Winning the battle in the batter’s box is incredibly difficult – even the best hitters in the world succeed less than half the time. And since the odds are stacked against you, as a hitter you need to do each and everything possible you can to give yourself small advantages. And one of the ways you can give your chances a big boost, is by doing as much work as possible to help you out before you step into the batter’s box – by going in with a game plan.
A hitter must know the exact strike zone and his strengths and weaknesses inside that zone in order to achieve a high percentage of quality at-bats.
The strike zone is 17” wide and runs the length of the hitter’s body from his armpits to his knees. The better a hitter knows his strike zone, the more likely he will be able to pick out good pitches.
Ted Williams was known for being “patiently aggressive.” Ted looked for certain pitches in specific areas of the strike zone during his at-bats. To help him visually understand “his” strike zone he drew it out in baseballs. Ted’s strike zone was 7 baseballs wide by 11 baseballs high.
Figure 1: Identifying the Strike Zone
Figure 2: The Ted Williams Strike Zone Chart
A hitter must know his strengths and weaknesses. He must know the areas within the strike zone where he hits well, average and poor. To determine his most productive areas Ted Williams tracked his batting average for each pitch location within the strike zone.
After extensive tracking Ted had a chart showing the pitch locations that would ensure the highest productivity. His approach was to then look for pitches in his highly successful areas initially and leaving pitches in his weakest area (lower right corner) until he had 2 strikes.
Figure 3: Ted Williams Productivity Chart
Once a hitter knows his own areas of strength and weakness (hitting zones) within the strike zone, he can use this knowledge to follow specific strategies based upon his strike count.
- 0 Strikes – only swing at pitches in your most productive area
- 1 Strike – only swing at pitches in your most productive area and in the area you are an average to above average hitter
- 2 Strikes – swing at pitches in the entire zone
Figure 4: Ted Williams Chart Zero, One, and Two Strike Zones
Another strategy is to simply split the zone. Some hitters achieve success by splitting the width of the strike zone in half (when they have no strikes) because they are successful against inside or outside pitches.
In this case, a left hand hitter would be working on the 8.5 inches on the inside part of the plate. The advantage being that the hitter only has to look for pitches in a smaller area as opposed to covering the whole 17 inches.
Figure 5: Splitting the Strike Zone
A hitter should have a plan for a 2 strike situation. This plan will differ from a no strike or 1 strike plan. A 2 strike hitter should remember the 3 “UP’s”
- Choke UP on the bat.
- Move UP on the plate.
He must protect the outer half of the plate and handle the breaking ball moving away from him. He must protect the area where his greatest weakness is- usually down and away.
- Shorten UP on the swing.
A 2 strike swing is more controlled and protective- a “put it in play” type swing. Making the fielders handle the ball gives the hitter the opportunity to reach base and occasionally he will get a clean hit as well.
Figure 6: Normal Hitting Stance
Figure 7: Two Strike Hitting Stance
Keep your hitting plan simple and consistent. When you have a successful hitting plan, stick with it, even if you encounter a few bad at-bats. Constantly changing one’s hitting plan can be counterproductive. It brings too much thinking into the mix and can cause “paralysis by analysis.”
There are certain game situations in which a player must veer from his hitting plan. For example, the coach wants the hitter to hit a ground ball because the infield is playing back with a runner on 3rd base and less than 2 outs.
- Coaches – for players to become good at situational hitting, it must be part of your practice plan. Practice common situations on a more regular basis than uncommon situations.
Going into the plate with a sound game plan is one of the best ways to getting your batting average up. It’s really easy to find interview with some of the greatest hitters of all time – Ted Williams, whose strike zone is the basis for this post, but also more contemporary hitters that the young players will know – and they will all speak extremely highly of gameplanning every at bat. Once the players see that, in combination with the instant pay-off these kind of concepts deliver on, they will be believers in the worth of approaching every at-bat with the foresight and game planning it deserves.