【原文作者】-- Alan Schwarz
【原文標題】-- Taking Their Swings at What’s a Pivotal Count
Alex Rodriguez says it’s 1-1. Johan Santana believes it’s 0-0. Ryan Howard claims it’s 2-0, and no one is challenging Howard much these days.
(什麼才是關鍵球數)A-Rod說是一好一壞。桑塔納相信第一球就是。Ryan Howard聲稱二壞球沒好球才是，最近已經沒人會跟Howard爭論了。（他也太另類的吧 ）
Talk to major leaguers about which is the most pivotal count, the ball-and-strike state that influences the outcome of an at-bat more than any other, and astronomers could reach more consensus on a classification for Pluto. They all agree that balls and strikes dictate results as much as bat and ball.
The most important pitch in baseball is strike one, the old saying goes, but that maxim swings and misses when thrown the fastball of raw statistics.
As the baseball universe finds its order over these final two weeks of the regular season, games will be the atoms, with at-bats their protons and neutrons. Counts will be the even smaller quarks, wiggly little bits that are the true building blocks of what unfolds.
Although too minute for even today’s hyperdiligent box scores, every shift in balls and strikes, from 0-0 through 3-2, subtly changes the balance of power between pitcher and hitter, with a strike here or a ball there leaving one or the other in greater command. Pivotal would be defined as the count after which production diverges most, that production measured by hitters’ on-base percentage plus slugging percentage.
(Note: Walks that are intentional from first pitch to last are ignored because there’s no byplay between pitcher and batter. Also, statistics refer to the results of the at-bats after reaching that count, not just on the next pitch; all batting and slugging averages on specific no-strike and one-strike counts appear immense because the batter can’t strike out. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.)
“It’s the first pitch,” said Santana, a Twins left-hander who knows a thing or two about pitching; he’s on his way to winning his second Cy Young award in three years. “If you throw the first pitch for a strike, then you can move the ball around. When we get behind in the count, then you have to pay for it.”
The opening pitch of an at-bat is indeed important, but not as vital as Santana or the old strike-one saw suggests. Through Thursday’s games, according to Stats LLC, in at-bats that begin with a ball, hitters post an .849 overall O.P.S., while batters who start 0-1 slide to .658.
But that 191-point gulf isn’t particularly large. In fact, it’s the smallest of the six counts with at least one ball and strike remaining, because whether 0-1 or 1- 0, there’s still plenty of time for either side to reassert itself.
The Yankees’ Rodriguez said, “I say it’s 1-1: 2-1 you become very comfortable, 1-2 you become very uncomfortable.”
One ball and one strike is cited by many major leaguers as the most crucial count in a pitch sequence. The Brewers All-Star Chris Capuano recalled that while he pitched in the Diamondbacks’ farm system several years ago, coaches would closely monitor how pitchers handled the 1-1 pitch. The Astros slugger Lance Berkman emphasized that a pitcher’s getting ahead 1-2 drastically changed the dynamic.
很多大聯盟球員提及一好一壞是最重要的球數。釀酒人球星Chris Capuano回憶起多年前在響尾蛇農場投球時，教練很仔細觀察投手在一好一壞之後的投球。太空人的巨砲Lance Berkman強調投手取得兩好一壞領先的球數，會大大改變投打之間的態勢。
“You can’t afford to sit on the fastball,” Berkman said. “You have to protect against a bunch of different pitches, and a lot of times it takes that aggressiveness away from you. That’s when you’re just a tick late on a fastball that you normally hit.”
The numbers agree with Berkman. Hitters who slip to 1-2 post a measly .542 O.P.S. This is the rough equivalent of morphing into Mario Mendoza.
統計結果證明了Berkman的說法。打者在兩好一壞的情況下OPS僅有.542。這個成績跟貧打的Mario Mendoza差不多。(譯註：以他為名的Mendoza Line是指兩成的打擊率。）
But while going up 2-1 is certainly preferable (.842), that count doesn’t leave the batter as ahead as many assume.
Each opponent has two balls and strikes apiece in his quiver, and while the batter is closer to a walk, batting and slugging percentages (.268 and .440, respectively) after 2-1 counts are actually almost identical to the average at-bat starting at square one (.269 and .432).
As the Cardinals slugger Scott Rolen said, 2-1 “is still a relatively even count.” Even, and at that point the most pivotal of all.
On 2-1, a ball or a strike makes a vast difference. After reaching 3-1 counts, hitters beef up to a collective O.P.S. of 1.089. Pitchers who instead get a called or swinging strike to get to 2-2 yield an O.P.S. of .637. That .452 gulf is the largest of all six counts examined here.
This makes sense, actually, because the closer a count gets to 3-2, the more impact a single ball or strike makes. Yet the 1-1 and even first-pitch evangelists continue to carry the day.
Listen to any game broadcast, and you’ll hear an announcer claim the opening strike is baseball’s most important pitch. But listen to the statistics and you’ll find exactly the opposite, as the symphony of the at-bat crescendoes.
“Everyone focuses on the pitch that gets put into play or ends the at-bat,” said Craig Biggio, the longtime Astro. “But there’s so much that goes on before that. That’s the game right there.”