By Mike Epstein
Ironically, hitters are exposed to "mental hitting" at very early ages. They quickly figure out they hit better when they know what's coming. However, exposing oneself to something, and effectively using the information, can become two entirely different undertakings.
Let's say that little leaguers are facing a pitcher that day who throws really hard for his age. His fastball is his best pitch and he doesn't throw anything else for strikes. By the second inning, the kids are telling one another to only look for his fastball. Then, "amazingly," by the next inning, the kids begin catching up to his fastball and hitting him all over the lot. We gain knowledge of this at an early age, yet somehow, as players mature, they forget this fundamental skill learned in Little League: TAKING THE "ELEMENT OF SURPRISE" AWAY FROM THE PITCHER CAN YIELD BIG-TIME PRODUCTION.
Hitters run into problems if they face a quality pitcher that happens to be "on" that day and is consistently locating pitches well. Let's say, this pitcher features sinkers and sliders and is routinely keeping his pitches down around the knees, low and outside. The smart hitter, with less than two strikes, will begin to look in this hard-to-hit area. He knows he must let the ball get deeper in his strike zone, so he has more time to look the pitch over. Accordingly, he slows down his pre-swing movements to accommodate the pitch location. In addition, because he is looking in this down-and-away location, he will subconsciously begin repositioning his body to cover this area! This gives him a distinct advantage over the hitter who goes up to the plate looking for every pitch in every location.
Hitters can do this with any pitch and location, but it should only be done WITH LESS THAN TWO STRIKES. When the hitter's "back is to the wall," i.e., when he has two strikes, is when he must truly be reactive and look for a mid-velocity pitch, so as not to be completely fooled.
I was asked at a large gathering of fastpitch softball coaches in Tucson, AZ whether I instruct hitters to "look in and react away" or "look away and react in." I teach neither! NO HITTER CAN EFFECTIVELY COVER BOTH SIDES OF THE PLATE ON ANY ONE PITCH. The ONLY time a hitter must cover both sides of the plate is when he has two strikes. When you instruct hitters to use either of the two above "cues," or simply tell them to "react" to pitches, you are asking them to do just that (cover both sides of the plate). And we all know how much batting success deteriorates when hitters have two strikes (.150). The object of hitting is to consistently hit the ball hard; asking them to hit with two strikes on every pitch is taking the bat right out of their hands.
Hitters are conditioned and exhorted to "get a good pitch to hit," and so they "logically" conclude that this pitch is in their "dead red" area, this being where they hit the ball the hardest. The hitting technique used by the batter greatly influences his "dead red" area. The "dead red" area for rotational hitters is generally one ball in from the middle of the plate, thigh high. For TRUE linear hitters, those that break the vertical axis and come forward, theirs is two balls away from the middle and two balls above the belt.
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/