Popularized offensive training for youth and high school is to hit the ball where it is pitched. Outside pitches are to be hit the other way, and inside pitches are pulled. But is this actually what MLB hitters are doing? Is this being taught by top hitting professionals?
One could argue the great Tony Gwynn and Edgar Martinez both made millions pulling inside pitches and spraying outside pitches. But according to the analytics, these two hitters are a rarity in an era of baseball that is starting to be replaced.
There is a saying in MLB clubhouses that talks about the $10,000,000 pitch:
“If you can hit the outside pitch into the stands, you make $10,000,000.”
Truth, as top hitters are required to hit for power. Likewise, to get recruited by the NCAA baseball or softball levels, you need to show power and the ability to pull pitches.
“When we recruit, we are looking to see if the hitter can get their barrel to all pitches and drive the baseball. Consistently hitting the baseball the other way is telling me that you cannot turn on an inside pitch or lack the hand speeds required to produce at my level.” Stated NCAA baseball coach Sean Taunt.
If we examine the data, in the 2016 MLB season, seventy four percent of all pitches thrown with one strike or less were located outside. Off speed pitches were considered “outside” because the batter must allow the pitch to travel. However, in those “hitter” or high fastball probability counts, sixty four percent of all batted balls were pulled.
Further analytics show that when MLB hitters are ahead in the count, almost seventy seven percent of all batted balls were pulled.
If we examine the averages in “hitter” counts, we will see the advantage is for hitters by a .72 batting average increase. This basically means that a .270 hitter is statistically a .342 hitter in a “hitter” count.
Granted, not all statistics and analytics are full proof, but trends do exist.
“There is a big, big difference between a guy whom can drive the baseball and a guy whom hits the baseball the other way. Both can hurt you, but one is extremely dangerous to the point that you have to pitch around him at times.” Stated MLB scout Ron Wilkey.
The above analytics are contradicting popularized hitting approaches within youth and high school baseball and softball, and showing Major League hitters are pulling outside pitches with one strike or less.
However, the deeper the hitter moves into the count or the more strikes they have against them – the more the ball is being hit to the opposite side.
“As a big league pitcher, I have faced thousands on an MLB mound. Hitters pull outside pitches in hitter’s counts. If they cannot pull my outside pitches for base hits, they are not a threat in the lineup.” Stated former MLB pitcher Mike Sirotka.
“If I left an outside pitch up, it was rocketed into the stands or gap most of the time. If I kept that outside pitch low, it was usually an out.” Stated former MLB pitcher Jim Parque.
But again, popularized offensive training teaches hitters to spray the ball, or hit it where it is pitched.
“It is ridiculous to me to think that you can consistently hit the ball where it is placed. Do these hitters know what it takes to hit top level pitching? Obviously not. They are allowing the pitcher to dictate what the hitter does at the plate, and that is giving in.” Stated NCAA recruiter Marcellus Reynold.
In 1998, Parque experienced a banner first half of the Major League season. However, in the second half, he did not win a single game. During that time, he started meeting with the best hitters in the American and National leagues.
“I was struggling and needed to know why hitters were ruining my outings and potentially my opportunity to pitch at the big league level. So I met with all the greats and simply asked them to tell me what they were trying to do at the plate and how they accomplish it in practice.” Stated Parque.
Parque went on,
“What I found is that no matter the hitter type or where they hit in the line up, they all were trying to get their barrel in the zone early and keep it there longer. It boiled down to plate coverage.”
This information is not available on the internet. Analytics cannot quantify it properly. And it proves why great hitters can drive outside pitches to the pull side consistently.
The more a hitter can keep their barrel in the hitting zone, the higher the probability of making good contact. And the more barrel over the plate, the more a hitter can combat location – AND DO IT WITH THEIR HANDS.
This is why the saying, “You hit with your hands” holds high value at the top levels of the game.
By manipulating barrel, a hitter increases their ability to “barrel” more pitches in more locations. Inside pitches bring the hands in and outside pitches extend the hands.
Analytics prove the above, as more extra base hits are executed off outside or “up” pitches, rather than inside.
But can great contact be accomplished by hitting the baseball where it is pitched?
If we examine what it takes to hit the baseball, we will eventually come across the ‘optimal point of contact’ term that deals with where the barrel of the bat is optimized within the hitting zone.
OPC for inside pitches will be further out front, and OPC for outside pitches will be deeper.
However, to evaluate how good a hitter may be, OPC points for inside and outside contact points need to stay within thirty degrees or less.
As you can see, the OPCs of Mike Trout are closely connected. This matches Trout’s barrel to pitches more consistently, because there is an decreased timing requirement to hit inside or outside pitches.
If we examine “hit it where it is pitched”, the hitter must wait longer on outside pitches and quicken reactions for inside pitches. Barrel manipulation is limited, power is reduced, and spin rates are not optimized off the bat.
“Hitters whom try to go with pitches are defensive hitters whom are having to recognize where I am throwing the baseball before they react. This gives my pitches and approach a higher statistical advantage to succeed.” Stated Sirotka.
“The best hitters in our league or the ones I will recruit are always on time and ready to hit the fastball.” Stated NCAA baseball coach Sean Taunt.
Can a hitter be ready and on time to hit a fastball when the timing and tempo of outside and inside OPCs varies greatly?
Potentially, but much has to be accomplished when OPC variances are greater than thirty degrees.
UNDERSTANDING PULL AND OPPO
When dealing with MLB hitting spray charts, successful hitters are optimizing gap-to-gap power. 2017 MLB spray charts indicate the majority of batted balls are hit between shortstop and second base.
- Over sixty percent of all extra base hits were to pull side and located between the respective pull side middle infielder and second base.
- Almost seventy eight percent of all extra base hits were with one strike or less and when the hitter was ahead in the count.
- Over half of all batted balls during the 2017 MLB season went between shortstop and second base.
Understanding how MLB hitters manipulate their barrels and time pitch locations will better explain the definitions of “pull” and “oppo”.
Pulling or going with a pitch is more about matching OPCs within thirty degrees than trying to “hit it where it is pitched”. Obviously, hitters must use all fields, but the majority of top level hitters use a field that has gap-to-gap dimensions.
One of the best training systems on the market today that increases plate coverage is VeloPRO Baseball’s Velocity LOAD Harness. Developed to keep the hitter loaded longer, the harness has proven to increase barrel entry and exit paths within the zone.
Used by 8 MLB teams and over 60 NCAA baseball and softball programs, the VL Harness is a great product from which to develop plate coverage and power. For more info, visit http://www.veloprobaseball.com.