right after” hitters at 0-2 because that’s when they’re most vulnerable.

“Why waste a pitch?” Maddux asked. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen in the game. People are scared to death of giving up hits on 0-2 counts. It’s the lowest batting average of any count.”



Waste pitches also needlessly run up a pitch count and allow hitters to get back into the at-bat. While the league average hovers around .155 on 0-2 counts, they rise to around .190 when the count goes full.

“The main thing for me this season has been eliminating those noncompetitive pitches,” said the Cubs’ Justin Steele. “If it’s nowhere near the zone, you might as well not throw the pitch and just say it’s 1-2. The hitters up here are just too good to be wasting pitches.”

Almost every pitcher interviewed talked about trying to throw a pitch that looks like a strike for a long time, but then having the ball dip or dive out of the zone at the last moment.

Two of the more specific responses came from Lucas Giolito, whom the White Sox traded to the Angels on Wednesday, and Cubs veteran Drew Smyly.

Smyly said if a hitter takes his 0-2 offering, he’ll sometimes throw the exact same pitch at 1-2.



“When I was younger that was something Max Scherzer used to tell me,” said Smyly, who is holding hitters to a .159 average on 0-2 counts over his career. “If you get ahead 0-2 and he takes the next pitch, it doesn’t mean you have to throw a (strike). It’s really hard to lay off that pitch twice in row.

“In his head, he’s thinking, ‘OK. I just spit on that pitch. Now I’m gonna get something else and he’s gonna come back in the zone.'”

Giolito, who scouts where each hitter likes to chase beforehand, will attack some guys with a changeup around the knees, knowing he can get some to miss that pitch. He’ll also throw a pitch that dives out of the zone by “tunneling it off the previous pitch.” Or he’ll throw a high fastball.

“But not too high,” Giolito said. “Guys don’t chase that high very often.

“It’s not like you have to be perfect. If you accidentally bounce it, you’re only 1-2 and you can use that pitch to set up another one. The biggest thing is you don’t want to hang it or miss middle with a heater and give up that 0-2 base hit because that’s a punch in the gut.”


So why do we see hitters succeed at times on 0-2 counts?

“Well, it’s not a perfect science,” Steele said with a chuckle. “We’re humans. It’s not like playing a video game. I wish it was that easy.”

Indeed, the ball doesn’t always come out of a pitcher’s hand the way he wants. A good example came when Marcus Stroman threw an absolute meatball to the Cardinals’ Jordan Walker in the fourth inning of St. Louis’ 7-2 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 20. Walker, who didn’t even put a perfect swing on the 84-mph offering, still sent it sailing into the left-field bleachers for a 2-run homer to make it 3-0.

It was the first 0-2 home run yielded by Stroman since 2018.

“If I execute the pitch, he’s out. I hung it, so it was a homer,” said Stroman, who has only allowed 4 hits in 44 at-bats (.091) when there are no balls and two strikes.

“We can’t execute 100 out of 100 pitches. We’re just hoping when we don’t execute we get the foul back. We don’t want the barrel.”

Atlanta is the best 0-2 hitting team at .205, while the Cubs are fifth at .176. The Sox sit in 20th, hitting a mere .144.

Among individuals with at least 10 at-bats on 0-2 counts, Cody Bellinger ranks seventh with a .360 average (9-for-25). Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna leads the league at an incredible .480 (12-for-25).

Ross praises his hitters for not only getting hits in this situation, but for simply extending the at-bat. On the other end, the former catcher agrees that simply wasting a pitch does no good.

“We’re not trying to just up the pitch count and let a guy get closer to timing things up,” Ross said. “It’s a really fine line. Does it suck to give up an 0-2 knock or a home run? Yeah. You’re pissed off.

“But it’s also like, ‘It’s three pitches, he’s on first base. And that’s better than 3-2, he fouls off a bunch of pitches and he’s still on first base after 10 pitches.”

Know the situation

Not every 0-2 count is the same.

Sometimes you’re just starting an inning, other times there’s a runner on third and nobody out, and still others the bases are loaded in a tight game in the eighth or ninth.

Oh, and who’s hitting? Is it a stud like Bellinger or is the No. 8 hitter prone to hitting the ball on the ground?

“If I’m facing (the Pirates’) Bryan Reynolds with a runner on third and two outs and an open base, I’m more likely to use my waste pitches against him,” said Cubs starter Jameson Taillon. “If it’s bases loaded and I’m facing a backup catcher, I’m more likely to attack in the zone and try to get him to hit it weakly somewhere.”

White Sox reliever Keynan Middleton, who has held hitters to a .129 average at 0-2, echoed those thoughts, saying: “I can come in with the bases loaded some nights — or tie game, guy on third base,” Middleton said. “I’ve got to stay to weak contact. I’ve got to throw it to a certain spot cause I can’t have him hit a sac fly.”

Other factors

Taillon just finished making a cup of coffee from his fancy machine at his locker when I approached him for this story. But he needed no caffeine buzz to get rolling on this subject.

“Don’t have a set theory. It’s interesting to think about, though,” Taillon said. “It starts with who’s hitting, how’s my stuff that day, what’s the game situation — are there runners on base? Am I cruising? Am I struggling? Is my pitch count high? Is my pitch count low?”

Wow. Anything else?

“I’m a guy who historically I throw a lot of strikes and I’ve probably given up way too many 0-2 hits,” Taillon continued, who has in fact yielded 6 singles and a double in 31 at-bats for a higher-than-normal .226 average this season. “So I could benefit from throwing fewer 0-2 pitches in the zone. But then there are other guys who go 0-2 to 3-2 all the time, and it’s like, ‘Man. If you’ve got great stuff and you’re cruising that day, why not just attack?'”

Stroman says it’s important to know which pitches are working for you that day.

Slider humming? Twirl that baby. Curveball a mess? Don’t bother.

“There’s so many things that go into it, man,” Stroman said. “At the end of the day you have to confidently go out there and pitch with your best stuff and be OK with whatever happens.”

So the next time you want to throw a brick through the TV after watching your team give up a game-breaking 0-2 hit, remember — that pitch most definitely had a purpose.

And it was no waste.


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