Reading Hitters Key to Pitching Success

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From the youth leagues to the Major leagues, every hitter has a weakness. The key to being a good pitcher, catcher, and coach is finding that weakness and exploiting it to benefit you and your team. It does not matter who the hitter is, from Babe Ruth to Adrian Gonzalez, they all have a weakness. Some, of course, have more weaknesses than others, but if a hitter had no weaknesses he would never get out. Even a great major league hitter will get put out 65 out of 100 times.

When talking about a hitter’s weakness, it is important to break it down into three categories:
1) What you see before he takes a swing
2) What you see after one at-bat
3) What you can see over a long period of time (4 or more at-bats)

Whether it is the hitter’s build, his hand position, or how he swings the bat, every hitter sends out signals of weaknesses that the observant pitcher can exploit.

Before a hitter even takes a swing, generalizations can be made as to what pitches he will be able to handle and which ones he will have trouble with. The first thing you should look at is the batter’s build. If he is a little heavy or muscle-bound, you can generalize that he will have trouble with the ball up and in, so this is a good assumption to start on how to pitch him until he proves otherwise. Hitters with this build have a hard time getting their arms back into their body and will hit everything on the handle or not at all, so pitch them high and hard. Keep it there until he proves he can handle it there. The same rule applies here to a hitter with long arms. Challenge him in off the plate and make him get his arms in to hit. Do not let him extend.

If the hitter is tall, your best bet is to pitch him low in the zone and inside on the knees. Tall hitters generally have a hard time going down and getting the ball. Again, pitch the hitter this way until he proves he can hit it there. Chances are, if the hitter is short he will be a decent low-ball hitter and his arms will be short. Pitch him up and away and make him chase the ball high out of the zone. Do not let him get the head of the bat on the ball out in front of the plate.
Another general rule when looking at a hitter before he takes a swing is which side of the plate he hits from. Remember that a left-handed hitter usually likes the ball low while a right handed hitter will prefer the ball up in the zone. This rule only goes so far though, because there are always exceptions. Just remember, these rules are only to be used until you have seen the hitter in that first at-bat, when you may have to reevaluate your philosophy on how to pitch a particular hitter.

The last things to look at before you see a hitter swing is where he stands in the box and where he holds his hands. If a hitter is up in the box toward the pitcher, chances are he has a quick swing and is looking to hit the curveball before it breaks. If he is looking for the curveball, then he is thinking low and outside by nature, so pitch him up and in with the fastball and down and in with the changeup.

A hitter who stands back in the box towards the catcher probably will have a tough time with anything off-speed and low because by the time it reaches him it will be lower and more off the plate than he expects. If the hitter crowds the plate, crowd him with the fastball. You cannot worry about hitting him because you have to establish the outside corner as yours. If you show him you will come in on his hands then he will have a more difficult time with the changeup low and away.

To be clear, never throw at a hitter. You can work the inner half of the plate and just off the inner half without throwing at a hitter. He will get the message when his hands sting because you jammed him. Do not be afraid to throw inside. If the hitter stands away from the plate, pitch him low and outside and then when you get him leaning, bust him in off the plate.

Notice the position of the hitter’s hands. If he holds the hands lower than his chest throw him up. If the hands are higher than the chest throw him down and inside. If the hitter’s hands are away from his body then pitch him inside and at fist level. If the hands are tight to the body throw him outside and low. Finally, if the hands are behind the back shoulder toward the catcher, the hitter will have a long swing, thus he will have a difficult time with anything off-speed.

After the hitter has gotten in the box and taken a couple of swings, an observant catcher or coach should have a better understanding of which pitches the hitter will be able to hit and which ones will give him trouble. Things to look for include a looping or short swing, a quick or slow bat, an uppercut or a chopping swing, and whether or not the hitter keeps his weight on his back foot or lunges. This analysis should take precedence over what you assume before the batter comes to the plate as described above. You can tell so much from one swing, but make sure you do not get so set on the idea that you see from the first swing that you ignore the second swing or second at-bat.

Batters who lunge, take a looping swing, swing the bat hard, or have an uppercut can be gotten out using off-speed pitches and fastballs up in the zone. You never throw an off-speed pitch up in the zone, so the method would be fastball up and off-speed down. These hitters will not be able to catch up with the fastball up in the zone and their lack of balance from their big swing will make it hard for them to hit the off-speed pitch.

Batters who chop at the ball are looking to hit it on the ground, so obviously the best method here is fastball at the chest until he proves he can hit it well. A hitter who has good balance and a short swing is the hardest to deal with. When you face this type of hitter the best bet is to work the fastball in and off-speed away and low in the zone. This will give you a general idea of how to pitch any type of hitter.

One thing to remember about every hitter is that he has to react to what you do on the mound. If the hitter is behind on your fastball on the first pitch, do not throw anything off-speed until he catches up to your fastball.

No matter what you do as a pitcher, take every advantage to get the edge on your opponent. Concentrate only on the hitter you are facing and what his weaknesses or strengths are. Pitch to his weaknesses and away from his strengths.

The key to being a good pitcher is not letting the hitter get the pitch he is looking for at the speed he wants. If you play a team more than one time during the year, keep a chart on every hitter and what his tendencies seem to be.

Remember that every hitter has a weakness and they will show by their actions, stance, and physique what those weaknesses are.

And remember, don’t be afraid to pitch inside!