When Clint Hurdle was the hitting coach for the Colorado Rockies I asked him what he thought of Hal McRae as a hitting coach. Clint said hitters listen to some hitting coaches because they know how to hit; hitters listen to other hitting coaches because they know everything that doesn’t work.
When it comes to hitting, I may not knoweverything that doesn’t work, but I know all the stuff I
tried didn’t work.
First, let’s start by admitting hitting a baseball is really hard at any level and insanely hard in the big leagues. I got to face Jerry Dipoto when he was a reliever for the Cleveland Indians, New York Mets and Colorado Rockies. The first thing that impressed me was the velocity—90 miles an hour plus. The ball actually made a buzzing sound as it went past.
And the way I was swinging, I got to hear an awful lot of balls go past.
The next thing that blew my mind was the movement; even his fastball had it. Jerry’s slider and split-finger were—at least for me—unhittable. If I started my swing in time to catch a fastball—which was just about the time Jerry started his windup—I was a mile out in front of anything else. Facing a big-league pitcher in his prime gave me new respect for how hard it is to hit; none of us should forget that.
Clearly, being middle-aged and having no bat speed is not a formula for success—so whatdoes
According to Ted Williams—a guy whocould
hit—the number one thing a hitter has to do is get a good pitch to hit. When you watch the Royals ask yourself if they’re getting good pitches to hit. If they’re chasing borderline pitches—pitcher’s pitches—are they doing it when they have two strikes?
If a hitter is chasing marginal pitches early in the count he’s probably making a mistake. (Although you may want to check his hot zones and see if that marginal pitch is actually smack dab in the middle of a zone he hits well—some guys can consistently hit pitchesoff the plate.) A hitter wants to look for his
pitch until he has two strikes; then he’s got to be less picky. Then, once he’s got two strikes, a hitter has to turn into a hockey goalie and keep the puck out of the net; choke up, shorten up his swing and protect the strike zone.
Seems obvious, right? But there have been times we’ve seen Royals hitters chase a marginal pitch early in the count and then get too selective with two strikes.
Jason Kendall (I hear he has a new book coming out) stuck around long enough to get 2,195 hits in the big leagues. He told me he got most of those hits on pitches down the middle. Here’s a quote from the new book "Throwback":
"I’d say 90 percent of all pitches at any level of baseball are on pitches in the middle of the plate.Every
pitcher makes mistakes; I can’t stress that enough. Hitters should look for the ball in the middle of the plate. That other s--t is too hard to hit."
As a catcher Jason wanted to get hitters thinking and guessing. As a hitter, he wanted to keep things as simple as possible; get a good pitch to hit—don’t miss it. Most of us have a hard time analyzing hitting mechanics, but all of us can see if a hitter is getting a good pitch to hit. And be aware that when a guy gets a pitch down the middle and doesn’t crush it, over-swinging might be why. Big league hitters are trying—but sometimes a hitter can try too hard.
Take it from an expert.
A two-strike approach
If you’re a power hitter, maybe you keep swinging for the fences; but if you’re a bottom of the order type—get the ball in play. Talk to guys who know and they’ll tell you way too many hitters without power have no two-strike approach.
During spring training Rusty Kuntz asked me if I had 600 big league at-bats, in how many of those at-bats would I have two strikes. I said all 600—I kinda suck. Once Rusty got done laughing he told me the average big leaguer will have two strikes in over half his at-bats. A guy without a two-strike approach has a big disadvantage.
Check out a hitter’s hands: if he gets to two strikes and his pinkie is still hanging off the bottom of the knob, he’s still taking a full cut. Throw that guy a breaking pitch in the dirt; he’ll have a hard time stopping his swing. If a hitter is choked up, he’ll have better bat control.
"Throwback: A Big League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played" is an inside look at our national pastime, co-authored by Jason Kendall and Lee Judge. The book will be in stores on May 13th, but can be pre-ordered right now.