by: Larry Cicchiello
What if I told you there is a way for a pitcher to know a hitter’s tendencies even if he has never heard anything about him or has never seen him up at bat? No, I haven’t lost my mind and I’m insulted that you think I have lost it. It is mandatory for baseball pitchers to find out the strengths and weaknesses of the baseball hitters they face. There are certain very clever things a pitcher can do.
If the hitter takes a practice swing before facing you, pay attention to his practice swing! If he appears to be hitting an inside pitch with it, he is probably a pull hitter. If he appears to be hitting the ball the opposite way with his practice swing, chances are he likes to go the opposite way. If he appears to be hitting a high pitch, he probably likes the ball up. If he appears to be hitting a low pitch, you guessed it, he’s probably a good low ball hitter. One of the best baseball pitching tips to remember is that professional baseball hitters, all the way down to very young players like to practice what they do well and not what they do not do well. This very often includes their practice swings.
Some Guidelines To Use BEFORE You Actually See The Hitter Swing:
Batter Has A Closed Stance: He probably likes the ball away from him and out over the plate. Find out if he can handle a pitch inside.
Batter Has An Open Stance: He probably likes the ball inside. Find out if he can handle the low and away strike.
Batter Stands Deep In The Box: I would be thinking primarily breaking balls.
Batter Stands Shallow In The Box: Well, if the batter wants to give me an extra couple of feet on my fastball, I’ll take the extra foot or two he’s giving me to see if he can catch up to my heater.
Batter Has His Hands Held High: Almost always likes the ball low, with very few exceptions! You can check it out for yourself right now. Put your hands up high right now, by your back ear and pretend you are holding a bat. Move your hands like you are swinging at a chest high fastball. It doesn’t feel right, does it? Pitch him primarily up in the zone until he proves you to be wrong.
Batter Has The Bat Curled Around His Neck: Find out if he can handle a pitch that is up and in. His bat has to travel extremely far to hit that pitch well.
Some Thought Processes To Use AFTER You Have Seen The Hitter Swing:
Your first pitch is a real good fastball and he pulls it and hits a seed that’s a foul about 350 feet from home plate. You now know there is a very good chance he loves the fast ball. You should strongly consider going off speed on your next pitch. The only risk is that if he’s a good hitter, he might be thinking along with you after what he just did to your fast ball. (This is part of the chess match that takes place between a good pitcher and a good hitter.)
Good hitters are good hitters for a reason and that’s because they are always thinking. OK, he has clobbered your first pitch fastball. I’m not saying that you should not go off speed but you do have another option, considering this guy appears to love the fastball. The thought process goes like this…OK, you love the fastball, well I’ll give you another fastball. But this time it’s going to be six inches or so off the outside corner. Remember, if he loves to hit the fastball, he may chase one out of the strike zone because he doesn’t know if he’ll get another one from you. After two fastballs, he may start to think that you are going to stay with your heater. You might then go off speed, on your third pitch. If this sounds like a chess match to you, it is because it IS a chess match that should be going on between a good pitcher and a good batter!
What If You Start The Batter Off With A Curve Ball?
You may start a hitter off with a curve ball and he may act like he’s never seen a curve ball before. I experienced this first hand when I was pitching at the age of 15. I had a very successful outing in our championship game. A player on the other team was a feared and outstanding hitter! I knew very little about him other than that everybody knew he was a tremendous hitter. Now please keep in mind the purpose of this article…I want to get to know him as quickly as possible. He had smoke coming out of his ears when he came up to the plate and I thought, “Oh boy, here we go.” My first pitch to him was a slow curve ball. He swung down at the ball with the very unusual appearance that he was hammering a spike into the ground. I had him “chopping the wood,” as it’s referred too. I remember his timing was disrupted and literally saw the look of bewilderment on his face after the pitch. After this peculiar swing, I actually saw his eyes squint as he was shaking his head from left to right and right to left as if saying “no.” Well, the only thing I knew about him was that he batted something ridiculous like 600. I now also knew, after only one pitch that he does not like my curve ball.
In two subsequent at bats, he hesitated and decided to swing at the last fraction of a second. He was 0-3 against me and did not come close to getting a hit off me. Please…I am not making fun of Danny nor am I bragging. I have always and still have total respect for everyone on the baseball field. The only point I’m making here is for your benefit and not mine. The point is that I was able to learn a lot about this hitter after throwing one pitch!
He saw fastballs off the plate and medium speed or slow curve balls the entire game. I still had to show him the fast ball because he’s a good hitter for a reason and he will make adjustments. If I threw him only curve balls, probably about the fifth one would go over the fence. He would progressively go from looking terrible to looking very good and that’s why he’s a very good hitter.
I have to be honest and level with you here. I told you I had a very successful outing and that’s totally true. We lost the game 2-1 in extra innings. I had a two hit shutout going into the last inning. We led 1-0 in the last inning and I was starting to get tired. With one out, I walked a batter. I struck out the next batter on a fastball. So there is a runner on first base and two outs. No problem. The next batter hits a fairly easy grounder to second base. Our second baseman runs over about three steps to his left, is in front of the ball and it goes through his legs. (Ouch!) I should be celebrating a 1-0 victory with a 2 hit shutout! But instead, there are now runners on first and second and still two outs.
I still need one out and they have their second best hitter up. I threw him a “mistake,” a high curve ball and he singled to left center to tie the game up. The next batter popped up to end the inning and I was done for the game, as the league rules required me to leave after six innings.
They scored in the first extra inning on a walk and then a double and beat us 2-1. It’s amazing how I can remember the details from over forty years ago but I was heart broken and that’s probably why I can remember it so well. I was very upset and emotional after the game and my father, God rest his soul, had a very nice chat with me. We lived less than a mile from the park but my father and I drove around for about twenty minutes before returning home to break the bad news to my mother and sisters. He kept dwelling on my solid performance and told me, “you pitched your heart out and that’s all you can do.” My father was great and made me feel a little better but this one hurt and my tears reflected just that. (Thanks for letting me share my heartbreaking story with you.)
OK, let’s get back to knowing a batter quickly. Let’s make sure we are clear on something. Remember that even if I see that a hitter does NOT like a pitch in a certain location, it does NOT mean that I can throw that same pitch over and over and over again and expect to be successful. Good hitters will make adjustments at the plate. I still have to show him other pitches and other locations also.
Be cautious that a batter doesn’t start out one way and then when he is actually swinging, he changes. For example, a batter may have his bat curled around his head but when he’s actually ready to hit, he changes and it’s NOT curled any longer.
Another example is if a batter has an open stance. He may possibly close his stance just before getting ready to swing. You have to pay attention, just like a batter who takes your pitch and follows it all the way into the catcher’s mitt to see how your pitch is moving.
Baseball pitching tips require clever use of the mind as well as the body and pitching is NOT simply getting the ball and throwing the pitch. Please make sure you learn a hitter’s tendencies as quickly as possible!
Larry Cicchiello is the author of “Excellent Baseball Coaching: 30 Seconds Away.” His very user friendly eBooks & CDs cover 320 topics on playing very good baseball. ALL baseball players, coaches or baseball parents who want to help their child will be fully equipped! Larrys site offers some FREE baseball tips on hitting and baseball pitching tips. http://var/web/site/public_html.LarryBaseball.com/products
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