Proper Thinking

By Mike Epstein

In two-strike hitting situations, “proper” thinking helps the hitter to get to all his hitting zones and “time” every pitch. The hitter has to prepare himself for every speed pitch in the pitcher’s arsenal that day. That’s why it is a good idea to see as many pitches as possible from that pitcher (make the pitcher pitch!). The best way I know of is to mentally prepare for the “in-between” velocities of the pitcher you’re facing. By this I mean, if the pitcher has three pitches, one 70 mph, one 80 mph, and one 90 mph, the hitter must prepare for the mid-speed (80 mph) pitch. If he only has two, say an 85 mph fast ball and a 75 mph slider, you’d gear up your pre-swing for the 80 mph velocity. By doing this, the hitter gives himself a “chance” to catch up to the faster speed pitch, yet still be able to stay back and put the off speed pitch in play. Gearing up for one of the extreme velocities would put the hitter at a grave disadvantage: too late on fastballs and too early on off speed pitches. With two strikes, “proper” thinking prevails.

Ted Williams told me that when the slider became popular, around 1950, that it was the hardest pitch for him to hit. From his earliest days, he felt no pitcher could throw a fastball by him, so he would “lay” for that pitch on every pitch because it was a mid-velocity pitch. I didn’t fall into that category! (and neither do the majority of hitters). Having ability like that will reduce anyone’s strikeout potential, but the point to be made here is that the average hitter can compensate for this by preparing for the mid-velocity pitch with two strikes.

Reaching Potential Demands Good Two-Strike Execution
To me, the quality of a hitter’s technique lies in the superiority of his two-strike execution. By executing efficiently, he will bring a newfound confidence to his game. Once Harry Heilmann learned how to inside-out the two strike fast ball on the inside corner, and hit it back through the “box,” he KNEW there wasn’t a pitcher alive who could throw a fast ball by him. Likewise, when Ted Williams realized that he could “look” for the slider (mid-speed pitch) and STILL hit the cheese, he knew he was “on” to something. Statistics bore them out. ANYTIME a hitter can “forget about” a pitcher’s fastball, the confidence this brings him is overwhelming. This is what we call being “comfortable” at the plate against certain pitchers.

Being “comfortable” leads to “confidence,” and having “confidence” with two strikes is the name of the game for the hitter. The fastball “sets up” EVERY pitch in a pitcher’s repertoire. And when a hitter doesn’t have to worry about the fast ball—because he can catch up to it even when he isn’t “looking” for it—he should rarely be fooled. Now, the hitter can “sit” on his pitch, and be more selective—even with two strikes! Hitters with little (or no) confidence normally fear getting to two-strike situations, and almost always open up their hitting zones prematurely to guard against it. The rule of thumb is when a hitter is ahead in the count, his strike zone should shrink; he can look for a “certain” pitch. When he is behind in the count, his strike zone should expand; he can’t be selective. The hitter with poor two-strike execution invariably lacks the confidence to get to two strikes. In essence, he is “always” hitting when he is behind in the count. Few have had success hitting this way. These hitters will swing at borderline pitches because they lack the self-confidence to hit effectively with two-strikes. And by so doing, their batting averages and overall production radically tail off. Reaching potential demands first-rate, two-strike execution.

Don’t “Sell Your Soul” To Two-Strike Hitting!
Many times I see players have success with their two-strike hitting approach and slowly gravitate towards adopting this hitting approach on a full-time basis. The player should not be tempted to do this, nor should the coach/instructor persuade the player to do so. In my opinion, there is little more distasteful in baseball than seeing a player who can really drive balls short-circuit his potential by adopting a singles/contact approach at the plate with less than two strikes. Leave singles hitting to the bona fide singles hitters. If you’ve got serious “pop” in your bat, keep working hard at being the run producer you’re capable of being!

Prior to Mike’s teaching years, he was an All-American baseball player and still holds the highest lifetime batting average of .384 at the University of California (Berkeley). He was a member of the first United States Olympic Baseball Team, leading the team in many offensive hitting categories (Japan, 1964). He was named the Sporting News and Topps Minor League Player-of-the-Year in 1966. His website is http://www.mikeepsteinhitting.com/

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