All season, Manager Davey Johnson has worked to promote aggression from his hitters, pleading for them to swing at any pitch in their zone, no matter the situation. “I want us to feel like we’re going on attack,” Johnson said. “Be aggressively trying to not dodge a punch. Throw the punch.”
In accordance with that aim, Johnson has allowed Nationals hitters to swing away in a count typically reserved for watching. When the opposing pitcher throws three straight balls to start an at-bat, the Nationals have swung more than any other team.
The Nationals have hacked at 35 pitches in 225 chances with a 3-0 count, the most 3-0 swings of any team in the league and far and away the highest percentage at 15.6. The Braves, who are second in both categories, have swung on a 3-0 count 27 times in 247 chances, a 10.9 percent rate.
Johnson has given green lights to every hitter. Jayson Werth has swung 10 times in 33 3-0 counts, fourth-most in the majors. (Domonic Brown, Joey Votto and Dexter Fowler have all hacked at 11.) Adam LaRoche has swung at seven 3-0 pitches. Bryce Harper has hacked at five of 27 3-0 pitches. Even leadoff hitter Denard Span, who has just 19 3-0 counts, has swung four times.
“I love to hit 3-0,” Johnson said. “You just look for a ball in the size of a basketball, in the part of the plate you want it. You got to make sure that bat is fully extended if it’s coming in there. It’s that simple. Nowadays, I don’t think hitters zone hit enough. They don’t look in an area enough.”
In those 35 swings at 3-0 pitches, the Nationals have put the ball in play 17 times. They have six hits with one double, one triple and one homer. Some have been maddening – Ryan Zimmerman hit a weak groundball to second base with two outs and Bryce Harper on deck in Kansas City over the weekend. Some have been successful – Bryce Harper ripped an RBI double just last night.
The Nationals’ practice of hacking 3-0 has had a predictable effect: They do not reach base quite as much as other teams once the count reaches 3-0, but they slug a little better. The league this year has hit .273/.736/.455 once the count reaches 3-0. The Nationals have hit .270/.711/.517.
One last note: If you see a hitter swing 3-0 tonight, it’s almost certainly going to be a National. The Marlins have only swung at four 3-0 pitches all season in 198 chances, the fewest in the majors.