Ted Williams, the last man to hit .400 in the major leagues, wrote a book called “The Science of Hitting.” In that book Williams said the number one rule of hitting was getting a good pitch to hit.
There have been some bad-ball hitters – guys who get good results while swinging at bad pitches – but in general Williams thought it was very difficult for most hitters to hit a bad pitch well.
One of the first things you learn about hitting at the higher levels is it’s impossible to cover the entire strike zone and every type of pitch.
Try to cover both fastballs and off-speed stuff, and you’ll be ahead of the slider and behind the fastball. Try to cover both sides of the plate and you’ll get jammed inside and pull off pitches away.
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So smart hitters are selective; they don’t try to cover every pitch or every part of the zone.
Smart hitters look for a pitch they’re likely to see and – unless they have two strikes – won’t swing until they get the pitch their looking for. And because the smart hitter is looking for one particular pitch, he’s quite likely to hit it hard when he gets it.
So how did the Royals do at getting a good pitch to hit?
On Saturday night the Kansas City Royals once again lost to the Texas Rangers; this time it was 2-1. The Royals had a total of six hits and did not do a good job of getting pitches to hit.
Once a hitter gets into a two-strike count, pitch selection goes out the window. The hitter can’t afford to take any pitch even close to the plate, so you shouldn’t be overly critical when a hitter chases a bad pitch in an effort to avoid getting called out on strikes.
But it is OK to be upset when a hitter chases a bad pitch before he has two strikes.
The Royals saw 121 pitches, and I went back and looked at all of them. If I counted right, the Royals chased pitcher’s pitches – bad pitches to hit – 26 times before they were in a two-strike count.
If I counted wrong – and I suspect a couple of those were hit-and-runs where the hitter was required to swing the bat – that’s still a lot of bad pitches being chased when the hitter doesn’t have to chase one.
Like I said earlier, some hitters have a zone they hit well even if the pitch doesn’t appear to be a good one. But if swinging at a pitcher’s pitch early in the count was a great idea, the Royals would be hitting a lot better than they are.
History and Ted Williams suggest it’s a lot better to wait for the pitcher to make a mistake and then hit that.
Why does hitting coach Dale Sveum still have a job?
That was the question one upset Royals fan asked, and I’m guessing the answer is connected to those World Series rings I keep seeing around the ballpark.
Baseball has a long and rich tradition of throwing a coach to the wolves whether he deserves it or not; it makes it look like the team is doing something and buys them time to figure things out and save everybody else’s job.
But before we break out the pitchforks and torches, let’s take a look back at what Dale Sveum has accomplished.
In 2014 the Royals had the second-highest team batting average in the American League, and they were the hardest team to strike out. The Royals won the AL championship and came 90 feet from tying Game 7 of the World Series.
In 2015 the Royals were tied for second-highest team batting average in the American League and were once again the hardest team to strike out. The Royals won another AL championship and this time won the World Series.
Sveum does not advocate swinging at the first pitch a batter sees, but he thinks it’s a decent idea to swing at the first good pitch a batter sees.
Pitchers are trying to get ahead in the count, and hitters should not stand there and let a fastball down the pipe go by; do that and the at bat swings into the pitcher’s favor.
In 2014 the Royals hit .321 when they put the first pitch in play; in 2015 it was .317 and in 2016 it was .381.
In 2017 the Royals have hit .266 when they put the first pitch in play and that would suggest they’re swinging at some bad first pitches.
Word gets around quickly and if the league has figured out the Royals are being overly aggressive at the plate, the league will throw pitcher’s pitches and watch the Royals get themselves out.
I don’t get many chances to talk to Sveum, but I’m pretty sure he’s not advocating swinging at first-pitch fastballs a foot inside or first-pitch sliders a foot outside.
The hitters are being overly aggressive and chasing pitches in an effort to make something happen, and until they back off and get more selective early in the count, the Royals are probably going to struggle.
The Royals play the Rangers on Sunday, and if I were you I’d watch to see what pitches they try to hit before they have two strikes.
According to Ted Williams, it ought to be a good one.