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Thursday, April 30, 2009
Become a Better Hitter - Have a Hitting Philosophy
By Scott M. Thompson
The best way to increase your average happens before you even step in the batters box. I am not talking about your swing either. It would be way to difficult to teach somebody to swing over the internet, so this article is assuming that your coach has taught you the fundamentals of a good swing.
What I am talking about are things you can do before the game. Watch the opposing pitcher warm up. How many pitches does he throw? How hard is his fastball, curve ball, etc? Is he around the plate, up or down? Is his curve ball a 12 to 6 or more like a slider? These are the things that will help you prepare for your upcoming at bat.
The game has started, watch how the pitcher holds his glove, moves his fingers, changes his arm speed. Does he dig in his glove every time he throws a curve? Look for the slight differences between his motion and demeanor depending on the pitch he is about to throw.
Be aware of the other players in the field also, especially the catcher. Do infielders move over a step or two on off speed pitches? Does the catcher change his stance when a curve ball is coming? Do not turn your head and look where the catcher is. You can though sneak a quick peek through your peripheral vision to see if he is set up inside or outside. If the catcher is giving away the off speed pitch, come up with verbal code words with your on deck batter. First name, last name, number, something not to obvious.
Pick out the tendencies of the pitcher. Pitchers and catchers have patterns. Notice what his go to pitch is when he needs a strike, when he is going for a strikeout, when he is ahead in the count. Does he like to throw inside, outside, high, low, all these things you can pick up before you even step into the batters box.
The bottom line is, if you want to be a better hitter pay attention to details that may give you an advantage. There will be plenty of time to catch up with your buddies or play grab ass with your buddies after the game.
It's your turn to bat, you know how hard he throws, the shape of his curve, when he likes to throw the curve, and what he likes to throw on the first pitch to a new batter. The exception to this situation is if you are the lead off hitter. If you are lead off, you have a job to do. Get the pitcher to throw as many pitches as you can. Hopefully you can get him to throw them all. But at least the fastball and curve. This method should not only help you, but your teammates as well, if they pay attention.
Another key is not to think too much, but know the situation. Is there a runner on first, no outs. Look for something to hit to the right side to advance your teammate into scoring position. I can't go over every situation, but I think you get the picture. Do what works best for your coach and team philosophy.
So how do you increase your average? I believe you look for the situation that gives you the best chance for success. You have studied the pitcher, but do you know yourself?
What pitches do you hit the best? Do you like the ball inside, outside, up a little, down in the zone? Do you hit fastballs better than curve balls? I hope 95% of you said yes with the other 5% lying. Well that is the pitch you are waiting for until you have a strike. Let's say you hit the outside fastball the best. The pitcher throws a curve ball, don't swing. If it is a ball you are still looking for the outside fastball on the next pitch. The pitcher throws a fastball inside, don't swing. Cut the plate into thirds and make the ball be in your favorite third before you swing.
Something to avoid is what I call players pride. Players pride is when a batter wants to show the pitcher he can hit the pitchers best pitch. For what reason you ask, stupid pride. Yes a hitter will make contact with the ball, but is it solid contact, usually not. Along the same lines are the hitters that are so afraid to strike out they swing at anything they can reach with their bat. If you are a coach, nip both of these problems in the bud as soon as you can.
Let's say that the second pitch the pitcher threw, the fastball inside, was a strike. The count is now 1-1. Expand the zone you are going to swing at to 2/3 to 3/4 of the plate, the outside part since that was where we hit the best according to our scenario. Now you can add the hanging curve to swing at. It must be in the zone and you must be in a position to put a good swing on it, otherwise let it go. Never guess curve ball, always be ready for the fastball and adjust to the off speed stuff. Use this mentality whenever you have 1 strike and 2 balls or less. This is also the perfect time to go back to studying his tendencies. What does he usually throw with a 0-1, 1-1, or 2-1 count. Did I mention to always be ready for the fastball.
With a 3-1 count, a hitters dream count because of the percentages of knowing a fastball is coming, you are in the drivers seat. Go back to the 0 strike approach, maybe increasing the zone to half because of the probability of getting a fastball. Do NOT over swing. Do NOT be late. Put a good aggressive swing on the pitch, one that is in your ability. When you over swing you get long, slow, and probably jammed on the best pitch in baseball.
Just because it is 3-1 don't assume it is automatic you are getting a fastball. Go back to knowing the situation. What point of the game are you in, the score, runners on base, a base open, and how is the hitter behind you hitting today. The pitcher may want to avoid pitching to you and take his chances with the next batter. The opposite holds true, are there base runners on? Does the pitcher have to throw a strike? What are the tendencies?
With two strikes, your job is to put the ball in play. Do not swing at anything and everything. Stay calm, you hopefully have prepared yourself in practice. All those swings off the tee, all the batting practice swings, you know where the head of your bat is. Have confidence in your abilities. You can put the bat on the ball.
Always be ready for the fastball, I don't know how many times I have said that already, but if you only go away with one thing, you guessed it, always be ready for the fastball. What are the tendencies with 0-2. Does he waste a pitch to see if you will chase? Does he set you up with up and in before he goes low and away? You should already know these things and expect them.
With 2 strikes we go to a defensive mode. We expand the plate 2-3 inches on each side as well as up and down. Cut your swing down to a more controllable swing. Whatever it takes to foul off pitches or put the ball in play. It is a good idea to practice this zone in batting practice for about 8-10 pitches. The idea is to protect the plate. Anything close to the plate, you need to swing. Do not leave it up to the umpire, he gets paid by the out not the hour.
That is a good point to bring up when we talk about umpires. You need to know the umpire's zone that day. Does he love to ring people up? Does he reward the pitcher for making good pitches just off the plate but not in the strike zone? Is he consistent? If any of these answers give you doubt, swing at anything close.
Don't give in. Be what they call a tough out. Somebody that battles and wears a pitcher down. Take pride in not striking out. Anything can happen when the ball is in play. At the very least make the pitcher throw as many pitches as you can.
In the event the pitcher does get the better of you and strikes you out. Tip your hat and say you got me this time. I may not have won the battle but I am going to win the war. I know how you pitch, I've seen you before, you got me once it won't happen again. Keep your confidence. Don't let 1 at bat change your philosophy or your approach to hitting.
In closing I would just like to stress the importance of self evaluation. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Look for opportunities to use your strengths. Know the situation you are in at all times. Have a keen sense for details. Anything that may give you an edge. Prepare yourself in practice. Challenge yourself, don't just go through the motions and think you are going to get better. The harder you work the more confidence you acquire. The more confidence you acquire, the better player you will become. The saying goes baseball is 90% mental.
Have faith in your philosophy. And last but not least be ready for the fastball !!!
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Posted by Coach's Profile: at 4:09 AM