At the high school level, less than 50% of pitchers throw a strike on the first pitch. A lot of hitters make the mistake of being too aggressive at the plate and swing at the first pitch- getting themselves out 81% of the time. Every coach has communicated to their players the need to be patient at the plate however few coaches have actually explained the strategy behind being patient, what do we hope to accomplish, how does the hitter/team benefit, and what are the situations when you would deviate from this approach. The text on this page will provide some answers to those questions. My hope is after reading this posting, you will understand patience and how the approach WILL result in improved success every at bat.
What if I told you that statistics show that you have a better chance of getting a hit on an 0-1 pitch rather than on an 0-0 pitch. Would that surprise you? I bet it would. Well, it's TRUE. There are 4 key reasons for not swinging on the first pitch: 1) starting pitchers will throw more pitches when teams commit to taking the first pitch, 2) allows for coaches to advance base runners, 3) permits the hitter to get timing on pitchers and see all pitches, and 4) assists the hitter to work toward a more favorable count. Let me explain each.
1. Starting pitchers will throw more pitches: If we can cause the starting pitcher to throw more pitches, we can reduce the number of innings he will be able to throw. In addition, as the pitcher fatigues, he will make less quality pitches resulting in an improved ability to drive the count in the hitters favor.
2. Allows coaches to advance base runners: Advancing base runners to second base is critical to scoring runs. If you think about it, a runner on 2nd is only one hit away from scoring whereas a runner on 1st is either two hits away or needs for the hitter to drive the ball to the wall for him to score. Probability of scoring from 2nd with no outs is 40% higher than scoring from 1st with no outs. Probability of scoring from 2nd with one out is 55% higher than scoring from 1st with one out. Probability of scoring from 2nd with two outs is 85% higher than scoring from 1st with two outs. Taking the first pitch allows for the coaches to steal 2nd or advance the runners via the bunt or hit-and-run play.
3. Permits hitters to get timing on pitchers and see all pitches: An important factor in hitting a pitcher is getting your timing. One way to improve your ability to time a pitcher is to see more pitches. The deeper you get into a count the more opportunity you have to get your timing. Also, the more pitches the pitcher throws to you AND your teammates increases the teams ability to see all his pitches (fastball, curve, slider, change up, etc.) and to uncover patterns for throwing certain pitches. For example, if over the course of the game you discover that the pitcher always follows his curve ball with a fastball, then the team can anticipate/predict the tendencies and use this to the hitters advantage. This can only occur if the hitters are patient and fight the urge to go after the first pitch.
4. Work toward a more favorable count: According to a study of Division I baseball for 5 years, the batting average on the first pitch, or 0-0 count, is .186. The batting average on the 0-1 count is .199. Below I have noted the Batting Averages on Specific Counts:
Count/ Batting Average
As noted earlier, with pitchers throwing less than 50% strikes on the first pitch, the percentages are in the hitters favor that the pitch will be a ball- thus increasing the chances of getting a hit- when they take the first pitch. In future blogs, I will explain how working the count allows the hitter to better predict/anticipate certain pitch types and locations. Once a hitter can anticipate and predict he immediately increases his ability to have a successful at-bat. Stay tuned for that discussion.
Exception: An exception to the "take the first pitch" rule is when you have a control pitcher on the mound that has EARNED the right for us to swing at the first pitch. A pitcher that consistently throws first-pitch-strike will cause the hitter to adjust his approach and look to go after the first pitch (only if it is a fastball- talk about that in the future). If we allow the pitcher to consistently get ahead of us by taking the first pitch then we are working from behind and the percentages are not in our favor. Note that the pitcher has to earn the right for us to change our approach to go after the first pitch. This is typically charted by the coaches and the adjustment is generally made in the 3-4th inning after going through the line-up once.
Summary: At the major league level, the average player sees 3.85 pitches per at-bat. Data has shown that there is a direct correlation between the number of pitches a hitter sees per at-bat and his batting average. Acknowledging this fact, my teams have always had a goal to get to the 4th pitch every time up to the plate. Sometimes we will get to 3 pitches and other times we will get to 6 pitches. What I have found is that by targeting 4 pitches we can improve our on-base percentage, increase our batting average, and impact the number of runs we will score per game. All of which impacts the game positively for us.
So, take a patient yet aggressive approach at the plate. Don't swing at the first pitch to; cause the pitcher to throw more pitches; allow your coaches to advance the base runners, permit you to get your timing, see all his pitches, and discover tendencies; work toward a more favorable count while recognizing that the pitcher has to earn the right for us to change our approach and go after a first pitch (fastball-strike).