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"Hitting 101" will make you hit .300

siegel
on 02/25/2005

 

Fear is the primary factor of hitting. Fear is unavoidable, it's an instinct. Being hit by a baseball traveling 85 MPH+ hurts and can cause serious injury or perhaps death. A batter's objective is to hit the ball mandates that he "step into" it which directly opposes the human desire to get out of the way of oncoming danger. Pitchers therefore, should have a distinct advantage over each batter they face- throw the ball inside to brush the hitter back, then throw over the outer part of the plate out of the hitter's reach. Adding to a pitcher's ability to move his pitches inside and outside, he can move them up and down and vary the speed and trajectory of his pitches. How then do hitters even have a chance? Why even bother to play the game? Fear is never totally eliminated, but it can be overcome.

Another factor in hitting is the ever standard theory of "the baseball is round, and the bat is round." Cricket, a relative (or father depending on who you speak to) uses a bat that has a flat face. In order for a batter to hit the ball in a forward direction he must strike it almost perfectly- if you were to draw a straight line along the length of the bat that represented the most beneficial hitting area it would be only between 1/4" to 1/2" high. Balls hit on this area of the bat will have the greatest chance of falling safely for a hit since they are usually line drives, balls hit above or below this area will most likely be pop outs or grounders. A Major League baseball is 2.868 inches in diameter (a fact that has not altered since 1872) the barrel of a bat can not exceed 2.750 inches. Combine the above facts with this one: Some Major League pitchers can deliver the ball over 95 MPH and since they pitch from in front of the pitching rubber, they ball is much less than 60 feet away from the batter at the point of release which gives the hitter less than 3/4 of a second to recognize start his swing, recognize the pitch type and it's trajectory, the approximate speed of the pitch, lateral movement, adjust his swing, and hit the ball on that nice hitting area of the bat I spoke of earlier. Not only is a batter fighting his fear and giving up an advantage to the pitcher, but he is also trying to fight Physics to be successful.

Hitting therefore, can not be a conscious process. With the information we have just learned, hitting as a "thinking" process would be totally impossible. Hitting becomes a conditioned response through countless swings and practice hours. Even baseball's most talented hitters are/were only successful as high as 40% of the time in a single season. Popular theory is that hitting coaches can not make batters into better hitters than they are. They can only observe a batter when he is hitting well, and spot a flaw in his swing/stance/etc when the batter is not performing well.

Why does a batter "slump" or lose his "feel"? There are probably as many explanations for this as there are hitters in the majors. One underlying theme may be the fear talked about earlier, another may be injury, and still another could be the fact that baseball is so different from golf. In golf, a player gets himself ready to hit the stationary ball, hits it, and that's that. In baseball, a hitter must ready himself again and again finding his "feel" each and every time. (Usually before each pitch) Sometimes, the more complicated a player's motion to ready himself, the more susceptible he becomes to losing his "feel". Hitters also age and bat speed slows down.

The strike zone is yet another concern that comes into play when we talk about hitting. According to the official rules of baseball "The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the knee cap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter's stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball." Strike zones differ from batter to batter because of size and stance or crouch. Strike zones also differ from umpire to umpire, so it can be assumed that the above mentioned definition of strike zone is a guideline and not a concrete rule. Each and every hitter must know his strike zone well and keep in the good habit of not allowing pitchers to enlarge his own strike zone. There are several other things a hitter must keep in mind prior to each at bat (and during) such as:

  • What is the pitcher's most effective pitch today?
  • What pitch do I most want to hit?
  • What does the game situation call for right now?
  • How has this pitcher gotten me out previously?
  • How can I overcome my weakness?
  • How are the playing conditions going to effect my hitting?

In this day of baseball, there is no excuse for a hitter to not be familiar with a pitcher is best at generally speaking. Managers and coaches will tell batters what pitch is working best for the day, and remind him as to how he faired in his last at bat, or how the pitcher got him out in the past.

Hitters have other responsibilities at the plate to keep in mind. First and foremost, a hitter does not want to strike out- this is the least productive out a hitter can make. Secondly, it is a hitter's job to advance runners that are on base. Advancing runners can be done in several ways which will be determined by the game's situation. (We won't go into this right now, perhaps in a future article)Third, and perhaps most obviously, a hitter is trying to get on base either by a walk or a hit. Sometimes a walk is as good as a hit, sometimes it is not. (Again- perhaps to be discussed elsewhere) Then there is the "swing for the fences" mentality. Occasionally a game's situation mandates a player to try hitting a home run, a situation usually occurring when a team is down a run with two outs late in the game. Hitters also need to take what's given them by the defense. Sometimes a surprise bunt is very effective, sometimes a defense shall concede a run for an out, if a defense shifts severely to one side of the field, the hitter should try going the opposite way. Believe it or not, good hitters can actually make a pitcher to "make a mistake" or throw a certain pitch in a specific area. Good hitters can go to the plate thinking "I'd like something outside I can go opposite field with. These exceptional hitters can wait for that pitch even if it means taking a called strike two, and then foul off pitch after pitch until he gets what he wants.

Lefty/Righty match-ups will be the last thing I want to look at with you. Hitting Left handed is a large advantage because the batter is not only two steps closer to first base, but his momentum from swinging carries him towards first base whereas a right handed batter is falling towards third. Another benefit for the left handed hitter is the fact that approximately 75- 80% of pitchers are right handed. One of baseball's golden rules is that left handed hitters have a better chance of success against right handed pitchers, and right handed batters have a better chance facing a let handed pitcher. Sight lines and the rotation of the ball are why this is true. Take for example a right handed batter facing a lefty. The pitcher's arm that throws the ball is in the batter's field of vision for a longer period of time, and the hitter does not need to "open up" as much by turning his head to see the pitcher's delivery. Going back to physics, we learn that the natural spin put on a ball by throwing it makes it move horizontally one way or another. A ball thrown by a lefty to a right handed batter moves towards the hitter horizontally, which is easier to judge than a pitch moving away from him. Of course, pitchers can counteract this by putting reverse spin on balls, or pitching outside, but as a general rule lefty/righty match-ups are crucial.

 




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