Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Hitting Process

In my opinion, the hitting process breaks down into three main components. The way I see it, this is what happens every time a batter steps to the plate. The three components are:

1) Pitch Recognition,
2) Plate Discipline, and
3) Execution.

Personally, I think each component involves a separate and distinct skillset.

, we have Pitch Recognition. Again, there is a definition in BA which defines Pitch Recognition as "a hitter's ability to identify the type and location of pitchers almost immediately out of the pitcher's hand."

So, the hitting process begins when the ball leaves the pitcher's hand. The batter must immediately begin tracking the pitch and make a determination on the type and ultimate location of the pitch. Identification of the type of pitch and whether it will be a hittable pitch are made in this first stage.

Second, we have Plate Discipline, which again is defined as: "the ability to not swing at pitches out of the strike zone, or pitches that are less hittable than those that might follow." Once a hitter identifies the type of pitch and the impending location of the pitch, it is up to him to determine whether to swing at this pitch. The whole idea of the disciplined hitter is that he knows his strengths and attempts to force a conclusion to each PA on a pitch that plays to his strengths.

I don't care for applying War analogies in sports, as they diminish the severity and sacrifice of the former and inflate the importance of the latter, but I can't think of a better way of explaining this.

The War of the Strikezone is the most important component of the game of baseball. It defines the game and ultimately determines the winner. In essence, Batters and Pitchers are at War in each Plate Apppearance. Within that war, each pitch constitutes a battle. The more battles you win, the more control you have over the PA and the more likely you will win the War.

Generally speaking, the more often a hitter can work the PA into a hitter's count, the better his chances of success. On the flip side, the more often the pitcher can work the PA into a pitcher's count, then the more likely he will succeed. Win the battles and you'll likely win the war.

The disciplined hitter employs a philosophy that involves forcing the pitcher to throw a type of pitch that he can handle to a location within the strikezone that is advantageous to the hitter. He does not give in and let the pitcher define the PA on the pitcher's terms, rather he battles to define the PA on a pitch that maximizes his chances of success.

Finally, we have Execution. Once the batter identifies the type of pitch (breaking ball, changeup, etc), the location (outside corner, down and away, etc), and makes the determination that the pitch/location are to his advantage, then he must make the final step and execute. Execution is the actual putting the bat on the ball.

After identifying the pitch and making a conscious choice that swinging at the pitches is to his advantage, then the batter must be able to put a good swing on the pitch to take advantage of the good position in which he has placed himself.

This step involves the swing. The batter must have a mechanically sound swing and good hand-eye coordination.

A hitter can win all the battles, but still end up losing the war by not successfully executing despite the good position in which he has placed himself.

That's how I see the hitting process. Three separate stages, each involving a different, unique skill.

You don't need to excel at all three to excel. In general, a hitter like Vlad can excel by being able to recognize the type of pitch and being able to hit anything from his nose to his toes. That can make him an elite offensive talent, but it does not make him a disciplined one. Personally, I suspect Adam Dunn excels on Pitch Recognition and Plate Discipline, but falters in the Execution. Dunn is a big man who has a long swing that does not always result in contact, so he can't always take advantage of his ability to put himself in position to succeed. Despite that, I think the truly great hitters excel in all three areas, with Pujols being the best example in the modern game.

Ultimately, it is very possible to have substantial success regardless of which approach you utilize, so production still trumps approach at the plate. However, I think it is still instructive to look at the various approaches that are utilized.

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