We've all been there. You go into a game feeling prepared and ready to barrel up some baseballs. Feeling calm and confident in yourself, you say "I'm going to take the first pitch of the game to get my timing down."
The first inning begins and you get up to the plate for your first at bat, ready to commit to your approach. You get in the box, see the pitcher winding up, and then - all of a sudden, a thought pops into your head: "what if this pitch I'm about to take is the best pitch I see all day?" Now filled with doubt, you take an ill-timed panic swing and miss at a pitch in the dirt and put yourself in a hole 0-1. The rest of the at bat, your back is up against the wall, and you proceed to swing at pitches you normally don't offer at. You take a couple close ones, but you inevitably swing your way into an out.
For the rest of the game, having no sense of timing or strike zone, you have a below average game, maybe squeezing out a bloop hit, but overall performing forgettably.
One of the biggest problems among young hitters is that they swing too much. Umpires have big strike zones to speed up the game, coaches teach hitters to not strike looking at all costs, and players spend entire at bats fearing two-strike counts.
What kind of game do these kinds of techniques promote? A good baseball player is patient, calm, and confident, yet we teach young kids to be fearful and panic in the box.
I'll give you another scenario. You go into your first at bat intent on taking the first pitch, and you actually do this time. It's a fastball on the low and outside corner for strike one. Yes, in this scenario you're still down 0-1, but there's a difference.
You've learned something.
Now you have your timing. You know what the ball looks like coming out of the pitcher's hand, you know if he has any movement or not, and you know where he is trying to attack you - all from watching a pitch.
The next pitch, the pitchers tries to get you off balance with a breaking ball in the dirt. However, knowing how deep you can let his fastball get, you give yourself enough time to see the break and watch it for an easy take.
Now you're right back to even, only you're ten times smarter.
Watching pitches is the best thing a struggling hitter to do. We spend so much time telling hitters to "see ball hit ball," yet we almost force them to swing the bat within the first two pitches, causing panic and an inability to properly go through the full learning process of an at bat.
The fear of striking out creates a ripple effect from the last pitch all the way to the first. As a result, we don't learn and we don't develop, which causes young hitters to slump on account of not being able to stay calm during at bats.
Swinging less slows the game down. It allows a hitter to stay in the box for a while and get comfortable there. Even if taking pitches causes a strikeout in the first at bat, if a hitter keeps the same patience for three straight at bats, do you really think all of those will end in the same result? I doubt it.
So what pitches do we offer at?
I like to say to myself, "Treat every count like a 2-0 count." It's crazy. In a hitter's count, those curveballs in the dirt become easy takes. The fastballs just off the outside edge become something we wouldn't dare offer at - all because we know we are in the driver's seat.
So why not put ourselves in the driver's seat to begin with?
Strikeouts are inevitable, so we might as well increase our productivity while we get them instead of sacrificing at bats just to try and avoid them.
When you feel uncomfortable in the box, stop swinging. You'll only dig yourself a deeper hole. Stay up there a while and you'll like the outcome after committing to your approach for a whole game.
Thanks for reading! If you like this one, just wait until next week!