What Makes a Good Hitter in Baseball
Most people associated with baseball, especially scouts, coaches, managers, and general managers, emphasize such elements as a player’s stance, hitting mechanics, bat speed, and natural power. But even if a player possesses all these skills, his career success will hinge more on several even more important — and less-discussed — attributes.
The following skills can take you from being an average hitter to being a threat every time you come to bat.
Plate discipline: The knowledge of which pitches to swing at and which to let go. A key component of plate discipline is knowledge of the limits of your plate coverage (the ability to cover both sides of the plate, both horizontally and vertically). The ability to develop your plate coverage depends on the next two skills to develop to become a good hitter.
Pitch recognition: A hitter’s ability to recognize the oncoming pitch. Being able to recognize the pitch enabless him to predict the pitch’s probable speed, movement, and location. Because the hitter has a fraction of a second to recognize the pitch, he should develop this awareness by utilizing his knowledge of a pitcher’s repertoire acquired by watching video, reading scouting reports, observing the pitcher from the dugout, and asking teammates to evaluate the pitcher’s stuff on any given day.
If the hitter fails at pitch recognition, he won’t be able to exploit count leverage (a measure of the degree to which the hitter has an advantage in the count over the pitcher), which provides a huge advantage. Batters have a .957 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average) when ahead in the count and .509 when behind. (This is approximately the difference between Miguel Cabrera and a replacement level player in the Mexican League.) But what good is a 3–0 count if the next pitch is a curveball in the dirt and you swing at it? Or if you fail to swing at a 3–0 mediocre fastball that may as well have “hit me” written on it?
Identifying the pitch correctly won’t help much if you don’t know which pitches you hit well and which give you trouble. For example, are you a low ball hitter, or do you kill pitches high in the strike zone? Do you like pitches inside or outside?
Bat control: Good hitting doesn’t depend merely on how fast you can get your bat through the hitting zone. You must be able to adjust your approach at the plate, so you can take outside pitches to the opposite field, pull inside pitches, and check your swing at a pitch that looks initially tempting but swiftly fades away from your hot zone (the area in the strike zone that gives you the best chance to hit the ball hard).
For slower pitches, like a changeup, you slow down your body — not your bat — and wait longer.