Attacking the Hitter


#1

This could be considered pitching advice as much as part of the mental game. I have read several threads where people are asking how to pitch from ahead or behind in the count, how to pitch to good hitters, how to handle the first inning, how to handle the bottom of the order.

Each of these situations vary depending upon the pitcher and the batter order being faced, so it’s difficult to answer. The biggest suggestion I can give is to be observant.

In order to do this, you must understand what you are observing. That takes time to learn on your own, but it’s easier if you have a mentor like a coach or parent, or if you spend time on the bench playing “What if…?” with the other pitchers on your staff.

Collect as much data as possible before the first pitch is thrown. This can be old score books, game video, going to a game and scouting the other team, watching them take batting practice and making note of which locations they hit the hardest and which they struggle with. If they can’t hit it in BP, they won’t learn to hit it by game time!

How is their line up constructed? What is each player’s role in the batting order? If you can work counter to the batter’s plan, it will make their at bat more difficult.

Throw a majority of first pitch strikes. Work from a position of advantage. Strike one sets up your other pitches the best. I’m not saying lay one down the middle on a platter. Do what you must to get the first one by him, make him think it’s something that it’s not for a swing and a miss, foul ball, weak grounder or pop-up, or you could try to hit a location that he will not swing at.

The next thing you want to accomplish is to make the hitter uncomfortable in the box, and you will have an easier time. This can be done a number of ways. Unexpectedly varying pitch selection, pitch location, and pitch speed to keep the batter from timing your pitches is highly effective and also don’t allow him to square up on the ball. Be unpredictable. There are certain pitches that hitters are conditioned to look for in certain counts. Stay away from those patterns. The most known are 0-2 curveballs, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, and 3-1 fastballs. Mix in other pitches in these counts so hitters don’t sit on pitches.

Force the batter to move his feet. Don’t let him plant his tent stakes and set up camp. Get him ducking, diving, fidgeting. As I mentioned before, avoid attempting this with the first pitch, unless the batter crowds the plate. You can get this type of batter to move his feet and you can get a strike. A good old four-seamer at the umpire’s chin is a great way to start this hitter. I would not throw a front door curve or slider to this hitter. You don’t want him to pull a Shane Victorino and drop his padded front elbow into the pitch.

Now that you are ahead in the count and the batter is on edge, you are in control. Maintain control once you have seized it. Continue to be aggressive. This is no time to turn into a nibbler or finesse pitcher! Keep the pressure on. Work quickly. Don’t give the hitter time between pitches to gather his thoughts.

Work away from the batter’s strengths. If you have done your homework, what you intend to throw next should be apparent. Only if you are coming into the situation blind, this can be difficult. I said difficult, but not impossible–as long as you were and continue to be observant. Does the batter have a closed or open stance? Does he have a hole in his swing? Does he lunge at the ball? Does he lean back in his stance? Where does he hit the ball the hardest? Does he spray the ball or does he exclusively pull or go opposite field? Does he lean in or stand too erect? I can go on, but you get the idea. There will be some cue for you to latch onto and attempt to exploit.

Understand the game situation and prevent the offense from accomplishing its goals for each at bat. If they need a fly ball, keep the ball down. If they need to move the runner keep the ball away from that side.

Seize the neutral territory. That area that is off the plate, but between the batter’s boxes is contested ground. A good catcher can claim this area for you if you stay ahead in the count! When needed, you can throw a pitch that is not a strike yet still get the call, or have the batter chase it to protect the plate. Yes, I said it, you don’t always have to throw strikes to get people out.

Pitch to contact. Keeping the defense involved in the game is often a key to success. If you are striking out or walking hitters, the defense will have a tougher time staying focused and making plays behind you–especially at youth levels. Try to end the at bat on every pitch beginning with the 3rd pitch. I’m certainly not advocating giving in to the hitter to avoid a high pitch count. What I’m saying is that, if you are doing the things mentioned above, the hitter is in a position of defensive swinging. Put the ball where the hitter can’t hurt you.

The moral of this story is that if you do the work on the front side, pay attention to the situation, and execute your plan, the game has a better chance to go the way you want it to go.


#2

Coach Paul—I don’t know if you ever met or talked to Ed Lopat, but all this is exactly what he told me many moons ago when he was introducing me to strategic pitching! He put it this way: “Figure out what the batter is looking for—and don’t give it to him.” He told me how, when Whitey Ford was a rookie, he would sit the kid down and they would go over every batter on every team in the American League. Steady Eddie talked about pitching to contact—“Make the batter go after YOUR pitch, what YOU want him to hit.” He said, “Move the ball around—high, low, inside, outside, work the corners, change speeds, throw strikes—or what look like strikes—and stay away from the middle of the plate.” All this while he was refining my crossfire, working with me on holding runners on and pickoff moves, and getting deep into the mental and psychological aspects of the bump. He knew I didn’t have a fastball to speak of, so he instructed me on using to the fullest extent what I did have…which was a very good arsenal of breaking and offspeed pitches, plus the control and command of all of them. He knew I was a true natural sidearmer with a consistent release point and that I used the crossfire all the time. He was a pitcher well ahead of his time, a pitching coach par excellence, and a top troubleshooter, and he brought all those elements into play in helping me become a better and more effective pitcher.
And now you’re picking up where he left off. Good for you!


#3

Thank you for the comparison. The hardest part about following this seemingly simple advice has always been execution. There is no excuse for someone who has good command and control to feel like they can’t get the job done.

The other big component in attacking the hitter is being on the same page with the catcher! I watched a JV game yesterday in which the pitcher and catcher were dialed in. The catcher would throw down a sign, the pitcher would get an evil grin on his face, and the batters were in for a long afternoon.

The pitcher threw a complete game and gave up 2 runs. His team won 6-2. The catcher knocked in a run to tie the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the 1st. His team would never trail again. The catcher would later throw out a runner stealing second base with 2 outs in a first and third situation in the 4th inning. The opposing coach was trying to get both runners into scoring position and remove the easy force at second. He doubted the catcher would throw down in that situation and potentially give up a run. Well, the inning ended with one perfectly placed throw, and a tag applied by the SS that halted the runner’s slide a full two feet short of the bag. That play seemed to be the coup de gras in the game.

The DH knocked in 3 runs and scored 1, went 4 for 4 with a triple, a double, and two singles. When the offense and defense both support a pitcher that’s hitting his spots it can get rough on the opposition. It was a great game to watch and a perfect day for baseball in central Massachusetts.


#4

Great stuff Coach Paul


#5

Yes, good stuff!

One other point I’d add is to work fast. Get the ball back from the catcher and get right back on the rubber ready to throw your next pitch. Don’t let the batter settle into the box and get comfortable. You can’t quick pitch him but you can make him feel like he’s being rushed.