Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Approach: Eliminating Pitches

A stocky right-handed hitter points his barrel towards the pitcher, ready to battle from his 0-2 count. A six-foot-three inch righty dusts the rubber off, stares in for the sign, nods his head, winds and delivers to the plate: a fastball elevated just above the belly button. The hitter stays loaded, takes the pitch, quiet and still. He glares back to the pitcher with a smile, as if to say “can’t fool me.”

Some hitters take two-strike pitches like they know what’s coming. No question, those hitters are strong in the mental game: slow feet, slow mind, quiet heartbeat, fast hands. But something more is going on here. 

Great hitters understand the pitcher’s repertoire and use the tunnel, break and spin of pitches as information against the pitcher, like a general anticipating an enemy’s next point of attack.

The concept of a 'tunnel' is that of a set direction based upon a starting point. When you see the direction of an arrow, you can anticipate it's estimated target. Picking up on the tunnel from a pitcher's release is similar.

If a right-handed reliever throws a slider, but does not throw a curveball or change-up with great depth, then any pitch starting out of a higher tunnel is unlikely to come down into strike zone. This allows the hitter to eliminate high tunnel pitches.

Hitters also struggle to barrel up a fastball with movement because they swing towards the initial plane of the ball rather than the anticipated plane. In other words, they fail to anticipate the altered direction the ball moves in when lesser fastball spin and air resistance add sink to a pitch.

If you are facing a submarine pitcher, the ball may come out of a "4-o'clock" slot. From this tunnel, fastballs and change-ups will move down and arm side and sliders across and glove side, in a sweeping motion. If you’re looking for a fastball to hit, swinging at a pitch that starts on the inside-corner will get your thumbs sawed off fast.

If a pitcher throws an 11-5 or 12-6 curveball and is pumping it into the zone, it would make sense to look for a curveball to hit, so you aren't quickly subject to an 0-2 or 1-2 count. To find a curveball to hit hard, a hitter must anticipate an elevated tunnel. If you look for the same tunnel out of his hand as a fastball down the middle, you will end up swinging at a breaking ball in the dirt.

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