Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Plate Discipline


                                                                                (Photo credit: Diamondhoggers.com)

In 2012, 2013 and 2014, Bryce Harper had the following stats:

Year      PA      BBs   BB rate
2012      597        56      9.3%    
2013      497        61     12.2 %    
2014      395        38       9.6%  
2015      195        40     20.5%

Not surprisingly, Bryce Harper leads MLB with a 1.193 OPS, 42 RBI and a 4.1 WAR.

Certainly, pitchers are more careful with hitters who show consistent power, but 10% more careful?

Bryce Harper has become more selective. He is swinging at fewer pitches that aren't what he is looking for. He has improved his plate discipline.

Having great plate discipline means hitters swing at pitches they are on time for and take pitches that they cannot hit in that timing. No hitter can cover the entire plate and the entire depth of the hitting zone up and down, even if every pitch is a fastball.

When a hitter is looking to pull the baseball, the outside corner should be a take. Who cares if it's strike one or two. Putting the ball in play simply because it's a strike is a terrific way to induce an easy out at the collegiate level and above. Hitters simply reacting to a coach's 35-40 mph BP fastball and swinging "as long as it's a strike" are creating poor visualization and reactionary habits. They are teaching themselves to react to pitch tunnels and swing at pitches that they will not be able to cover once the pitcher is throwing 85+ mph.

I believe coaches can teach, preach and empower plate discipline in hitters. It is a skill, not a talent. The hitters who lead the league in walks are certainly talented, but they have acutely honed the skill of plate discipline. Seek and ye shall find.

Keeping track of batting practice is an outstanding way to measure plate discipline. Throughout the fall, we will measure:

1.) Strikes swung at
2.) Strikes taken
3.) Balls swung at
4.) Balls taken

It is not a batting practice pitchers job to throw every pitch in the strike zone. Conversely, it is not a hitters job to swing at every pitch thrown, so as to "keep BP moving." What do we really care about?

A timely BP or the development of our hitters? A great way to empower this is to take shorter rounds. Instead of 8 or 10 swings, try 4 or 5. Taking many swings is good for acquiring feel, but only if their is time between the swings to make adjustments, and energy with which to take the best hacks at each pitch.

Hitters who swing at 70% so that they can take 8-10 swings in a round are developing a feel for the barrel while moving slowly. Sprinters don't jog. Sprinters sprint. We, too, must train our hitters at full speed.

Now, what to do with this information we have acquired? Formulate percentages. Hitters who take too the highest number of strikes are not aggressive enough and operate in a mindset that each pitch must be too perfect. Hitters that swing at too many balls are reckless and lack discipline.

Many coaches may make the excuse that you can't make a kid more aggressive, but you can calm his aggressiveness. Noted. Let's start in batting practice. What we measure, they will value.

Plate discipline is simple. Hunt a pitch, be on time and take pitches that you aren't in rhythm with.

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