By Mike Epstein
As many of you already know, my personal definition of the "perfect" swing is "the adjustment the hitter makes to the pitch he gets." But these rapid fire, "on-the-fly" adjustments do have some important physical limitations.
Good hitting requires lightning-quick responses; the faster the pitch, the less time a hitter has to make these adjustments. Without solid pitch anticipation, these adjustments become compromised and restricted. To help expand these dynamic adjustment limitations, hitters should look for certain pitches and/or locations WITH LESS THAN TWO STRIKES. This allows the hitter to expand his "dead red" zone dramatically and improve his success ratio.
The figure on the left represents a hitter's typical "dead red" zone. He would be able to make ROUTINE on-the-fly swing adjustments, increasing his "dead red" zone approximately 2"- 4", the width of the black line. This increase is defined solely by his mechanics and genetic competence. However, "looking for a pitch and/or location," the figure on the right shows the increase over and above the normal on-the-fly adjustments a hitter can instinctively make. In other words, hitters are limited by ordinary responses, but can enhance this fertile area through anticipation.
Now, the beauty of "thinking along with the pitcher" is that you can not only increase your dead red area, but you can move it as well! No matter where the pitcher locates his pitches, the hitter can always position his body to hit the ball hard through good mechanics and logical thought processes. However, it is important to remember that the mental side of hitting requires supreme discipline. The ingrained thought process must be, "if it's not the pitch and/or area I am expecting, TAKE THE PITCH! Here's why:
Let's say the hitter is anticipating a fastball in. He knows that he must quicken up his pre-swing movements to accommodate hitting the pitch out in front (of his lead knee) as well as making sure he stays inside the ball. In this instance, he would move his dead red area from the middle to the inside-half of the plate. If he doesn't get the pitch/location he is looking for, he should take the pitch because he is in no position to hit it. The same holds true for the hitter looking for a curve ball away. To accommodate the slower pitch and the outside location, he would slow down his pre-swing movements. If he then gets an inside fastball, and still decides to swing, he's going to get jammed. He's in no position to hit that pitch. The same goes for "up" or "down" in the strike zone. If a hitter's looking for a pitch down, he won't hit the pitch up. And vice versa. This is why pitchers move the ball around the strike zone and change speeds and eye levels. They use the element of surprise to get outs.
The hitter has to take the element of surprise away from the pitcher if he is to round out his hitting potential. The game is just too darn fast to depend on lightning-quick reactions, which many are not blessed with. With a little help and common sense, all hitters can slow the game down, level the playing field, and have more fun. And in all my years in baseball, I never knew anyone that hit .150 that had fun….
Since baseball is all about percentages, here is something interesting to ponder. In the course of a "full" major league season (which I consider, today, to be about 140 games), a hitter will get 300 pitches in his "dead red" zone. "All" he has to do is convert 1 in 10 of these mistakes into home runs to make millions of dollars. Now, consider, how many more "dead red" mistakes he will get by anticipating pitches correctly and expanding his optimum hitting area. If it's all about percentages, well, you do the math.
Your calculation should beg a rhetorical answer: Why doesn't every hitter think along with the pitcher? Because very few have played far enough in the game to have learned it.
Good luck, continued success, and "get a good pitch to hit!"
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/