Hitting, in a nutshell

added 5/26/2002 by Raymond Desadier

Q) What is wrong with the Astros offense this year?

I was watching ESPN’s Baseball Tonight between innings one night and they were discussing the number of pitches hitters see in their at bats. They showed the top and bottom 5 teams in average pitches seen in a ballgame and pointed out that the teams that saw more pitches were the teams with the better records. So, what do baseball people generally derive from this? “The more pitches a batter sees in an at bat, the better.”


This is what we call "putting the cart before the horse". Seeing more pitches is a result of good hitting, not vice versa! Too often however have supposed baseball "experts" derived this in a backwards logic, and all it does is produce hitters that beat themselves rather than letting his opponent do it for him.

Hitting good pitches forces pitchers to paint corners which is hard to do and typically results in balls rather than strikes. This is what makes the “pitches seen” category so high on productive teams.

It is a known fact that Strike One is a crucial part of a pitcher’s attempt at retiring a batter. It is imperative that a batter make this as hard to as possible for the pitcher to accomplish. What separates good pitchers from bad pitchers is the ability to throw strike one on the corners, preferably with a non-fastball pitch. This puts the advantage in the pitchers’ favor. There is absolutely no excuse for taking a good pitch for strike one. Hitters should be ready to swing at the first pitch and do so if it is a very hittable pitch.

Hitting the first pitch punishes pitchers for getting too much of the plate, making strike one less attainable, and a favorable 1-0 count more attainable. A 1-0 count should be treated the exact same way. If you force a 2-0 or even 3-0 count, then you can expect a VERY hittable pitch in which you should take a big hack at. Although automatic takes on 3-0 pitches is a very acceptable strategy throughout the lower levels of baseball, in the majors the pitchers are far better so any good pitch received should be gratefully swung at.

With no strikes against him, a batter should limit his strike zone to the pitches he KNOWS he can hit and hit well. With a 3-0 count he should focus only on meat and particular locations that he thrives on. With 1 strike a batter must now swing at any pitch in the zone. If the umpire makes a questionable call, all the batter can do is shrug his shoulders and make sure he doesn’t leave his fate up to the umpire. That leads us to a 2-strike approach.

With 2 strikes a batter must PROTECT THE PLATE! Umpires are human and therefore prone to mistakes so it is far too risky to leave your at-bat in their hands. Anything close to the plate should be swung at, preferably wasted, prolonging the at-bat in hopes of seeing a better pitch. Contact is imperative so a batter should take shorter swings. Swinging for the fences should be the farthest thing from his mind at this point. Strikeouts should always be avoided for one never knows what can happen when a ball is put into play (except in double-play situations, in which a batter must avoid ground ball pitches).

Following this approach is so simple and yet I constantly see hitters watching perfect pitches for strike one, and then swinging at a bad first pitch in their next at bat. Or they take a perfect pitch for strike one, only to swing at a bad pitch for strike two. This is not only ineffective, but inconsistent as well! Most every hitter has better statistics when swinging early in the count and yet not even that is motivation enough to do so.

The only approaches that are ever talked about are patience and aggression. Neither is consistently fruitful. The only solid, consistent approach is being selective. There is no benefit to taking a good pitch, for the odds are slim you will see another one. It’s hard enough to hit in the major leagues without beating yourself, so why do it?

A) They are not selective.

Some things are inevitable

I get absolutely no compensation for writing these articles. The only thing I can hope to attain from watching or listening to Astros games is the joy of victory or occasional player accomplishments. I keep unique stats in which I have to collect data myself from every game and yet I haven’t received the first paycheck in the mail. All I have is my television, a PC of my own and a PC at work to collect and process all of this data.

So why is it that Jimy Williams, a paid employee with 30+ years of professional baseball experience, with a full staff of coaches, scouts and statisticians with an array of high tech video equipment can not ascertain that:

- Brad Ausmus has the worst double play percentage on the team for the last 2 seasons.
- Billy Wagner is absolutely HORRIBLE in tied games.
- Craig Biggio can not hit breaking balls low and away and yet will still take strike one right down the middle putting himself only a foul ball away from a strikeout.
- Every hitter on the team, most notably Richard Hidalgo takes entirely too many good pitches.
- Hidalgo also refuses to hit pitches to right field and every opposing scout knows it.
- A tired Roy Oswalt is better than anything we have in the bullpen
- A tired Roy Oswalt in a September pennant chase is better than a strong, well rested Roy Oswalt on a non-contending September team.

Can anyone explain this? What is it that makes these facts so elusive to Astros management? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop? The world may never know.


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