What should you be looking for when preparing for in game hitting?
In an average High School 7-inning game there could be anywhere from 25-40 hitters the come to the plate. Typically the starting pitcher will face about 20 of those batters before the bullpen is called to finish the game. Most hitters will bat on average 2-3 times against the starting pitcher depending on their location in the batting order. That means as a hitter there are 18-20 other at-bats to observe and gain information about hacking the pitcher. Those other 18 at-bats should be your tests to observe the pitcher and what they do. Following you will find some keys areas of focus if you want to figure out the pitcher tendencies.
· The Bullpen and the pitcher’s Tempo in regards to their pitches
o What’s the fastball delivery look like?
o How does it differ than the off-speed?
o Does the pitcher slow their arm down when throwing their change-up?
Adolescent pitchers usually have a tempo/pace when they get on the mound. They have facial differences when throwing their different pitches. When you study the pitchers in the bullpen you need to first find the fastball delivery as a baseline. Everything off of that is an anomaly and will be a different pitch. This is the tell we are looking for – the differences in the delivery.
While the pitcher is in the bullpen they will usually giving catcher’s glove signs to dictate the pitches thrown. If you’re watching this gives you every pitch and their tempo and every tell. You will also learn what the pitcher is struggling with on that day.
· Changes in Delivery & Planning at-bats
No we are out of the bullpen and into the game. We need to start focusing on the way a pitcher tips their pitches. Pitchers are all taught when throwing a curveball to get on top of the ball. Well, with this thinking of getting on top of the pitch it causes most pitchers to tilt their head to their glove side. By doing this they are able to get on top of the pitch.
Another cue is their tempo. A pitcher typically slows their body down when throwing an off-speed pitch.
Just because you now know what pitch is coming; this still means we shouldn’t swing all the time. If the pitcher can’t throw it for a strike, lay off it. If they hang it up in the zone, then tee off on it.
· Signs that pitchers give away
Most pitchers will start the hitter off with a fastball to get ahead.
If the pitcher nods at the first sign, it will usually be a fastball.
If they shake off a couple of signs, they are usually looking for the pitch they feel comfortable with (their command pitch). You should know this from the bullpen which happens prior to the game.
· Grip Changes in the glove
Does the pitcher change their grip? Most pitchers hold their fastball grip in their glove, and if they nod yes and don’t change their grip, it will usually be a fastball.
As you are watching other at-bats you should be looking for this. While a pitcher is holding their typical fastball grip and shake to another pitch, you just need to look at their throwing elbow. If the elbow rises up, they are changing grips. And usually to an off-speed pitch.
· Facial Expressions & Understand the Pitchers Approach
If a pitcher maintains their facial expression it is typically a fastball. If they soften their facial expression it will typically be an off-speed pitch.
This is why before your second at-bat you should have 8 other at-bats worth of data stored into your memory. The at-bats in between your own are key in locating the pitcher’s tendencies; you have seen what they throw on the first pitch to 9 batters (including your own).
You should know what the pitcher starts every batter off with and what they throw after a miss before your second at-bat.
· Making them a One-Pitch Pitcher
What does this mean? For most pitchers, 3-1 or 2-0 counts turn them into fastball pitchers. And the opposite is also true, 0-2 or 1-2 count makes them throw off-speed pitches. Go and hunt these pitches when in these counts.
· Easiest for Last
For every pitch the opposing pitcher throws, say it out loud to you (location and pitch type):
“Curve in the dirt”
“Change-up in the dirt”
When you do this for every pitch between your at-bats and then ask yourself – “what did I say the most? What did I say the second most?” Doing this will tell yourself what the pitcher has on that day and you can formulate a plan on how to attack them.