By Eric Johnson
The Situation: Runner on 3rd, 1 out, 5-hitter at the plate. The hitter has a 1-1 count. The game is tied in the bottom of the 6th. The hitter knows he needs to get a ball in the air to get the runner in.
The Play: The hitter is sitting on a fastball, because he wants to be on time and hit something square. The pitcher deals, and loops a curveball up in the zone. The hitter takes it, and is shocked when he hears the umpire call it strike two.
The Outcome: He digs back into the box, and waves at a low slider for strike three. The next hitter grounds out, ending the inning.
What Went Wrong?
A D1 hitting coach who took multiple teams to Omaha once told me that his theory, when looking for a pitch, was to divide pitch selection into halves – so you only have to choose 1 of 2 options. Sit on either a fastball or off speed; a pitch on the inner half, or the outer half; a pitch up, or a pitch down. The only time that you can ever combine two of these sets of options (example: looking for a fastball on the inner half) is when you’re in an advantage count (0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-1).
In a 1-1 count, the hitter had the right approach by sitting on just one thing – a fastball. But his mistake came in the approach that he chose. With a runner on 3rd, he has to get a ball airborne to score the run. He knows that a groundball does him no good. Because of that, he needs to look up in the zone. A high curveball is not a hard pitch to hit for a fly ball. But by taking it and digging himself into a 1-2 count, he’s put the pitcher in the driver’s seat, and made it much harder to get the run in.
You have to find a way to balance being selective and being aggressive. You’ll need to learn how to select the right pitches and then be aggressive when you see the pitches you select. The situation will dictate what pitch you should be looking for, whether it is your favorite pitch, or a pitch that will help you get a job done. Understand each situation, and be prepared when you step in the box. Think the game.