Become a better baseball hitter by using hitting theory
Part 6 of a 6-part series
What is hitting theory?
Hitting theory is a boring umbrella term I use for the mental aspect of hitting a baseball in a game situation, as opposed to the physical aspect of the swing itself, which I've covered in Baseball Swing Theory 101. While you don't want to be thinking when the ball is headed toward home plate, you do want to prepare yourself ahead of time so you have a good idea what pitch is coming and where it might be located.
The biggest factor in pitch selection is the count on the batter. Let's go over each possible count and what one might expect from the typical pitcher who throws 50% fastballs, 25% curveballs, and 25% changeups. If a pitcher is considered a specialist in another pitch, adjust accordingly.
- 0-0 count. Look fastball. That's generally a pitcher's most accurate pitch and they want to get ahead on the count. An accurate pitcher will probably throw this pitch inside unless you are a feared hitter. They want to set up slower pitches away later in the at bat.
- 0-1 count. This depends on how the pitcher got the strike. If he blew a fastball by you, look for it again here, because he thinks you can't handle it. If you hit that first pitch hard foul, look for him to move to the other side of the plate at a different speed this time. This is a hard count to guess on.
- 0-2. Now you're in trouble. Chances are a pitcher will try a waste pitch here. You've got to protect the plate, but watch out for low breaking balls that will break out of the strike zone and in the dirt. This is where practice and the ability to identify pitches quickly really helps out. When a pitcher gets you in this count, he generally does not want you to put the ball in play on this pitch. He'll either waste a pitch with a breaking ball in the dirt (if there are no runners on base) or he'll try to blow a high fastball by you (I mean chest to shoulder high, not near the waist).
- 1-1. This one is hard to guess, so you probably shouldn't. Don't be desperate to put the ball in play -- he can't strike you out on this pitch. If it doesn't look right, don't swing.
- 1-2. Similar to 0-2, except he probably won't throw another waste pitch because he wants to stay ahead on the count. He'll probably favor a changeup or curveball here. The last thing he wants to do is put a fastball down the middle.
- 2-2. Now the pitcher will give you his "A" stuff. If you've studied a pitcher enough, you know what his number 1 pitch is and what location he likes. Expect it here. He wants to get you out on this pitch.
- 3-2. The most critical pitch for a pitcher. He can either get you out or put you on base with this pitch. Usually he'll throw fastball here unless he's more accurate with one of his other pitches.
- 1-0. You're ahead in the count. Guess fastball, take (don't swing) on anything else.
- 2-0. Pick a pitch and a location. If it isn't there, don't swing.
- 2-1. Expect another fastball. He'll try to throw this in the strike zone, but not down the middle.
- 3-1. See 2-0.
- 3-0. Unless you are a great hitter and have talked this situation over with your coach, don't swing at this pitch. The pitcher will try to throw a fastball down the middle of the plate here. Since he's already thrown 3 balls and no strikes, he might be having some control problems. Don't help him out here. Make him throw that strike.
Other factors that could affect pitch selection
Aside from the count, there are a few other things that could influence pitch selection. With runners on base, pitchers are more likely to throw fastballs. The faster and more threatening the runner, the greater the chance of getting a fastball. If you have a notoriously good hitter hitting after you, you'll probably see more of the pitcher's most accurate pitch, and he'll be trying to throw it in the strike zone. He doesn't want to put you on base for an even better hitter to drive in.
Another thing to look for is the slide step when there is a fast runner on base. Pitchers who use the slide step to quickly deliver the ball to the plate tend to throw slower fastballs and flatter breaking balls. Take advantage of this.