This goes against everything I’ve been saying for the past. I’m sure it will thrill Matt to no end:

Are long at-bats more productive than short ones?

It seems obvious. Work the count. Make the pitcher labor. Foul off those two-strike pitches. As you go deeper in the count, it’s going to work in the batter’s favor.

Or does it?

The numbers beg to differ. Here are the major league averages for long and short at-bats (Short defined as three pitches or less, long as four pitches or more):
Avg On-Base Slugging OPS
Short At-Bats .301 .317 .467 .784
Long At-Bats .223 .352 .348 .700

Surprisingly, the OPS for short at-bats is significantly higher than long at-bats. What’s clear is that there is an advantage to hitters when they put one of the first three pitches in play. They hit almost 80 points higher and slug over 100 points higher.

There are two things that work in favor of hitters who work the count for longer at-bats. OPS is a great stat but not perfect. One of it’s imperfections is that it undervalues on-base percentage. Hence, the 84 point difference suggested is really less. The second element is hard to measure. There is certainly value to making pitchers work harder (i.e. throw more pitches) over the course of the game that is not measured here.

What about the really short and long at-bats (one-pitch ABs and ABs with seven or more pitches)?
Avg On-Base Slugging OPS
One and done .344 .349 .543 .892
Seven-up (7+) .230 .406 .372 .778

In both cases, hitters get better. Hitters, in general, are more selective on that first pitch and look for something in their wheelhouse as the pitcher tries to get ahead in the count. Nevertheless, it also pays off to really work deep into the count.

This is a new profile that we just added to Bill James Online. For more in-depth information (including short and long at-bat performance for every player going back to 2002), check out . It’s a subscription service, $3/month.

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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers. Growing up in Chicago, he fondly remembers attending games in the bleachers before that was the popular thing to do. Currently Joe resides in North Carolina with his wife and three kids and helps people protect their assets as an independent insurance agent. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail