Tuesday, March 23, 2010

MAIL BAG

Mike asks:

When you go to bat, do you have a plan of attack? You have a reputation for being a very selective hitter. Do you look at a pitcher and think about the pitch he's going to throw you in a specific situation? Or do you wait for a pitch that you can hit well and just react.? Like, do you go into a 3-1 count thinking fastball and geared to hit it? Obviously, to some extent you do, but is it more reactions or anticipation? Thanks.

Thanks for the question Mike. I think this is a cool question because even though I have played baseball for a long time and am still currently playing, I wonder what goes through certain players head while they are standing in the batters box. I've also been asked thousands of times, "were you expecting to get that pitch?" I'll try to give a few examples and what I am thinking just prior to a thrown pitch, but I won't be able to cover every situation because that might take all day.

To start off, when I go up to hit I definitely have a plan of attack. If I have never faced a pitcher before I will watch him throw his warm-up pitches before the inning starts to see what pitches he throws and how he controls them, what his arm angle is like, and how fast or slow is his delivery. I'll usually ask around to different teammates to see if anyone has faced him in the past and what information they have on him. After he has warmed up and I walk to the plate I have to think about the game situation that we are in. What inning it is, what is the score, if we have any runners on base, could there be a good chance of a hit and run or a bunt, do I have to hit the ball to the right side to move a runner over to third, is there a runner on third and we need a sac fly, those type of things. Every single different situation makes me think differently about what pitches I might see and where the pitcher is going to try to locate them.

Let's just say I am hitting early in the game with nobody on base and a tied score. This is probably the most basic example I can think of. I walk to the plate against a guy I have never seen before and know nothing about other than he's a lefty with an 88 mph fastball and he likes his change-up against a right-handed hitter. First pitch I would probably be sitting on my favorite pitch, a fastball middle of the plate, and I'm looking to hit something hard right back up the middle on a line. He throws a fastball, a great pitch on the outside corner for a strike. Because it wasn't the location I was looking for and it was early in the count I take it for strike one. Now it's 0-1 and I step out of the batters box. I have a good idea about how his fastball looks. When I step back in I know I can't look for my absolute favorite pitch because I'm behind in the count, but I still don't have to swing at anything just because its a strike. I'll open my zone up a little bit, but still look for something middle-away to drive right back at the pitcher or to the second baseman. I still sit on a fastball, but because I am looking to hit the ball back up the middle or hard at the second baseman I am ready to hit an off-speed pitch if he leaves it in my area. If I was looking to pull a fastball I wouldn't have much of a chance to hit an off-speed pitch hard. Next pitch is a fastball located perfectly on the inside corner. I take it for strike two. Damn this guy is pretty good. I tip my hat to him and get ready to battle. He has thrown two great pitches, something that doesn't happen all the time, but will happen every once and a while. It isn't fun being down 0-2, but now I got to do what I can to put a ball in play. I have to swing at a strike no matter what part of the plate it is located on. I step in and am looking for a pitch away, but ready to react to anything inside. With two strikes this is probably my best strategy. If I look away I still have the ability to react to a fastball in and hopefully foul it off. If I happened to look for a pitch in and got a change-up away I wouldn't have much of a chance of doing anything with it. I also don't just sit on a fastball anymore. I start to sit on something a little softer, and if he throws his fastball I will have to react quickly to fight it off. He throws an 0-2 fastball inside again but this time misses for a ball. Now I'm 1-2, not much better than 0-2, but I have another chance at a mistake pitch left over the plate. I stay with my same approach looking soft away. The next pitch is a 1-2 change-up away but he doesn't put it where he wants it. He leaves it up a little and it hits a good amount of plate. Because I'm looking for something softer and away its right where I am looking. I hit a ball right back up the middle for a base hit.

That is an example of a typical at-bat I would face in say the first inning of a game in Triple-A. When you are in the Major Leagues it is a lot different. Before the game even starts you would look at film of the opposing starting pitcher. I would already know what his fastball looks like, how his change-up looks and how hard it is, and if he has a curve ball or slider to go with it. I would also have a really good idea about how he likes to work right-handed hitters. Before every game we are given a scouting report on the opposing pitcher we are facing. It will give a few words about what type of pitcher he is and what his tendencies are. It will show what percentage he throws each pitch at each count. For example it would say that to right-handers on 0-0 he throws a fastball 72 %, a change-up 22%, and a curve ball 6%. It would have this breakdown for every count possible, so when you get to that count you have a reference on what he might be thinking. Of course, you still have to take the game situation into consideration. If there is a man on 2nd and a base open in a tied game in the bottom of the 8th, that is going to change up his thinking a lot. Same thing if you happen to be a 3 hitter versus a 9 hitter. Baseball is absolutely not an exact science, but any information you can get on someone, even if it is small can help. Players in the Major Leagues are the best players in the world, so even small things can sometimes make a big difference.

Now to give a few examples of in game situations that might change your thinking a little bit. I won't break down the entire at-bat but just throw the examples out there. Say you are hitting with a man on second in a close game with 0 outs and your job is to move the runner to second. Now you could bunt if you wanted, but usually you will take the option to swing and move him with a ground ball to the right side. The first thing I would do is move off the plate a little bit. I do this because I want to hit the ball to the right side, so getting a pitch on the outside part of the plate makes it easier to do than a pitch on the inside part of the plate. By moving off the plate I turn the inside part of the plate into the middle of the plate, and the middle into the outside. Just as you know that your job is to move the ball to the right side, the pitcher knows the same thing and he isn't going to give you a nice pitch on the outside corner to make your job easier. I'm going to look for a pitch out over the plate to make my job easier. He is probably going to try and throw a sinking fastball located over the inside part of the plate or an off-speed pitch to get me to roll over to the 3rd baseman or shortstop. If he can locate three pitches were he wants them it will make my job really tough, but if he makes a mistake I have to be ready to capitalize on it and do my job.

Next, say I am hitting with a runner on third and less than two outs in a one run game. The opposing team decides to play the infield in. Before I step into the box I decide I want to hit a ball in the air to the outfield for a sacrifice fly. In this situation I am going to look for a fastball up in the zone which will make hitting a fly ball much easier. The pitcher is going to try and locate a pitch down in the zone to induce a ground ball. If he has a good sinking fastball he will probably use this, but can also go with off-speed pitches located down. A lot of these situations come down to pitch recognition. Do I know what pitch I am looking for and can I recognize when I am getting it? Then, can I put a good swing on the ball to do my job? If I can I will get an RBI and hopefully help our team get a victory.

As you can see there are different things to think about in different situations. I wish I had more time to keep going into different situations but there are literally hundreds of different situations we could talk about. I hope you found this useful and next time you see a guy up in one of these situations you will have a better idea about what both he and the pitcher are thinking. Thanks again for the question.

2 comments:

  1. Haha thanks man

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  2. Its funny how the game progresses up like that. Tee ball, just make contact, then just swing at something over the plate, then look for your pitch, then recognize pitches, then it finally gets to this chess game situation between you and the pitcher. You are thinking that he is thinking that you are thinking that he is thinking....but if he knows that you know that he knows...

    I'd say nice hit today Matt, like everybody else always does but you're doing it so much lately the words are starting to lose all meaning. You've worn out the term, "nice hit". hehehe

    Really nice reply to that question too!

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