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

Mental Side of HItting – Attainable Goals

By Doug Bernier

In the first post called The Mental side of Hitting: Attainable Goals, we talked about how we as hitters are searching for consistency in the batter’s box. (If you missed it, I highly recommend you go back and read it. Otherwise, you’ll miss the importance of what we talking about here.)

Instead of tying our success to how many hits we are getting, having achievable, repeatable objectives (we’re calling them “attainable goals”) will help our consistency and keep our emotions in check.

How do you know when your mentality as a hitter has you headed for trouble?

If you find yourself thinking, “ I need to get 2 hits today,” or “ if I go 3 for 4 I’ll be hitting .270,” or “ it’s ok that we lost, I got my hits today,” then THIS ARTICLE IS FOR YOU.

Like I said before…

Tying your self-worth as a player to getting hits is a guaranteed ticket to an emotional rollercoaster, and in the end, it’s counter-productive to getting the results you want.

We need a more solid mental foundation than that! After 16 years of professional baseball, I can tell you that if you haven’t yet experienced the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with good times and bad times at the plate – YOU WILL.

To get us through, we need something that we can rely on, a mental approach that is proven to increase productivity.

These ideas are from the Lambin Hitting System. Chase Lambin is a Texas Rangers minor league hitting coach. I’ve spoken with many, many hitting coaches over the years, but Lambin’s system really stood out for identifying the important things and for simplifying them into attainable goals that every hitter can work toward.

Attainable Goal 1 – Situational awareness

Being aware of the situation has multiple benefits. In addition to being a mentally stabilizing attainable goal, it also increases the likelihood of getting a hit!

In other words, you are setting yourself up for success, particularly with Step 1.

Step 1 – Studying the pitcher

From the dugout you should be watching and studying the pitcher.

The first thing you should notice is whether the pitcher is right handed or left handed (this tells you which direction his breaking balls will be moving, and more).
What pitches does he throw and with what velocity?
Once you know this you can start to eliminate pitches that he isn’t throwing for strikes.Many times you can get a pitcher to one or two pitches that you actually need to focus on. You only need to worry about pitches that he can throw for strikes.
Next, watch arm angle and talk to hitters that have faced him before you to see how the ball is moving (or not moving) and if he is easy to see or if he has some deception.
Also, if you get to two strikes, how are you planning on dealing with this situation. Does he have an out pitch (a pitch he likes to throw with 2 strikes)?

If you’re ready to get deeper and more advanced into this topic, click here for 4 pro strategies to win your mental battle with the pitcher.

Step 2 – Be aware of situations that could happen when you come up to hit.

This may come as a surprise, but baseball is actually a team sport (shocking, I know).

Sarcasm aside, it’s all too easy for a player to become so focused on himself that he forgets he has a whole team backing him up.

The benefits of this step #2 – being aware of the game situation – is that

(a) it’s an attainable goal you can successfully accomplish every at bat;
(b) you’re creating more opportunities for your team to score; and
(c) What goes around comes around. Be a team player, and it will come back to you eventually.
Now take a look on the bases and know the outs, is there a situation that needs executing?

Possible situations…

Is there a runner at 2nd base with 0 outs and you need to advance him to 3rd base?
Is there a runner at 3rd base with less than 2 outs?
How is the defense playing you and what do you need to do to execute that plan?
Attainable Goal 2 – Aggressive vs Passive Mentality

Are you a lion or a rabbit?

Believe it or not, I’m actually not trying to be funny here.

This can be a difficult self evaluation thought. We all want to be a lion every at-bat, but it’s not always that simple.

When we feel…

uncomfortable in the batter’s box,
are not seeing the baseball well,
trying not to strikeout,
nervous because a pitcher is wild
…these are rabbit thoughts.

These thoughts can pop up from time to time and we need to be able to identify them and get back to attacking and having aggressive thoughts.

Some times the battle between the hitter and the pitcher can be lost even before you get to the plate if you are thinking passive thoughts. Stay aggressive and if you go down, go down attacking.

Once we are ready to hit in the batter’s box (or behind it catching), our goal is to find a way to be 100% confident and ready to do damage all the way until the ball is either hit or caught by the catcher. This 3-5 second period should have no doubt, worry, or fear, penetrate its walls.

Once that pitch is over, its time to re engage mentally and try to get the lion mindset again.

Who is going to win the invisible battle? Are you completely ready to hit? Whose plate is it? Who’s at bat is it? Are you the hunter or the hunted?

Step 1 – Identify – To make this an attainable goal, you need to identify which way your thoughts are leaning.

In between pitches or at-bats take a deep breath and either continue with the aggressive attacking mentality, or realize you are a little passive or defensive and regroup and give yourself assertive and confident self talk.

Step 2 – Making an adjustment.

There is no one way to get your mentality where it needs to be. Find a way that works best for you, to get your mind right when you get into the batters box.

It’s important to remember that nobody can tell themselves to stop thinking something. The thought has to actually be replaced by a new thought. That’s why a mantra can be so effective.

A mantra can help you replace self-defeating thoughts with a simple, confident one without distracting your from being in the moment and focused on the task at hand. Some possible mantras include:

“Bring it“
“I got this.” (Moments before gymnast Laurie Hernandez mounted the balance beam in the women’s team competition, she can barely be seen whispering to herself, “I got this.” Clearly, this mental reminder provided the boost she needed)
“C’mon Meat, throw me that weak-ass shit! “ – the iconic Crash Davis, Bull Durham
“See it. Hit it.”

Believing in yourself and your abilities are important in the mini battles that happen throughout a baseball game.

Being able to identify if your mentality is not a lion mentality is the first step to getting it back to where it needs to be.

Note: Some people need to be relaxed, laughing and smiling, some people need to be more serious and focused. All people get the most out of their abilities differently.

Improving your awareness of “situation and mentality” can help give you a plan at the plate. Being able to do this before you get in the batters box will help keep your mind sharp and get your thoughts off of mechanics and on to executing a plan or a goal.

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