Hitter's Tip: Look for Your Pitch!
Some of the best hitters to ever lace up the spikes are also known for being some of the most selective and disciplined. Ted Williams, the last hitter to bat over .400, is also ranked fourth all-time in walks. He was known for his extraordinary eyesight and ability to differentiate balls from strikes. It was also Williams who coined the phrase, “Get a good pitch to hit!”
So what can you learn from Ted Williams? Getting a good pitch to hit greatly improves your chances to achieve greatness at the plate.
What exactly is a good pitch to hit? It depends on the hitter. Some guys can hit a fastball regardless of location in the strike zone. Others prefer a location like middle/away and do not care what pitch is thrown. By now, you should know your “hot zones,” or pitch locations that you crush.
To understand how important it is to hit your pitch, think about the pitcher’s goal. The pitcher is trying to get you out by getting ahead and making you swing at his pitch. Once a pitcher gets you in the hole, he controls the at-bat because he can expand the strike zone. By starting a hitter off with a strike or two, the pitcher puts you in a defensive state-of-mind, as opposed to when you first get up there and you are looking for your pitch to drive. With two strikes, you are taught to protect - to “swing at anything close.” This puts a hitter more at risk for seeing a breaking ball that starts off in the zone, but breaks away.
Now that you understand the importance of not falling behind in the count, there are some philosophies and approaches to earning your best pitch.
Many believe the first pitch is the sweetest you will get. In fact, a five-year study was done by STATS, Inc,and a hitter’s average is 70 points higher when he swings at the first pitch. The explanation for first-pitch swinging is the pitcher will be trying to get ahead and most likely he will get ahead with his fastball because that is the pitch that is easiest to control. This could be true but it is situational. Not all pitchers start off with first-pitch fastball. That is why it is important to study what the pitcher is throwing to the batters in front of you.
The other camp believes that your role as a hitter is to break the pitcher down and see as many pitches as you can. The belief here is to wait for the pitcher to make a mistake, while also adding to his pitch count. Most people in baseball would agree that the deeper the at-bat goes (I’m talking at least 3-2), the greater the hitter’s chance for success.
If you are a good contact hitter and feel comfortable hitting when you are behind in the count, it may be advantageous for you to work the count and look for a mistake. Of course, if you get your pitch early in the count, jump on it.
If you feel anxious about striking out, or feel satisfied with simply putting the ball in play, you need to pull the trigger sooner in the at-bat because your job is to hit the ball hard.
Regardless of the time you decide to swing, you need to make sure you know what your pitch is. You can find your pitch by simply analyzing your at-bats and swings in batting practice. What pitch and which location do you consistently hit the hardest?
Knowing what you like before you go up to the plate will greatly improve your average. Success depends on executing a good swing when you do get your pitch and making adjustments when you don’t get your pitch.