Ted Williams—who knew a thing or two about swinging a bat—said the first thing you had to do to be a successful hitter was get a good pitch to hit. So what exactly does that mean?
First, ask yourself what the hitter is trying to do: is he trying to get on base, drive in a runner on third with less than two outs, stay out of a double play or hit the ball to the right side?
All these jobs require different hitting approaches and fans can see how the hitter goes about his business. Here are a few situations and what a baseball fan should look for:
Moving the runner over: Here’s the situation; there’s a runner on second base and nobody’s out. If the guy at the plate hits a groundball to the right side of the field, the runner on second can advance to third. Hit the ball on the left side of the field and the runner on second has to wait and see if the ball gets through for a hit.
A right-handed hitter needs to hit the ball the other way, so he needs a pitch out over the plate. A lefty needs to pull the ball, so he needs a pitch he can pull. If the most important thing is moving the runner over, a groundball to the right side is better than anything in the air. If the ball’s in the air, the runner on second has to wait to see if it’s going to get caught. Chasing the wrong pitch before two strikes is a bad plate appearance.
Fans should be aware that if the man at the plate is an RBI guy—usually three, four or five-home hitters—his team may want him to drive the run in himself. Forget moving the runner to third and then counting on a lesser hitter to get the job done.
Staying out of a double-play: Say there’s runner on first and third and there’s one out. The pitcher wants a double play groundball and the hitter wants to get the ball in the air to the outfield. The pitcher will probably go with a pitch down in the zone and hope for a groundball. The hitter needs a pitch up in the zone. If you see a hitter chase that pitch down before he has two strikes, you just saw a bad plate appearance.
Driving in a runner from third with less than two outs: This situation can change, depending where the infield is playing. If the infield is back a groundball up the middle will do, but a groundball to a corner infielder won’t. That’s why hitters need to layoff pitches down and in—they’ll pull that ball to the third or first baseman, depending on which side of the plate they’re hitting from—and the shorter throw to home plate might prevent the runner from scoring.
If the infield is back or in a fly ball does the trick. Once again the hitter needs a pitch up in the zone that can be hit in the air to the outfield and should not chase a pitch down until he has two strikes.
Runner in scoring position: As long as the run matters, hitters should go after the first pitch that will allow them to get the job done. The table has been set; time to eat. Taking a hittable fastball in this situation might mean the hitter never gets another.
Two outs, nobody on: If you have power, try to drive the ball. A single still puts you two hits away from scoring—probably. If you’re Jarrod Dyson, you can find a way to get on and then steal second.
Getting on base: Down by three in the ninth—if you hit a home run they won’t let you run around the bases three times. Here, a hit means nothing; it’s all about getting the tying run to the plate. Take a strike, maybe two and then battle your butt off. Find a way to reach first base.
These aren’t the only situations that might arise, but they give fans a guideline for what constitutes a good plate appearance. Pay attention and you’ll begin to figure out which hitters have a clue and which hitters are just up there hacking.
Why you need to hit the cutoff man
When the Oakland A’s were here their right fielder, Josh Reddick, launched a throw to the plate and missed pretty much everything and everyone; the ball was high and off-line and that allowed the guy who hit the ball to Reddick—Omar Infante—to advance to second base on the bad throw. In a previous game Lorenzo Cain did the same thing and allowing a runner to advance into scoring position wound up costing the Royals a run.
There’s a reason coaches tell ballplayers to hit the cutoff man.
In fact Royals outfield coach, Rusty Kuntz, says that if an outfielder throws the ball to second base after a hit, he’ll be going the right thing over 90% of the time. Throwing the ball to second on a single keeps the double play in order if there are less than two outs and keeps another run out of scoring position if there are two outs.
Throwing runners out at the plate is hard; a lot of things have to go right.
Ideally the throw should come in on one bounce and that bounce should take place on the grass, not the dirt cutout surrounding the dish. That gives the catcher a nice, long hop to deal with and that gives him time to control the ball and make the tag. Short hops mean the catcher is going to have to stick with the catch for a longer period of time or risk losing the ball as he turns to make the tag.
Given the play’s difficulties, Kuntz says it should only be attempted in certain situations; late in the game when an important run is about to score, or maybe when Alex Gordon is the one throwing the ball.
In any case—most of the time the outfielder should forget being a hero and hit the cutoff man.