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Do Hitters Take Too Many Pitches?

Rick Johnston is a former Canadian national team member and the Co-Founder/Director of Baseball Operations at The Baseball Zone in Mississauga, Ontario.

We know that hitting a baseball is one of the toughest athletic endeavours to do successfully. Much of a hitter’s success or lack of success stems from a simple, simple concept that has little or frankly nothing to do with a mechanical movement in their swing. What it really has to do with is one’s ability to be much more aggressive early in the count than it is to be patient in the count. Many coaches will suggest being more patient in an at bat, causing the pitcher to throw additional pitches, creating fatigue and thus, as the game prolongs, the better chance that pitcher will be out of the game. I am not sure that this would be considered wise or prudent philosophy.

If you have a pitcher who is wild or struggles to throw strikes, certainly, that would be good, smart hitting. However, pitchers are not taught to be wild or throw pitches that are out of the strike zone, they are taught to own the strike zone as often as they can and especially own the zone early in the count. Have we ever heard the phrase “get ahead” or “get ahead and stay ahead”? Many a pitching philosophy is the following:
• One of the first two pitches must be a strike
• Two of the first three pitches must be strikes
• We want the hitter out or on base on 3 pitches

If this type of philosophy generally holds true, then why do we see kids (especially young) being directed to take the first pitch or don’t swing until they have a strike on them? This becomes a national epidemic! When they are older, such as high school, they still have that thought process embedded in their minds and trying to re-program that is a tough and long process to change.

In reviewing MLB or College numbers/stats by count it is rather alarming to see how inflated batting averages are when hitters swing early in the count rather than trying to create some sense of patience and wait out the at bat for the perfect hitters pitch? To me that makes little sense! Have we heard “wait for a good one”! Just what is a good one? This type of teaching is a negative approach to other words, by using this type of verbal directive simply puts the hitter into a defensive approach rather than an offensive approach. In fact, simple yet effective thought processing should be the opposite. That is, hitters need to go up to the plate and make every pitch theirs to hit until they decide they cannot drive that pitch!

As hitters fall deeper behind in the count without offering at a strike, batting averages and on base percentage (which is the most important stat) are significantly lower and then to take that one step further, when hitters have two strikes on them at any almost all levels, batting averages plummet like bad stocks on Wall Street. In fact, these averages drop well below the Mendoza line.
Changing a paradigm is not an easy task to say the least, but those hitters that truly want to become accomplished batsmen need to shift their wisdom from “I am taking and waiting” for a good pitch to “I am hunting and expecting” to swing at every pitch. The hitter will need to be selective aggressive, not swinging for the sake of swinging but swinging at pitches he can drive. Selective aggressive is just that.

Rick Johnston