Is it true that batters mostly process pitch in middle third of flight?


#1

I read this somewhere. It said it the first third you only see it like blurry and don’t really get information and the last third you also can’t really track it so the information comes from the middle third of the pitch flight.

Is that true and what does it mean for pitchers?


#2

This is a very good question.

However, the answer(s) can go in many directions at once. So let me attempt to boil down the answer(s) in general terms.

Ball recognition is usually a quality that’s found all up and down the batting order. Hence, as a pitching coach, I spent a considerable amount of my time watching and listening to batting coaches. Why? Because these guys were my opposite number. Figure them out, and all the better.
So, those batters that had better ball recognition than others, were in the top of the batting order. Those with less ball recognition, were lower on the ladder.
I took the time to ask these guys on every club that I was with, all up and down the batting order - how? “How do you do it?” Here’s the answers that I got:
The batters in the top four spots of the batter order faced the pitcher with both eyes. They usually couldn’t predict what the pitch was, or it’s flight path, when it initially came out of the pitcher’s hand. This was the case, with over 90% of the good hitters that I asked. This was even the case when the signature of the release was obvious - like a curveball or even a knuckleball. Then I asked … “how far out do you need before making some kind of judgement?” Again, over 90% of those quality hitters answered - " Judgement stars with picking up the ball’s rotation, and it’s general flight path trajectory, oh … say … 30 to 40 feet out in front of them." The end result is a quicker time to start the commitment process and thus, make contact with the ball out in front of their leading hip. Thus, those in the middle of the batting order, have less ball recognition and therefore start the commitment process to swing or not, at about 10 to 20 feet in front of them. Thus the middle of the batting order starts to make contact with the pitch more towards the center of their body. The bottom of the order usually starts the recognition process at about 2 to ten feet out in front of them, thus making contact with the pitch off their back hip.

Of course this general narration is an over-simplification of the entire process of hitter’s recognition. However, enough of it is worthy enough to use as a starting point for a pitching coach and his/her pitching staff to train.

To make this easier to use as a starting point, all batter’s usually have two zones that they use to either start of reserve their commitment to swing, take the pitch, or simply guess. The first zone is the Travel Zone. This zone is the ball’s flight path that the batter visualizes with no reason to start the judgement process. The second zone is the Recognition Zone. Now the batter starts the split second process of either committing to a swing, deliberately letting the pitch go, or just stand there and wait for a call.

Every batter has a signature to these two zones and for different pitches. The trick is to track those two zone, find out why, and keep that data base up to date - game per game.

I should note that as pitchers and pitching coaches, we constantly educate ourselves of who we’re facing and how they should be pithed to. On the flip side are the batters and their coaches trying to educate their game plan on who to better us. Pitchers have tendencies too - some more predictable than others. Therefore, the answer to your question varies because of the volatility with the human condition for both pitcher and batter. This one-on-one meeting is the most fascinating component of this game.


#3

I don’t have as detailed an answer as Coach B but my understanding is that batters can recognize trajectory (up,down,left,right) of the ball right out of the pitcher’s hand whereas the ball has to travel further before the batter can recognize speed and spin. Early detection of trajectory is the reason tunneling one’s pitches is important/beneficial.


#4

Roger brings up a good point about the release of the ball by the pitcher. If the ball is released high, as appose to straight out in front of the pitcher, the trajectory will be governed accordingly. Pitchers who release the ball more out in front, and pitchers who are under 6’ will have a tendency to have flat trajectories also - generally. The mound in amateur baseball also influences the trajectory. Badly maintained mounds have the tendency to keep a pitcher upright throughout his delivery, thus a steeper trajectory.

Do you understand what I’m trying to get across?

Here’s a training routine that I use to do repeatedly, about the batting order’s characteristics, to get my point across to the pitchers that I coached. I’d stand about 40 feet in front of the plate and toss BP. I’d let the top of the order clock every incoming ball and let the pitchers watch from the on-deck-circle. Without fail, contact was made off their front hip. Then the middle of our batting order would take a turn - and without fail, contact was made off the center of their body. The bottom of our order would make contact off their back hip.

If I moved closer … to say 30 feet, the top of the order still maintained their contact location, while the middle and bottom of our order barely cut it.

The next time that your club has BP, separate your batting order into three groups - top, middle and bottom of the order. Take special note of how and where they make contact with the ball. You’d be amazed at how true the logic that I explained works. Then just to have some fun, add a high release, then a low-straight release to the BP and notice how that impacts the contact quality of your clubs batter order. The guys at the top still maintain their place, while the middle and bottom struggle.


#5

A pitch at 85-95 mph take 400 ms to 500 ms to go from the hand to the plate.

A batter takes on average at the HS to MLB level from 120ms to 180ms to start bat motion to contact of ball.

Your brain takes approx just under 100ms to process where the ball is and calculate the trajectory of the object.

Many people think Calculus is very hard. Funny part is that our brains are doing calculus all day long. Ever throw paper into a trash can… calculus! You are doing calc and you didnt even know it!!!

So, in flight the brain is actually “projecting” where the ball is and is going to be. Remember, your eyes dont actually “see” anything. They are just lenses that allow light to hit the “electronic generator” part of our body and then the brain “processes” all of that and tells us what we are seeing. So, the brain is trying to calc from the input of the object moving where the object is going to be next.

Since it takes the brain nearly 100ms to process that stuff, when you hit a baseball the you are not actually seeing the ball hit the bat within the confines of your brain realizing it. If feels like it… but it really is not. Since you have to start your swing when the ball is at about 12-15 feet away from you (on average - or what I call the hitters strike zone), you can no longer process the path of the ball in time for you to change your swing to hit it. Example… Rivera cutter. Because the cutter thrown from him moved in the last 10 feet or so in front of the plate, the brain simply did not have enough time to change “where it thought” the ball was going to be… thus… batter looks silly!

So, the actual processing of a pitch does occur during the middle third of flight as you question, but it is also starting during the 1st third as it projects where the ball is going to be during the second third which the brain is then saying… “ok… it started there… it is still where it should be… so swing here!” This is why late breaking sliders, cutters and curve balls are so tough for a hitter. The brain just does not have enough time to take in those changes and process the information and relay that to the motor cortex parts of the brain for the body to change where it is going to swing. (We see it all the time — Ozuna not looking to good… )

Great hitters have a faster swing to contact time. Their brains are actually trained, though repetition of hitting, to react faster. This allows more time for them to process the flight of the ball and allows them to see that flight change in the last 15 feet. If you can wait until 10 feet before the plate to start your swing, that give you a huge advantage over the guy that has to start his swing at 15 feet.

Many things come into play when hitting. Yogi said it best… You cant think and hit at the same time. Neuro guys are testing all kinds of things related to this. They have pretty much found that Yogi was right on point.

Here is a great article about that science.

Should you THINK when you hit… well…

Great topic question!!


#6

Short answer: Yes.
It means that pitchers with late break can be super effective and that pitchers who release the ball closer to home via forward release point and longer effective stride length can maximize the advantage from eye to brain processing lag. High spin rate four seamers are tough to hit squarely.