In the fifth inning of Saturday night’s game against the Chicago White Sox, Lorenzo Cain came to the plate with one down and a runner on third base. The count was 2-2 when Lorenzo served a soft line drive into right field. The run scored and the Royals went on to win 7-6. After the game, reporters gathered around Cain’s locker and asked about that hit to right; Lorenzo said he’s at his best when he tries to hit the ball to the opposite field.
When a hitter hits the ball to the opposite field it does several things:
1.) It makes the hitter wait longer and waiting longer improves his pitch selection. For instance: he waits long enough to see that the slider on its way to home plate is going to keep sliding until it’s no longer a strike.
2.) It keeps the hitter’s front side closed. When a hitter is going bad he’s likely to say he’s pulling off the ball; that means he opens up his front shoulder too soon and when the front shoulder goes, the head goes with it. The hitter is not seeing the ball all the way to the hitting zone.
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3.) It can rob the hitter of power; most guys don’t have enough pop to hit home runs the other way, but the loss of power is often replaced with an increase in batting average and on-base percentage.
But looking to take the ball the other way does not mean a hitter can never pull the ball for power. Hitters can look away and adjust in — on the inside pitch they pull their hands closer to their body and can still get the bat head to the ball — but they can’t look in and adjust away.
So why try to pull the ball?
Ballplayers have a thing they do when they don’t know or like a reporter; they won’t look them in the eye. It’s a protective device; a way of keeping an invisible wall up. I don’t know that I’ve got anything negative going on with Lorenzo, but as I was asking about hitting with two strikes, he was looking off into space while he answered.
By this time the crowd had cleared and it was just me and him. I then asked if he knew he was at his best when he hit the ball to the opposite field, why didn’t he do it all the time?
His head turned, he looked me in the eye and grinned. He said he knew he ought to, but then he goes to the plate, the crowd’s big, their making a lot of noise…
“And that makes you want to do something big?”
He laughed and said yeah; he wants to do something big for the crowd that’s urging him on. And that’s when he gets away from his best approach, that’s when he tries to hit a ball over the Royals Hall of Fame in left field. If that doesn’t work and he gets to two strikes, that’s when he goes back to his best approach — hitting the ball the other way.
Don’t let the splits confuse you
If you look up Lorenzo Cain’s splits you’ll see that he actually hits for a higher average when he pulls the ball to left field, but those numbers are based on balls he puts in play — they don’t include strikeouts.
And hitters are much more likely to strike out when they’re trying to pull the ball. They start their swing sooner and get fooled more often. When Lorenzo puts the ball in play — and going the other way is the best way of getting that done — he hits .351.
We’re all human
Now if you’re reading this and thinking Lorenzo needs to be smarter than that; think about all the dumb things you do in the course of the day without 38,000 people urging you on.
I know I should eat a salad for dinner, yet night after night I wind up with a cheeseburger and fries on my plate. I know I should get out and take a walk every day, yet day after day I rationalize sitting in front of a TV. I know I should work out every day, but most days I find an incredibly flimsy excuse to skip it.
We all know there are things we shouldn’t do, and yet we all keep doing them.
Jeff Francoeur explains
When Jeff Francoeur was still with the team, one night he had a big hit to the opposite field. The next afternoon he and I sat on the infield tarp and talked. I pointed out that he could go to the opposite field when he wanted to.
Frenchy got a maniacal grin and said: “Why would I want to hit a single over there (pointing to right field), when I can hit a bomb over there? (Pointing to left.)
I said: “Why would you want to put money in the bank when there are gambling casinos?”
Easy for me to say: I’ve never hit a bomb anywhere and if I had a stadium full of people going nuts, I still might want to try. If a player makes it to the big leagues, he’s beat the odds over and over. And if you beat the odds enough, you might want to keep trying to beat the odds; why settle for a single when you might hit a home run?
So do your part
Lorenzo Cain is currently hitting .307. He had the day off on Sunday so I’m assuming he’ll be in the lineup tonight. I’ve got a plan that will help Lorenzo hit .300: when he comes to the plate, if he needs to pull a home run to win the game, go nuts; but if a single the other way will do the trick, don’t make a sound.
And if my plan works with Lorenzo, we can try using it on Moose.