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What is a 3-0 Count and When Should You Swing?

Whether it’s in baseball or softball, all hitters love having a 3-0 count because it provides them a lot of possibilities to get on base. But for those unfamiliar with baseball counts, hearing the term “3-0” may seem like players speak their own language. What does a 3-0 count mean?

A 3-0 count is a shorthand way of saying there are three balls and no strikes in the current at-bat. The two numbers in the count always start with the total number of balls followed by the total number of strikes for the current at-bat.

Hitter wearing number 7 making contact with the pitch

Even though all hitters love having a 3-0 count, there are also conflicting strategies about how to handle a 3-0 count as a hitter.

3-0 Count Means Three Balls and No Strikes

To understand what a 3-0 count means, we must first understand what the count is in baseball or softball.

The count refers to the number of balls and strikes the current batter has during their at-bat. The count is always formatted with the first number being the total number of balls in an at-bat and the second number being the total number of strikes in an at-bat.

The good news for those who are just getting into baseball and softball is that the rules of how to format the count are the same for both sports.

This means that in baseball and softball, the phrase “3-0” refers to the current balls and strikes for the batter. 3-0 is really just a short-handed way of saying “three balls and no strikes”.

3-0 Count Hitting Strategies

From the umpire's view, the pitcher in red just released the ball and the hitter in white is preparing to swing

As a hitter, one of the best places to be is when the count is 3-0. Whether the next pitch is a ball or a pitch down the middle of the plate, hitters with a 3-0 count have the best possible chance of getting on base.

Even though a 3-0 count is a great place to be, I’ve also heard lots of different philosophies over my years of playing baseball that deals with how to approach a 3-0 count.

Approach 1: Taking a 3-0 Pitch

The most common 3-0 hitting strategy is to take the next pitch. Taking the next pitch when the count is 3-0 is the strategy that I and many other players grew up hearing all the time and it is something that I still hear quite a bit. So why do you take on a 3-0?

Batters take a 3-0 pitch to force the pitcher to throw a strike. If the 3-0 pitch is a ball then the batter is awarded first base on a walk, but if the pitch is a strike then the count is 3-1 and the batter still has two strikes to get a hit.

In addition to forcing the pitcher to throw a strike, some coaches also have players take a pitch as a way to make a pitcher throw a few extra pitches in a game. The idea is that the more pitches a pitcher throws, the more likely it is for the pitcher to get tired and have to be replaced with another pitcher.

Generally speaking, starting pitchers are better pitchers than relief pitchers. So if a team can face a relief pitcher a little more quickly by taking a 3-0 pitch then some coaches may utilize this approach as a strategy.

Why is it Bad to Swing at a 3-0 Pitch?

A lot of players grew up hearing that they should take a pitch when the count is 3-0. Even though taking a 3-0 pitch is a well-known strategy, a lot of players are left wondering why it is bad to swing at a 3-0 pitch.

In general, it’s bad to swing at a 3-0 pitch because swinging has the risk of the batter making an out instead of taking a walk. When a pitcher has started an at-bat with three consecutive balls, there is a good chance the at-bat will result in a walk.

When thinking about swinging on a 3-0 count, another factor to consider is if runners are on base and where those runners are at. The last thing a batter wants to do is hit into a double play when the count is 3-0.

Even though a walk is a good at-bat, coaches may still give hitters a “green light” to swing on a 3-0 pitch when there are runners in scoring position or the hitter is a good power hitter.

So it’s not always bad to swing at a 3-0 pitch, but most players should default to their coach to determine whether they should be swinging or not on a 3-0 pitch.

Approach 2: Swinging on a 3-0 Pitch

Backside view of a player in a pinstripe uniform who just made contact with a pitch

Swinging on a 3-0 pitch is typically thought of as an unfavorable approach for a batter, but it has started to see some traction over the past few years. What does it mean to swing 3-0?

A 3-0 swing is when a batter swings the bat with a count of three balls and no strikes. Most batters take a pitch when the count is 3-0, but some batters have the “green light” to swing on a 3-0 pitch.

Because it’s uncommon for a batter to swing on a 3-0 pitch, a lot of people wonder why batters would swing on a 3-0 pitch and when batters are supposed to swing on a 3-0 pitch.

Good Batters Swing on a 3-0 Pitch When they See their Perfect Pitch

When the count is three balls and no strikes, the pitcher is forced to pitch a strike. Good batters are aware of the pitcher’s situation so the batter can expect the next pitch to be somewhere in the strike zone.

Because batters know the pitch has to be in the strike zone and they know they still have 3 strikes left in their at-bat, good batters look for their perfect pitch.

If the batter lets the ball go by for a strike, they swing and miss, or they hit a foul ball, the batter still has two more strikes left in their at-bat. But if the batter sees the one pitch that they absolutely love, they can hone in on that one pitch and crush the ball.

Sometimes, swinging at a perfect pitch on a 3-0 count can lead to something called a 3-0 home run.

A 3-0 home run is when a batter hits a home run when the count is three balls and no strikes. Because it is not common for batters to swing on a 3-0 pitch, a 3-0 home run is not a common occurrence.

To see some examples of how swinging on a 3-0 pitch can pay off in a big way, below is a short video compilation of MLB players who hit a home run on a 3-0 pitch.

Batters Swing on a 3-0 Pitch to Bring in a Runner

Another reason a coach might give a green light to a hitter on a 3-0 count is when there are runners on second or third base.

Although it can be risky to swing on a 3-0 count, a coach can give a green light to a batter they trust will be able to make solid contact and score a run. To see a great example of how this risk could pay off, below is a video of Lucas Duda swinging on a 3-0 count to score a run and give his team the lead.

The 3-0 Count Unwritten Rule

Baseball has a lot of unwritten rules and one of those unwritten rules happens to be swinging on a 3-0 count. What is the 3-0 unwritten rule in baseball?

The 3-0 count unwritten rule states that batters should not swing on a 3-0 pitch when it is late in the game and the batter’s team is up by a lot of runs.

As with most unwritten rules, there is controversy over whether a player is in the right or in the wrong for violating one of these unwritten rules. Some people believe players should always try to score, no matter the score. Other people believe that it’s unsportsmanlike to run up the score.

Whether right or wrong, an example of a player violating this unwritten 3-0 rule in baseball is from the video below, where Fernando Tatis Jr hit a grand slam on a 3-0 pitch.

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Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball in an adult baseball team in the surrounding area. Read more about Steve Nelson.

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