OK, you’re at the plate and you find yourself in a two-strike count; what do you do? Two-strike hitting requires a different approach. Early in the count, hitters might be trying to drive the ball: trying to hit it out in front of the plate, pull the ball and plug a gap or hit it out of the yard. Once a hitter gets to two strikes, he might be letting the ball travel deeper — which gives him a longer look at the ball and means he’s less likely to get fooled. In that case the hitter would be willing to settle for a single to the opposite field.
Here are some of the ways hitters settle for less once they get to two strikes: they can choke up on the bat, change their hand position so they’re a little closer to where they’ll need to be to make contact. They can also spread out their feet — once again, that gets them a little closer to a good hitting position, but can take away some power — and they can expand the zone: not let borderline pitches go by.
Here’s what some of the Royals hitters try to do once they’re in a two-strike count:
Alex Gordon: Alex says he is never thinking about home runs -- for him, that’s a great way to get into a slump. But Gordon is trying to hit line drives and drive the ball. Once he gets to two strikes, Alex isn’t trying to drive the ball quite as much — he just wants to get it in play. He’ll expand his strike zone and feels that if he’s called out on strikes, it’s his fault: the pitch was too close to take.
Alcides Escobar: Esky will choke up on the bat, expand his strike zone some and concentrate on getting the ball in play.
Billy Butler: Billy will expand his zone and go into “swing mode.” Hitters sometimes “zone down” — they start their swing to a part of the strike zone and then shut down their swing when the pitch is not there and, with two strikes, they expand that zone to include the entire plate and a little more.
Mike Moustakas: Mike does not expand his zone. Moose feels that if he expanded his usual zone, he’d be swinging at just about anything that comes out of the pitcher’s hand. Mike said he makes no mechanical adjustments.
Eric Hosmer: Eric wants to protect both sides of the plate, so he looks for something right down the middle. That way the necessary adjustment remains small. He also recently started looking for a pitch up in the zone. Chase pitches — a pitch that starts in the zone and then moves out, a pitch that a hitter might chase — are usually down in the zone. If the pitcher gets a hitter to two strikes and has a pitch to waste, he’ll often throw a chase pitch. By looking up in the zone, Hosmer hopes to avoid chasing something down: “I’m slowly starting to figure this game out.”
Salvador Perez: Sal just wants to get the ball in play and avoid the strikeout. Perez figures if he gets the ball in play, good things can happen. The other day he flared one the other way, while picking up a hit and an RBI —and felt that was a good example of what can happen if a hitter will settle for less and take the ball to the opposite field.
Jeff Francoeur: Frenchy said he’ll look for the ball on the outer half of the plate and try to hit it to the opposite field, but also said when a hitter does that he has to accept that he might get jammed. Once a hitter goes into two-strike mode — looking to go the other way — a lot of pitchers will go hard in. On the other hand, if a hitter is quick enough, he can pull his hands in and still get the bat head to that fastball in. Even if the hitter gets jammed, he might bloop one over the infield.
Jeff said he also looks for a pitch down in the zone (Jeff can drop the bat head and golf a pitch with the best of them) because so many pitchers try to get him to chase a pitch up — higher than high — above the strike zone.
Lorenzo Cain: Lorenzo said he cuts down on his swing: he’s not talking about a physical adjustment — he means he just doesn’t swing the bat as hard. He looks for the ball in the middle of the plate. The other day Lorenzo felt like he didn’t make an adjustment once he had two strikes, and the results showed — three strikeouts. After I asked him about his two-strike approach, Cain went out against the Diamondbacks, got to two strikes in one of his at-bats, clearly made an adjustment and hit a groundball that trickled through the right side for a hit.
And, yes, I am taking credit for that — although Lorenzo might not see it the same way.
Cain admitted during his three-strikeout game, he was still trying to do damage with two strikes and those big swings cost him when the pitcher threw a chase pitch. Lorenzo said when a hitter gets a pitch to hit, but doesn’t hit it, overswinging is usually the reason.
Chris Getz: Chris looks to hit the ball from the shortstop over to the left-field line; that means he’s letting the ball get deep in the zone. He spreads his feet and has almost no step. His goal is to get the ball in play. If a pitcher comes inside and jams Getz, his speed from the left side of the plate can make almost any play close.
Jarrod Dyson: Jarrod chokes up and tries to hit the ball the other way; very close to what he’s doing every time he comes to the plate.
Elliot Johnson: Elliot chokes up for bat control. He also thinks more guys don’t choke up out of pride: on the other hand, Barry Bonds choked up and it didn’t seem to hurt his power — although other factors played a part. Most pitchers want to get hitters out with chase pitches down in the zone, so Elliot looks for something up in the zone. Depending on the pitcher, Johnson might look to hit the ball to the opposite field.
There are hitters who just don’t adjust to a two-strike count. If your job is to hit the ball out of the park, some guys just keep trying to do it and hope for a two-strike mistake. Other guys think power hitters should adjust and accept a single the other way, but it can depend on the situation: if there are two outs in the inning and the power hitter can’t run, it may take three more two-out hits to score him. If it’s later in the game and the manager would send out a pinch-runner, then a single looks better. Same deal with a runner in scoring position: a single that scores a run is a good deal as long as the run means something. If you’re down by a lot and it’s late, a single run doesn’t look as good — trying to put a crooked number on the board might be a better bet.
Bottom line: what a hitter does with two strikes depends on the hitter, the pitcher and the situation, but now you can look for the adjustment Royals hitters make once they’re hitting with two strikes.