Every player at one time in their life has heard their coach tell them to “go with the pitch”. Unfortunately, the only time players usually hear that phrase is when it’s an outside pitch. What most players don’t understand (and some coaches) is that you should be doing that for every pitch. The batter must be taught to “go with the pitch” wherever the pitch is thrown.
This is a quick overview and will cover the three general pitch locations and when and where to hit the ball. This is the basic foundation you must learn before you can learn the advanced techniques. We will be using diagrams for right handed hitters: 1 – inside, 2 – middle and 3 – outside. Obviously reverse for lefties!
First things first – before I conduct the first hitting lesson and then every subsequent lesson afterwards, I always say this to the player: “You are going to the plate expecting to swing at every pitch.” Why? If you decide to swing after the pitch is thrown – you’re too late. The approach is you decide not to swing vs. to swing. As a batter, you must also know where you are hitting the ball when you swing. Identifying the pitch location and knowing where you are going to hit it allows you to get the most success out of every at bat.
#1 – The Inside Pitch
The inside pitch, if you’re going to swing at it, has to be hit out in front. The moment it’s over the plate you won’t get solid contact; if you even hit it. The reason why batters get “jammed” or “sawed off” is because they have allowed the inside pitch to travel too far to the plate. The batter cannot get the barrel of the bat to the ball and if hit, will get the handle. You’ve seen batters try to swing at an inside pitch too late and they can’t get the barrel of the bat to the ball. In fact, most batters actually stand up and bring their hands and arms into their body while trying to swing. I like to refer to it as Alligator Arms.
Here’s where you have to “go with the pitch”. You have to hit the ball out in front (see diagram 2). It’s not about stepping out to swing. An easy way to remember is, “It’s about getting to it before it gets to you….literally!” You’ll have to start your swing a bit earlier but it shouldn’t be a problem because you are ready to swing at every pitch.
You’re not hitting the ball way out in front, just about 8-12 inches in front of where you would normally swing at a pitch down the middle of the plate. I will say it’s a little misleading to say “out in front” because you do have to take into consideration where you are set up in the batters box. If you’re up in the box or in the middle of the box, you will be hitting the ball before it gets to the plate. If your deep in the box (toward the back), the ball will be at the very front of the plate when you hit it. Just remember the ball needs to be hit out in front of you.
Look at Albert Pujols in diagram 2. The ball is inside. His shoulders, hips down to his feet are square with the pitcher (NOT stepping out). His hands are slightly behind the ball because he’s hitting it in front of him. An inside pitch will be pulled which is illustrated by the red shaded area on the baseball diamond. Never try to go opposite field with the inside pitch – it’s impossible. This is a pitch that will be pulled every time.
Summary: Inside pitch, hit early and know you’re going to pull it.
#2 – Down the Middle
Here’s the pitch every batter loves to see and every pitcher tries to avoid throwing. This is the most comfortable pitch location for batters. Every batter has learned their swing from hitting the pitch down the middle. There’s not too much to be said about this pitch location because it doesn’t take much adjustment. It is also the most forgiving pitch location. If you’re a little early, you’ll pull the ball. If you’re a little late it will go opposite field. But the true location to hit the pitch down the middle is in the power alleys from left center to right center. (See diagram 3). To do that you must let the ball travel over the plate, but remember to take into consideration your position in the batters box. For batter set up at the front or the middle, the ball will make it to the front of the plate or a few inches in. For the batters in the back, the ball will travel to about the middle of the plate.
Summary: Look at Albert Pujols in diagram 3. The ball is down the middle. The front long arrow is the front of the plate. His shoulders, hips down to his feet are again square with the pitcher. His hands are right in line with the ball at contact and the ball has just crossed the plate (The ball is leaving the bat in this picture). The pitch down the middle is the most forgiving pitch to hit but you should let the ball travel over the plate from the front edge to the middle of the plate, depending upon your set up in the batters box and hit into the power alleys (red shaded area).
#3 – The Outside Pitch
This is the one pitch most batters hate to see and many try to pull; big mistake. You don’t have to pull a ball to hit with power. The trick to correctly hitting an outside pitch and with power is to let it travel deep over the plate and know you aren’t going to pull it but go opposite field (See red shaded area on baseball diamond in diagram 4). To make it simple, use the same approach as if you are going to hit an off speed pitch – you have to stay back. Here’s how to tell when the batter isn’t letting the outside pitch travel a little further over the plate. The most frequent tell tail sign is when they cast their hands out, bend at the hips and stick their butt out backwards towards the dugout and they aren’t square with the pitcher. I know you’ve seen it.
Summary: Now look at Albert Pujols in Diagram 4. The ball is obviously on the outside corner. Again, his shoulders, hips down to his feet are square with the pitcher. The arrow to his hands shows that they are slightly ahead of the ball because he’s letting the ball travel to the back of the plate. You have to allow the outside pitch to get a little deeper and don’t reach for it. Once you reach for it you lose all proper hitting mechanics and bad things happen.
The problem most batters have is they think they have to pull every pitch or they have to adjust their swing for different pitch locations. The truth is that you can keep the same proper swing mechanics you have to hit the inside, middle or outside pitch. Look at the three pictures of Pujols for proof. He’s staying back and everything is square to the pitcher. Simple! You just have to slightly adjust the timing of your swing. The main thing is to correctly understand where you are going to hit the ball from each pitch location
Remember: “go with the pitch” means where YOU are going to hit the pitch.