Baseball Hitting Strategy from TX Rangers Hitting Coach – Part 3

By Doug Bernier

Success at the plate needs smart baseball hitting strategy.

Now that we have been made aware of the offensive situation we are dealing with and we have formed our attack mentality for the at bat (click to go back and read about attainable goals 1 and 2), it’s time to come up with a plan:

What pitch are you trying to hit and in what part of the strike zone?

Hitting Strategy Part 1 – Choose your velocity

By trying to be ready for both fastball (FB) and off-speed (OS) pitches, a hitter will often find his timing isn’t great for either one. The hitter ends up being somewhere in the middle – too slow for the FB and too early for the OS.

Looking hard velocity or softer velocity can simplify an approach that will still allow you to be able to hit the pitches in that group.

Most of the time you should be looking for the hardest pitch the pitcher throws. It is easier to adjust to a slower velocity than to speed up if you are looking soft. Also, it’s more difficult for pitchers to throw their OS for strikes, so laying off of them early on may work to your advantage and put you into a hitters count.

The only exception is if you see a tendency with certain pitchers. For example, sometimes with runners in scoring position some pitchers will throw a first pitch curve ball (which can be a great pitch to hit, especially if you are looking for it). Sometimes in this situation I will look for a curve ball first pitch and if my at bat extends past that first pitch, I’ll go back to looking to hit his fastball.

So, Attainable Goal #3 is to go into your at-bat already knowing the answer to this question….

Are you looking for a fastball (or it’s variations, such as a cutter or sinker, which are similar in velocity)?

Or are you looking for an off speed pitch? Slider, curve ball, change up, etc. These pitches are usually similar in velocity (except sometimes the slider, which could be placed in the harder velocity group, depending on the type of slider and how hard the pitcher is throwing it).

Hitting Strategy Part 2 – Shrink the zone

Now lets take our plan to the next level.

Home plate is 7 baseballs wide. But if we are looking at the strike zone I would say its closer to 8 baseballs wide and lets say 10 baseballs tall.

If we are looking to hit every strike in that 8 x 10 box we are not going to be very successful.

There are high percentage strikes we should swing at (more likely to get good results) and there are low percentage strikes that if we swing at will usually result in weak contact and/or an out.

We need to shrink up our hitting zone until we get to 2 strikes. I like to think of making my own 3 x 3 box within the strike zone. I place this imaginary zone where I most want to hit the baseball.

I can set this up right down the middle and belt high. Maybe I am trying to drive a ball to the opposite field and I set this 3 x 3 zone on the lower, outer half of the strike zone.

Perhaps my swing is feeling pretty good and I’m looking for pitch on the inner part of the plate and looking to drive the ball to my pull side.

This is all good stuff. It’s better to have a plan and have it not work out then go up to the plate with no plan at all.

Example

Here is an example of a more advanced plan.

Let’s say I am a right handed hitter and I am facing a right handed pitcher who is throwing mostly sinkers (a.k.a. 2-seamers).

His goal as a pitcher is to let the down and in movement work for him so the batter will either pull the ball foul or hit a ground ball to the pull side.

This is a very difficult pitch to drive.

When facing these types of pitchers my plan is to move my 3 x 3 box just to the outside part of the center of home plate. I also raise my sights somewhere between mid thigh and my belt.

Even though the pitcher is not trying to throw to the ball to this location, this helps me to not swing at HIS pitch. If he does elevate the sinker or leave it out over the plate it won’t have the same movement and it will be a much easier pitch to hit.

Pro tips – (#1) Keep the plan to your strength as a hitter, but also (#2) realize that it may need some adjusting depending on the pitcher you are facing at that moment.

Having a plan isn’t guaranteed to give us the results we are looking for every time. However, taking your best swing on the pitch and location you wanted will result in better at-bats and better overall production.

Trust in the process which will clear our mind and that will allow you to take your “A” swing on more pitches in the zone that you want to hit.

Doug Bernier, founder of Pro Baseball Insider.com, debuted in the Major Leagues in 2008 with the Colorado Rockies, and has played professional baseball for 5 organizations (CO Rockies, NY Yankees, Pirates, MN Twins, & TX Rangers) over the past 16 years. He has Major League time at every infield position, and has played every position on the field professionally except for catcher. Where is he now? After batting .200 in 45 at-bats and fielding .950 during 2017 spring training with the Rangers, Doug was assigned to the Ranger’s AAA team the Round Rock Express. You should click to watch this great defensive play by Bernier

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Hitting Situations and Strategy

By Doug Bernier

Situational hitting is important slice of a balanced offensive attack.  Understanding baseball situations and how to hit strategically in those situations set you up for a productive at bat, even if you don’t get a hit.

Effective situational hitting can keep pressure on the defense and push runners around to score even if the offense isn’t fully clicking.

Runner at 1st base with less than two outs (most likely 0 outs)
Potential bunt
The direction of our bunt will be towards first base

Potential hit and run
When a “hit and run” is signaled to you the hitter, it means the runner is going so your number one responsibility is to swing and make contact with the baseball no matter where it is thrown – unless it is going to bounce in front of the plate.

If the baseball is going to bounce we are betting that the catcher won’t be able to block the ball, pick it up and throw out the runner that is stealing on the pitch.

Next we want to hit a ground ball, the runner is stealing the base and we have to protect him.  If we hit the baseball in the air there is a potential for a double play, or at least the runner gets back to 1st but we make an easy out.

Ideally we would like to hit it to the opposite middle infielder.

*If right handed, hit a ground ball to the second baseman.
*If left handed, we want a ground ball to the shortstop.

We want to hit it to the off middle infielder because he likely will be the person covering the second base bag on a steal, so there will be a big hole open for you to hit through.

However, it is more important to hit it on the ground anywhere than try to for the hole and end up with a pop fly getting caught.

If the pitcher has a good sinker (especially righty on righty, or lefty on lefty) it may be difficult to put his sinker on the ground to the opposite middle infielder.

*As a righty facing a right handed sinker, it is sinking down and in to the hitter.  The bat is more likely to get under the baseball and end up with a weak pop fly to the 2nd baseman or right fielder than to bat a ground ball the other way.
*In this situation it is probably better to just turn on a sinker and hit a ground ball in the 5-6 hole (in between the shortstop and third baseman).

Hitting behind the runner
When the 1st baseman is holding on the runner at 1st base, the 2nd baseman is in double play depth which brings him a little closer to the 2nd base bag it leaves a huge hole open to the right side of the infield.

This is much easier for a left handed hitter but there are many hits to be had by hitting the baseball in the lane between the 1st and 2nd baseman.

This isn’t so much situational hitting, its more handling the bat and taking what the defense gives you.
Runner at 2nd base with 0 outs (move the runner to 3rd base with less than 2 outs)
Potential bunt situation
The direction of the bunt will be towards third base in this hitting situation.

Hit behind the runner
Hit a grounder to the right side of the runner at 2nd base (toward the 1st or 2nd baseman)

Even if the shortstop fields the baseball and has to move to his left, he will most likely just take the out at 1st base. It is too risky of a throw to make to third base, because of his momentum and that the base runner will be potentially in the way of the throw.

Hit a deep fly ball
You can move the runner up from 2nd to 3rd base by hitting a fly ball deep enough for the runner to tag up and move up a base.

The runner is more likely to tag up if you bat a fly ball to deep center or right field, it is a much further throw.

Runner at 3rd base with less than 2 outs
Potential squeeze situation
As the bunter, wait until the pitcher is about to release the baseball. Square around and just get it on the ground, in fair territory.

This bunt can even go right back to the pitcher. We are taking the out at 1st base for a run.

Infield back
Keep your sights up the middle and hit a ground ball.  Keep the baseball away from the corner infielders (especially the 3rd baseman, sometimes the 1st baseman is really deep and its ok if he has to make the play.)

This is a great situation as a hitter because they are giving you a free RBI, all you need to do is just hit a ground ball toward the middle of the field.

Infield In
In these hitting situations, you need a line drive or fly ball to the outfield so the runner can tag up and score.

Think of driving the ball rather than hitting a fly ball. More people get in trouble by trying to hit a great fly ball that they get a little loopy with their swing and they pop the baseball up in the infield, or they miss it all together.

Most people hit more fly balls to the opposite field and more ground balls to the pull side. Think of driving the baseball middle of the field to the opposite gap, this will give you a good approach for driving the runner in from third base.

Doug Bernier, founder of Pro Baseball Insider.com, debuted in the Major Leagues in 2008 with the Colorado Rockies, and has played professional baseball for 13 years. Most recently, Doug signed with the Minnesota Twins in 2013, where he logged time at every infield position except 1st base in 33 Major League games. Currently Doug is with the Twins’ AAA team in Rochester, NY. Originally published at http://probaseballinsider.com/baseball-instruction/fundamentals-of-hitting/baseball-situations-and-hitting/