Don’t get me wrong, hitting is one of the single most difficult skills of any aspect of any sport. This post is not about how easy hitting is, because it isn’t. This post is about how the few athletes who have the skills to hit major league pitching can make hitting easier, or more difficult, for themselves. If the A’s hitters—a lineup not blessed with enormous hitting talent by major league standards—would just follow some basic principles, they would instantly hit better.
“zone hit” with less than 2 strikes
The A’s should never take a first pitch fastball down the middle, as Kendall often did, as Crosby often does, as even Dan Johnson is apt to do, because that should be the one pitch they are sitting on. Far from being able to get ahead with a quick strike, pitchers should be forced to throw to the corners, and to throw off speed pitches, which will create more hitters’ counts—at which point the hitters can still look for a pitch and/or a location, forcing pitchers away from the middle of the plate and away from their best pitch. It’s a nice vicious-cycle if you’re the hitter, and it comes from looking for a pitch and/or a location and being prepared to mash as soon as you get it.
The A’s hitters appear to have an idea, before they step into the batter’s box, of how they expect the at-bat to go. Crosby does not intend to hit the first pitch (or sometimes he suddenly does, no matter what or where the pitch is), or Swisher is looking “to get into a hitter’s count”. As a hitter you should have no idea whether or not you’ll swing at the first pitch, or whether you’ll swing early or late in the count, because that should be dictated by the pitcher. You’ll swing at the first mistake, or the first pitch you see that is in the “happy zone” you have established on your terms. Hitters tend to hit this way when the count is 3-1. They should also hit this way when the count is 0-0, 1-0, 0-1, 1-1, 2-0, and 2-1. Wouldn’t it be great, as a hitter, if the count was always 3-1? Well until you have two strikes, it can be.
“Hit the ball hard where it’s pitched”
The easiest kind of hitter to pitch to is a pull hitter and the hardest kind of hitter to pitch to is the guy who hits to all fields—because these hitters can hit “pitcher’s pitches,” not just mistakes. I think trying to pull the ball gets more hitters into trouble than any other tendency. Again, let the pitcher dictate where you hit it and just focus on driving the ball with authority. If you can line or drive the ball to left, center, or right, you force the defense to spread out and you take away both sides of the plate from the pitcher.
This means that as a hitter, you need to let the movement of a pitch work for you, not against you. Pitches that are tailing or breaking away from you should be driven the other way; pitches moving towards you, and off speed pitches out over the plate, will naturally be pulled. With this approach, you no longer need to be out in front because you no longer need to gear up your swing early. Let the pitch dictate where you will hit the ball, and just focus on driving the ball hard with a solid swing. You have now become difficult to pitch to and difficult to defend.
As simple as these two basic principles sound, they are generally not followed by Crosby or Chavez, usually not followed by Johnson or Swisher, and for long stretches neglected by Cust and even Ellis. “Zone hitters” who just look to drive the ball hard where it’s pitched are very difficult to pitch to and very difficult to defend. The A’s are neither, and that’s why they get the least out of what is already a disadvantaged lineup.
On my team, the rule would be simple: To earn playing time tomorrow, your at-bats today just need to reflect an effort to follow these two basic principles. There is a lot of love in “tough love,” and hitters who think they love to work the count and pull the ball actually love hitting closer to .300 than .200.
The A’s hitters are welcome to use these ground-breaking ideas anytime, including tonight, at 7:05pm, against Erik Bedard...