The Hitting Zone: Your real focus at the plate
Why Called Third Strikes are Allowed to Happen.
Too many times, too many batters are called out on the third strike. Should we blame the umpires for bad calls? Or, as batters, should we blame ourselves for not having a ‘good eye’ – not reading the pitch well, or not knowing the limits of the strike zone?
The real problem may be that we are thinking about the strike zone at all! What’s the problem? Well, a strike is a negative – it’s a call against you. So the strike zone itself is a negative. Worrying about that zone makes you a tentative, passive hitter – “should I swing, maybe not”. Too much emphasis on the strike zone has batters thinking about what they shouldn’t swing at – any ball outside the zone – which can lead to way too many called third strikes.
Even with bases loaded, I am not a big fan of the concept that a walk is as good as a hit. Technically it is as good, you can even get the coveted RBI, but the problem is that you turn over control of the decision to the pitcher, catcher and umpire. And what could be worse than a bases-loaded, inning-ending, called third strike? Nothing.
Take Control. Think Hit!
I’ve recently started using the term “hitting zone” rather than strike zone. For many reasons…
- When you think hitting zone, you’re focused on what you can accomplish.
- It’s an emphasize on generating positive results.
- It puts you back in charge of the situation.
- The hitting zone can be anything you want it to be.
That last point is especially important. By rule, if not always in practice, the strike zone is defined purely by the width of the plate and the stature of the hitter – knees to letters. But no two hitters stand the same way, or load up the same way, or launch the same way, or have the same “wheelhouse”.
In other words, when it comes to actual swing mechanics, the strike zone has nothing to do with anything. But the hitting zone – that’s everything.
And it can change – in fact it should change – from pitch to pitch.
How to Set Your Hitting Zone
DRILL 1. The process begins in practice – best on the field with whifle balls. The objective is to have the ball-tosser (from the side) or ball-thrower (from in front) push you to the limits of your ability to get to the ball. How far outside can you reach? How tight inside can you still get to? How high? How closer to the ground? How does your reach differ on high outside vs low outside? If you wanted to get really precise on this, you could work the whifles with a chain fence right behind you and have a third helper mark out on the fence using small bits of tape where the balls would have struck the fence if not reached by you.
DRILL 2. Now we move to the batting cage, if possible, or against live pitching, or still remaining with the whifles. However, during this process we want to find the spot in the zone where we get our best hits – our wheelhouse, power alley, call it what you will – it’s where we are best at getting the sweet spot of the bat on the ball. Is it at the knees, the hips, the belt, or higher? Is it on the inner half or outter half? Do we get more distance (even with whifles) when we pull the ball, hit back up the middle, or go to the opposite field. Don’t go into this process with preconceived notions – just look objectively at the flight of the ball and learn from it. (This process can also be done with an inexpensive tool like the Hands Back Hitter or with a more precise Swing Away Hitting Station.)
How to Work Your Zone
From the two drills above we have determined the tighter and larger parameters of our personal hitting zone. Now it’s time to use it in the game.
On the first pitch of the at-bat, your hitting zone is as tight as possible – you are looking for your pitch. If it’s there, and only if it’s there do you swing at it with full power, throwing the bathead aggressively at the ball.
If the call is a ball, you are still in tight-zone mode, looking for your pitch. But each time a strike is called against you, or you foul one off, or miss, then you open the zone. To repeat: you don’t increase your hitting zone on every pitch, only on strikes.
Deeper in the count, whether 0-2 or 3-2, you are set at your most open hitting zone – any ball you know you can reach is yours for the hitting. Remember: we aren’t taking about turning you into a contact hitter. You’re not shortening your stroke, or choking up on the bat – you’re simply more willing to go after more pitches that you know you can hit. You continue to be focused on the positive and you’re more inclined to go after any pitch you can reach. The more strikes against you, the bigger your hitting zone needs to be.
Please don’t listen to, repeat, or follow the old adage to choke up on the bat with two strikes. With two strikes you need to be able to control your bat better – which means holding it in the way you are most comfortable, with the ability to throw that bathead quickly at the ball. Trust me, you aren’t going to get the bathead moving more quickly when you are choked up – that’s just physics (shorter lever = slower angular momentum). And you aren’t going to reach as many pitches on the outer/inner edges of your hitting zone with a short bat. So don’t choke up; expand the hitting zone instead.
Read more useful baseball tips right here.