Why Braves are MLB’s most aggressive team when it comes to swinging at 3-0 pitches

CHICAGO – At 67 years old, Braves manager Brian Snitker holds some old-school beliefs – which is understandable. For his age, though, Snitker is incredibly adaptable, whether it be with analytics or anything else.

If it helps the Braves, he is for it.

This includes swinging at 3-0 pitches, an idea that seems to have become more acceptable in recent years.

“I’ve turned them loose to hit 3-0 for a while now,” Snitker said recently.

When discussing this, Snitker recalled a conversation he once had with Freddie Freeman, his former first baseman who now plays for the Dodgers.

Freeman said something like this: “God, we work so hard to get it to 3-0 and want to hit.”

“I started thinking about that and it makes a lot of sense,” Snitker said.

On 3-0 pitches put in play, the Braves were 8-for-13 with four home runs and 14 RBIs entering Sunday. They had the most homers and RBIs of any team in this category. They were tied for the most 3-0 pitches put in play entering the majors.

Heading into Sunday, Atlanta hitters had seen 184 pitches in a 3-0 count. They had swung at 38 of them – 10 more swings than anyone in baseball. That’s around a 35% swing percentage in 3-0 counts.

Conventional belief says hitters should take the 3-0 pitch because the chances of reaching base are high. Plus, if the 3-0 pitch is a strike, they would still be in a hitter’s count.

This has changed a bit.

The reason: The 3-0 pitch might be the only fastball a hitter gets.

“I think so,” Austin Riley said when asked if it’s more acceptable to swing 3-0 these days. “To me, there’s no guaranteed fastball counts anymore, like the 2-0, 3-1. Really, 3-0, to me, you pretty much know you’re getting a fastball.”

Pitchers’ stuff is more electric than ever before, which contributes to the aggressiveness in 3-0 counts.

“Guys’ stuff is so good,” Riley said. “They focus on throwing all their pitches for strikes. They don’t want to give up damage, so guys aren’t afraid to flip a 2-0 curveball, 3-1 slider – whatever it may be – to try to eliminate damage.”

The Braves are also able to swing free in these situations because they have such good hitters. You would want Riley, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Matt Olson hacking here, whereas you would encourage subpar hitters to take the walk if they can.

The other side of all of it is this: Snitker remembers talking to the late, great Hank Aaron about this, and Aaron said he didn’t like swinging 3-0 because the pitcher would sometimes take off something from the pitch to try to get it over.

It can also be frustrating if swinging 3-0 leads to a poor result. In Milwaukee last month, Riley got to 3-0 against former Brave Julio Teheran, then swung at ball four and grounded out.

But it seems the Braves feel the benefits outweigh the cons.

Last month, the Braves trailed the Diamondbacks by three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Atlanta stared at potentially being swept.

Matt Olson stepped into the box versus Arizona ace Zac Gallen. Riley was on base.

Olson got to 3-0. Then Gallen left a fastball over the plate.

Olson blasted a 408-foot, two-run home run to pull the Braves within a run. Atlanta eventually won the game.

“Holy cow, they can put us on the board with a 3-0 pitch even when we’re down two or three runs,” Snitker said, recalling this.

The manager also added: “But conventional thing is, if you’re not the tying run, you want to get on base for that. But I’m kind of thinking, if they hit a 3-0 pitch and can score an automatic run, that’s pretty good to me.”

The Braves’ hitters appreciate the green light in 3-0 counts.

“You’ve earned that right and worked hard to get to that spot,” Riley said. “Snit does a good job of letting us hack there.”