Baseball Full Count Explained

A full count in baseball is when a batter has 3 balls and 2 strikes, which is the most balls or strikes that a batter can get before a strikeout, a base on balls, or a hit. That’s why they also call it: “3-2”: 3 balls and 2 strikes.

That’s essentially it, but let’s go over the jargon just in case.

What’s the Count?

The count, in general,  is just how they keep track of how many balls and strikes are pitched to the batter. It can never go above 3 balls and 2 strikes. That 3-2 limit right there is what you now know as “full count”.

Other terms associated with the count include:

  • Ahead in the count
  • Behind in the count
  • Even count
  • Hitter’s count

These are all ways to refer to the batter or the pitcher depending on who has the count in their favor. Here’s an easy way to remember them:

“Ahead in the count” is when the count favors the pitcher or the batter. For instance, if the batter has more balls than strikes, they’re ahead in the count, especially if they’re about to be walked to first. If the batter has more strikes than balls pitched, then the pitcher is ahead in the count.

Whoever has the count against them is “behind in the count”. Going back to the previous examples, that batter with more strikes than balls is behind in the count. That pitcher about to walk the batter to first base is also behind in the count.

Along the same vein, the “hitter’s count” refers to a batter with two strikes.

If the number of balls and strikes is the same, that’s an “even count”.

So, why is it they don’t keep count of balls and strikes after a 3-2?

Well, a 4th ball would result in base on balls. In other words, the batter is credited first base. If they get a third strike, the batter retires back to the dugout. 

Now, if the batter is just working the count or working the pitcher, they might actually score a hit when they reach the 3-2. Either way, the at-bat ends and the outcome is recorded separately right after the full count.

In case you were wondering, that’s the format they use to keep count. First: the number of balls, then the number of strikes. Whether they spell it out completely or just separate the numbers with a dash, it should look something like this:

3 Balls – 2 Strikes

OR

3-2 Full Count

What does “working the count” or “working the pitcher” mean?

Batters won’t just swing at anything the pitcher throws at them — they have to pick the easiest pitch to knock out of the park (literally). To do that, they need to get a good read on the pitcher and, in a second or less, decide if it’s worth the swing at the risk of a strike.

That’s what happens when the batter is said to be “working the count” or “working the pitcher”: they’re simply taking their time and burning through their pitches down to a full count or less, just waiting for the right moment to swing for at least a hit.

Full Counts and Intentional Walks

Ok, now you know what the count is and how batters use it to pace themselves, but there are a couple more strategic applications to it than just gambling on a good pitch. When done right, exhausting the full count to a base on balls can actually have a great payoff for whichever team is trying to pull it – the so-called intentional walks.

An intentional walk can happen when the pitcher is purposedly trying to skip a good hitter by pitching for balls, not strikes – balls, thus forcing the batter to walk to first base. It also happens when the offense intentionally tries to get all four balls to get more runners on base and have a better chance of scoring more runs when they send in their best hitters.

Experts and fans of the sport will often agree that it should be banned on the basis that it’s more of an exploit of a loophole in the rulebook rather than an actual display of skill.

Whether or not that’s the case, the point is: in any given game, either team might intentionally burn through a full count to get more runners on the field as part of their game plan or skip a good hitter. It’s an interesting little exploit of the full count that’s just too convenient for any ruling body to ban.

What’s the big deal about a full count?

The concept of count and full count may not sound very exciting when read straight off the rulebook – that is, until you’re at-bat in the bottom of the 10th inning with the score tied at 5. 

You and your runner in 3rd base can still win the final, but you’re down to a full count and the pitcher is already winding up. The umpire won’t hand you the game over a walk, so that’s out of the question. You’re going to have to go for it. Full swing or just a tap?

We can only imagine that’s what went through Met’s Mookie Wilson in a fraction of a second in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Red Sox pitcher, Bob Stanley, must’ve been sweating bullets trying to work that one out too.

The point is: with stakes that high, a full count no longer marks the transition from a batter to the next one. It then becomes the stage of a suspenseful moment right before winning or losing. That’s why the count is such a big deal and why players and coaches are compelled to know how to work it.

For Wilson, working the count meant waiting for the right pitch, and in doing so, his team won the 1986 World Series.

The Last Inning

The full count is the total of balls and strikes that a batter can have before the end of their time at bat. That’s a maximum of three balls and two strikes, therefore the popular name: “3-2”. After that, the batter could make it to first base on a hit, get a base on balls, or strikeout. The outcome is then recorded separately from the full count.

Also, from now on, whenever you hear the batter is working the count or working the pitcher, you will then know they’re just waiting for the right pitch or trying to get an intentional walk, and speaking of which, remember: maybe the offense is trying to fill up bases, or maybe it’s the pitcher trying to skip a good hitter.

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Jonathan Roussel
Jonathan Roussel
Jonathan Roussel is a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and Indigo League champion. He now chases the dream to become a part-time Jedi Master like Gandalf. He means to reach his goals by sleeping 14 hours a day and eating pineapple pizzas.