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Pitching with two strikes is something I feel is misunderstood. Given what we know about two strike hitting (see the last blog post), pitching with two strikes is a pitcher’s dream. The odds hitters go back to the dugout with two strikes are upwards of 80%. They’re more susceptible to swinging and chasing pitches outside of the zone out of fear of the strikeout. With this, it would make sense for pitchers to be most aggressive in two strike counts.

Instead, we teach pitchers the opposite. We tell them to shrink the strike zone. We teach them to make perfect pitches on the corners of the strike zone because we’re afraid of giving up a base hit. We teach them to throw uncompetitive fastballs six inches off the plate or 55’ breaking balls that the hitter never even thought about swinging at. Instead of being aggressive in the strike zone and utilizing all of it to our advantage (hitters tend to expand the zone with two strikes), we make it smaller and give ourselves little room for error. If we know the very best hitters in the world struggle when they’re down in the count, why wouldn’t we go right at them? Why do we let hitters back into counts instead of finishing them off while they’re down? Why do we pitch out of fear with two strikes instead of pitching with confidence and aggression?

I know it’s not the greatest feeling in the world when you hang a 0-2 curve and it goes 380’ to left, but statistics will show you that balls put in play in 0-2 and 1-2 counts do minimal damage. The issue becomes when we let hitters back into the count. In 2018, Mike Trout hit 10 of his 39 homers with two strikes - but just two in 0-2 and 1-2 counts. JD Martinez hit 14 of his 43 homers with two strikes, but only hit four of them in 0-2 and 1-2 counts. Jose Ramirez hit 18 of his 39 bombs with two strikes - but only hit one in 0-2 and 1-2 counts (see a pattern?). Out of all the two strike home runs hit between these three, 35/42 (83%) were hit in 2-2 and 3-2 counts. Maybe we should rethink those “waste pitches” after all.  

I love Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux’s thoughts about pitching with two strikes. See his thoughts below (image from @PitchingNinja).

Feel free to check out Maddux’s stats to see how this worked out for him.

Below are some ideas on how to pitch with two strikes:

  1. Make competitive pitches, force hitters to make decisions. Noncompetitive pitches (i.e. fastballs 6” off the black) don’t get swings or calls.  
  2. Utilize the entire strike zone. Hitters expand the strike zone with two strikes, meaning they’re more vulnerable to swing (like Maddux said above). Hitters also like to hunt specific speeds in specific locations. Nothing is more uncomfortable than not knowing what’s coming.
  3. Throw the FB in and up for strikes and not for strikes. Create uncomfortable at-bats (see Donaldson vs. Bauer, Kluber vs. JD Martinez, Snell vs. Encarnacion). Moving the feet of hitters and changing eye levels will create uncomfortable swings and help set up future pitches.
  4. Pitch to your strengths. Don’t waste two curveballs in the dirt if you have no confidence in the pitch. Go after guys with your best stuff - not your worst.  
  5. Know your swing and miss pitches/locations. These are especially useful in situations where you need a strikeout (ex: RISP <2 outs). Practice these pitches in your bullpens.
    1. Know what these pitches look like, how they feel coming out of the hand, and what visual you need to execute it. If you’re trying to bounce the pitch in the dirt, aim a foot or so behind home plate.
    2. Examples: Snell (see third pitch for 0-2 chase pitch), Syndergaard, Hicks, Scherzer  
  6. Understand how your pitches play off of each other. Try to get your pitches to look as similar as possible coming out of the hand (hitters make their decision whether to swing or not around 20-24’). Your big loopy curveball isn’t going to play well off a low and out FB - but a high FB can.
    1. High FB/CB: Glasnow, Hendricks, Snell  
    2. FB/SL: Bauer, Stroman, Kluber
    3. FB/CH: Syndergaard, DeGrom, Greinke
  7. Mess with timing. Hitting is all about timing. Pitching is about upsetting timing. Using the slidestep, different tempos can help give pitchers more room for error by throwing off the internal clock in hitters (See Stroman, Greinke, Cueto).    
  8. Put everything over the plate for pitchers who struggle with command.  
  9. Create some sort of separation between your FB and BB/CH. Can be speed (6+ mph) or movement profile (see Lance McCullers power change, Greinke changeup from above). The more similar your pitches are, the easier it will be for hitters to make adjustments.  
  10. Get feedback from your catchers/hitters on what pitched worked well/didn’t work well. Try to figure out what guys see well, don’t see well, had a tough time laying off, etc. The more you know about yourself and your arsenal, the better you can gameplan.
  11. Be aggressive. Pitch with confidence. The odds are in your favor when you get batters into two strike counts - pitch like it. If you’re constantly worried about giving up two strike hits, you’ll become paralyzed by your fear.
    1. If I tell you not to think about a pink elephant, a pink elephant will sure enough pop into your mind. Tell yourself positive, controllable actions (commit to this pitch, through the glove) instead of negative, outcome-based actions (don’t give up a hit, don’t waste this pitch).

Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns. Keep learning and growing - and get rid of your “waste pitches.”

This article was written by staff member Andrew Parks. 

by Andrew Parks

With my playing career officially complete, I wanted to look back and share my experiences in baseball and how they’ve impacted who I am today and who I want to become. I always dreamed at a young age that I wanted to play collegiate baseball, but I never could have imagined where it would have taken me many years later. My hope is that my story can urge you to follow your dreams on the diamond and relentlessly work to make them a reality.

Growing up, baseball was always something I loved to do. Going to practice was my favorite time of the day. I loved hanging out with some of my best friends, seeing my skills progress, and competing in games. I spent my weekends practicing at the park and in the backyard with my dad and brother. If I learned anything from those years, I learned how to show up and work hard - even though it never really felt like hard work because I loved to do it.

I got my first reality dose of baseball my freshman year of high school when I was cut from the junior varsity baseball team. I was crushed as I went to all the workouts, hitting sessions, and did everything I could to give myself the best chance to make the team. It would be the first spring where I wasn’t able to play with my friends as they instead were all playing on the junior varsity team. I felt like I was beside myself. I knew I wanted to play college baseball, but I had no idea how I could possibly make it happen.

That’s when I found Carmen. That spring, my dad told me to hop in the car and we’d drive to check out this place called Carmen Fusco Pro Baseball Academy. I was uncomfortable and hesitant at first as I had some previous private instruction going into my freshman year. When we learned that we could train year round and get professional level instruction, we took the chance and spent that year training with Carmen and his staff.

Throughout my first few sessions, I realized I had a long way to go. I had never trained before like the way they did at Carmen’s. I found out that some stuff I had heard from coaches growing up wasn’t accurate - which I had a tough time swallowing. I had zero confidence in my abilities and I had no idea where to find confidence. I tried my best with what I had most days, but early on it was a struggle to put it together. I was an introvert in a completely different facility with people and faces I had never seen before. I didn’t say much of anything to anyone.  

Along with training, I decided to join a team Carmen was putting together for the summer. At these practices, I got my first glimpse of what Carmen was on a baseball field. He was tough, demanding, and taught things I had never even heard of before. I felt like a fish out of water trying to keep up with the older and more polished players. I couldn’t believe what I had gotten myself into, but there was no going back at this point. If I wanted to play college baseball, I knew Carmen was going to be able to get me there.

Over time, I started to figure some things out. The ball started coming off my bat a little bit better. I was becoming more comfortable and making friends at our team practices. I was starting to build some confidence in my abilities with some more consistent training. I realized how important confidence actually was when it came to baseball. I didn’t feel completely out of my comfort zone anymore and I was starting to believe I was a decent player. It was far from a finished product, but it was a much-needed glimmer of hope in my baseball career. The next spring, I ended up making the junior varsity team as a sophomore and starting at shortstop on opening day. It is one of the proudest moments of my baseball career to this day.

I continued to work and train over the next year trying to take the next step to prepare myself to play collegiately. I started to lift weights seriously in the fall and winter of my junior year with my pitching coach Corey Thurman. We would go twice a week at 6 a.m. before school started, sometimes three times. While I had dabbled with lifting before in the past, my time with Corey was the first time I really got after it and started to push around some weight with a structured plan. I started to eat more and put some weight onto my 140-pound frame. I felt my training was paying off and I was starting to look at colleges - and then it all seemed to all fall apart when I was cut from the varsity team my junior year.

While getting cut my freshman year stung, this one hurt really bad. I thought I had done all the right things and prepared myself as best as I could, but now it felt like I was back to square one again with no hopes of playing college baseball. Like my freshman year, all of my friends would be playing baseball this spring and I would be searching for answers yet again - and this time I was running out of time.

If I didn’t have the support system that I had at the time, I’m not sure if I would have kept playing. I was embarrassed, humiliated, and would have to spend yet another spring watching my friends from the stands. However, I knew I couldn’t let everyone down that had helped me get to that point. I had come too far to throw everything away and let other people dictate my dreams. When I found out that I had been cut from the varsity team, I was in the gym the next morning at 6 a.m. with Corey. It was time to get back to work.

Over the next year, I trained harder than I ever had before. I was hitting in Carmen’s and taking ground balls all summer long at his baseball camps. I was hitting the weights with Corey and getting my arm in shape for games. Everything I did that year had two end goals in mind - make the varsity team next spring and find a college to play at next year. There were good days, bad days, and plenty of days where I didn’t feel like showing up and putting in work. Whenever I didn’t feel like doing what I needed to do, I remembered how bad it felt to be on the outside looking in last spring. That was all I needed to keep pushing forward.

That winter, I was able to take one of those monkeys off of my back when I decided to attend Medaille College in the fall. I loved the opportunity it presented in the Buffalo area and it felt like a place I could really flourish at. I was very excited for the road ahead, but I knew I had one more obstacle to tackle - and it scared me.

When tryouts came around, I knew I was as prepared as I was going to be. It’s difficult preparing for a tryout because you want to be at your very best each day, but sometimes you’re a little off here or there. Every time you slip up makes you worry about what the coaches are thinking and if that could be the straw that gets you cut again. It can be a nerve-wracking process and it’s something that I had to learn how to deal with the hard way. If I was going to get my chance at varsity, I was going to have to face my fears and show the coaches I could play.

Making the varsity team that spring is something that I’m still proud of to this day. Being able to finish out my high school career on the diamond with some of my best friends is something I’ll never forget. The year had its ups and downs, but it proved to me that I could face and conquer my fears if I put my head down, worked hard, and never gave up. It was an experience that would help prepare me for the next four years of my life. While it didn’t play out the way I had hoped going into high school, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

My freshman year of college opened me up to what it’s like to play Division III baseball. While it’s not DII or DI, I quickly learned that these guys could play. If I wanted to compete with them, I had to take my training to a completely different level. I hadn’t earned the right to play with those guys my freshman year. Showing up, going through the same stuff, and not practicing the mindset on a daily basis prevented me from competing with confidence. The game speeds up big time when you get to college and I simply wasn’t ready to handle it.

The summer going into my sophomore year is when I started to take ownership of my training. I started working at Carmen’s part-time as a coach. After seeing what he did to me as a high school player, I wanted to get into it myself and do the same for others. It helped spark a curiosity for learning that I still carry to this day. On the field, I began to own the mindset as a player and practice it in games. I became obsessed with learning about great players and coaches and what separated them from the rest. Through this, I realized that there was so much that I had left on the table throughout high school. Going forward, I would exhaust every resource out there and use them to become the best player and coach I could possibly be. My winters would no longer be spent going through monotonous workouts and playing video games. They would be spent learning, growing, and dedicating myself to a training process that would get the most out of myself physically and mentally on the diamond.

I felt better and more confident than I ever had before going into my sophomore year of college. I completely changed how I trained and became a student of the game absorbing as much as I could. I started off the year well and earned my first career collegiate start, a game in which I wish I would have thrown a little better. I earned another start but ended up performing horribly and did not see the mound for the rest of the season. I was devastated as I had worked so hard to create opportunities for myself that season but in the end, I could not capitalize on them.

This was a tough point in my career because I knew I was better than what I was showing on the field. It sends you into a spiral of negative thinking causing you to doubt and question your abilities. The love of the game is sucked out of you and you suffer as a player and a teammate. Instead of being supportive and embracing the grind, you selfishly try to find ways where you can earn opportunities again. After changing the way I trained and taking my game to the next level, I had nothing but failed opportunities to show for it.

I ended up getting buried under the depth chart going into my junior year and had lost a lot of confidence in my game. While I continued to learn and grow, I couldn’t seem to put it together on the mound as I had in the past. After months of compensating and adjusting, I began to figure some things out again and took advantage of a few opportunities early on in the season.

My first real opportunity since my last start sophomore year came on the road against a nationally ranked team in LaRoche College. With much of our pitching depleted, I was given a start in the second half of our doubleheader against LaRoche. Using what I had learned over the course of the last two years, I was able to battle through six innings of work leaving the game with an opportunity to get the win. While we could not finish off the game, it was a breakthrough moment in my career.  It taught me the importance of competing with confidence, overcoming adversity, and not letting previous performances dictate my future appearances. After 2.5 years of trial, error, hard work, and heartbreaks, I finally believed I could compete and win at this level.

While the rest of our season did not finish as we would have liked, I took my new sense of confidence into the summer and ended up winning pitcher of the year for the York Central League. I took this into my senior year ready to give it one more run on the baseball field. I picked up hitting again for the first time since my senior year of high school, but my first few at-bats of the season reminded me how hitting isn’t as easy as it seems sometimes. My first six at-bats of the season all ended in strikeouts - sending me into a negative spiral of fear and doubt. Facing the same demons I once used to battle as a young hitter growing up, I had to trick myself into being a good hitter again. Instead of believing the negativity my mind was feeding me, I picked myself up and in my seventh at-bat delivered the game-winning RBI in extra innings for our team’s third win of the season.

The rest of my senior season didn’t end as well as we had hoped. While it’s easy to sit back and point fingers, we just didn’t get the job done and it was a disappointing feeling to know we couldn’t make playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. As a senior, you want to go out in a way that really culminates the hard work that you’ve put in over four years as a collegiate baseball player. It was tough to swallow this at times but to me, it wasn’t a fair representation of our senior class and what we brought to the table. Between all six of us, we made incredible contributions to the baseball program, our school, and the Medaille community as a whole. It makes me proud when other people look at us and say the next class coming through has some big shoes to fill.

Playing college baseball has easily been the best decision I have ever made in my life. It taught me how to work hard, dominate the classroom, become a student of the game, make a positive impact on others, and ultimately become a mentor to those who once stood in my shoes. It helped me build lifelong friendships, create unforgettable memories, and drive an incredible experience that I would have never had a chance to live out if it weren’t for baseball. It taught me the pain of failure and how to courageously face your fears. Nothing has taught me more about life than baseball - and quite honestly, I don’t think there’s anything out there that teaches you more about life than baseball. For all the hardships, heartbreaks, and failures I’ve experienced playing, those moments of success where you feel on top of the world make it all worth it. The difference between those who dream about them and those who make them happen is the work that you put in. Nothing in this world can replace hard work.  

Going forward, I couldn’t be more excited to start my journey as a coach and mentor to those who aspire to get the most out of their abilities through the game of baseball. You don’t have to play in high school, college, or any kind of level to determine whether or not you had a successful baseball career. If you can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and know you gave it your very all to become the best player you could possibly be, you were a success. I know there are people out there like I once was who have no confidence, no direction, and no hope when it comes to their dreams on the diamond. You are not alone. If I could do it, you can do it - and I can help you.

I look forward to the challenges ahead as a coach. I know for sure that my playing days have prepared me for whatever comes my way in the future and I embrace it. Coaches like Carmen and Corey have forever changed my life and are the reason why I want to do the same for others. Being a coach and a mentor to young men and women is a privilege. I won’t take a single day for granted.  

Thanks for taking the time to read my story. It’s not glamorous, but it’s something I’m proud of and it’s the reason why I want to turn a children’s game into a career. I’ve been given a wonderful opportunity to positively impact individuals through the game of baseball. It would be my greatest failure in life if I did not take advantage of this.

As we covered in the last blog post, hitting with two strikes is pretty hard. Based on data from the 2017 MLB season, MLB hitters batted .177 in two strike counts (0-2: 0.152, 1-2: 0.159, 2-2: .181, 3-2: .216). If we remove the 3-2 neutral count, hitters batted .164 with two strikes.

To put this into perspective, let’s look at batting averages from the top five offensive WAR leaders from the 2017 MLB season and their splits with two strikes.   

  1. Jose Altuve: 0-2: .255, 1-2: .235, 2-2: .151
  2. Mike Trout: 0-2: .172, 1-2: .188, 2-2: .183
  3. Aaron Judge: 0-2: .184, 1-2: 172, 2-2: .165
  4. Giancarlo Stanton: 0-2: .100, 1-2: .132, 2-2: .147
  5. Charlie Blackmon: 0-2: .259, 1-2: 218, 2-2: .248

While Blackmon’s splits were the best by far, it is worth noting that both the AL and NL MVP (Altuve and Stanton) combined for a .170 batting average with two strikes (Altuve: .214, Stanton: .126). Even Mike Trout, baseball’s current $400 million man, couldn’t muster a batting average over .200 in 0-2, 1-2, or 2-2 counts.

There are several reasons why it’s hard to hit with two strikes. For one, hitters don’t have the ability to be as selective because of the strikeout. Hitters can take tough pitches early in the count for called strikes, but can’t afford to strike out looking on borderline pitches deep in the count. Strikeouts are the most unproductive out in baseball. Good teams strike out less. In 2017, the World Series champion Houston Astros finished with the least amount of strikeouts in the MLB with 1,087.  

Since hitters can’t be as selective with two strikes, they are more susceptible to pitches that look like strikes and end up finishing outside the strike zone. Instead of seeing fastballs, hitters now have to defend against cutters/sliders, curveballs, and changeups. In 2018, the MLB batting average on cutters/sliders was .267, changeups was .279, and curveballs was .267. Against four seam and two seam fastballs, hitters batted .348.

Given what we know about hitting with two strikes, we are faced with a few options. One of the most effective ways to get good at hitting with two strikes is to never get to two strikes. A large majority of the best hitters in baseball attack good pitches early in the count - and have a lot of success. Since we know pitchers want to throw 2 of their first 3 pitches for strikes (0-2 BA: 0.125, OBP: .160, 1-2 BA: .159, OBP: .166), hitters have a great opportunity early in the count to hunt pitches over the plate. Below are the batting averages of the five hitters from above on 0-0 counts:

  • Altuve: .449
  • Trout: .447
  • Judge: .400
  • Stanton: .475
  • Blackmon: .441

While avoiding two strikes seems like a pretty good plan, 48% of your at-bats are going to ultimately get to two strikes. We also know that batting average on balls in play (BABIP) with two strikes in 2017 was .295. The worst BABIP in any count in 2017 was .294. That shows us a large part of our battle with two strikes is simply putting the ball in play. Considering this, it is worth coming up with a different approach for two strikes that will help you put the ball in play and avoid striking out. Below are some tips on how you can improve how you hit with two strikes:

  1. Hitting with two strikes is tough, but it’s not a death sentence. Remain confident when battling with two strikes. If you’re having confidence issues at the plate, revisit your pre-pitch process (see previous blog posts on this).
  2. Pay attention to what pitchers are throwing in two strike counts. Pitchers are creatures of habit. Anticipating certain pitches/pitch sequences can help you avoid the unpredictability of hitting with two strikes.
  3. If anticipating the breaking ball/changeup, see the pitch up. If the pitch starts off looking like a fastball, it’s going to finish outside of the strike zone.
  4. Expand in a specific part of the strike zone, not the entire strike zone. Hitting is hard enough with the zone you have. Expand where you think the pitcher will be coming (a few baseballs outside, inside, etc.).
  5. Widen your stance, choke up on the bat, move closer to the plate, use a different timing mechanism. If pitchers have to learn a windup and the stretch, it’s not a bad idea for hitters to learn two different swings.
  6. Take bad pitches, work yourself back into the count (3-2 BA: .216, OBP: 462). Most pitchers are going to shrink the zone with two strikes because they don’t want to give up a base hit. Use this to your advantage.
  7. Practice with two strikes. Learn what borderline pitches look like. Understand which ones you need to fight off/take. Drive mistakes.
  8. Practice adjustability. Sometimes you’re going to have to barrel speeds you weren’t looking for originally.
  9. Keep things simple. Don’t get caught over analyzing every possible pitch/situation in the box. You’re at your best when you’re thinking the least.
  10. Be the best competitor on the field. Compete one pitch at a time. You can’t worry about the two that just went by you. Be great at being where your feet are.
  11. Remember times when you succeeded with two strikes, forget times where the pitcher got the best of you. We tend to hang on to negative experiences the longest. If you’re constantly thinking about how bad you are with two strikes, there’s a really good chance you’ll see more two strike counts in the future - and you’ll see similar results.

Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns.

Keep learning and growing.

This article was written by staff member Andrew Parks. 

In the game of football, the line of scrimmage is the ultimate battleground throughout the course of a game. The goal of the offense is to prevent the defense from penetrating the line of scrimmage in order to open up running lanes and protect the quarterback so he can have more time to throw. The goal of the defense is the exact opposite: blow up the line of scrimmage to clog running lanes, put pressure on the quarterback, and force him to make bad decisions under duress. The team who can consistently control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball wins, while teams who struggle to do either have trouble competing for 60 minutes. This constant battle between the offense and defense is a great way to illustrate a similar battleground on the baseball field: the war of the strike zone.

Just like football, the pitcher and hitter are constantly competing for control of the strike zone. Pitchers are trying to pound the zone early and often so they can get hitters into counts where there are more strikes than balls. Hitters are trying to hit good pitches in good counts where there are more balls than strikes. Pitchers who get ahead are able to put pressure on the batter by making them expand the zone and swing at pitches that initially look like strikes. Hitters are trying to get into counts where pitchers are going to throw their most predictable (and straightest) stuff.

To explain why controlling the count is so important, let’s look at some numbers by count from the 2017 MLB season. When hitters were working with two strikes, they batted .177 (0-2: 0.152, 1-2: 0.159, 2-2: .181, 3-2: .216). When hitters were ahead in the count (more balls than strikes), they batted .366 (1-0: .341, 2-0: .360, 3-0: .414, 2-1: .349, 3-1: 364). In three ball counts, the OBP was .702 (3-0: .946, 3-1: 698, 3-2: 462). In two strike counts, the OBP stood at .244 (0-2: 0.160, 1-2: .166, 2-2: .187, 3-2: .462). If you subtract the 3-2 count (a neutral count), OBP falls to .171 with two strikes.

Based on this data, we can assume a few things:

  1. Pitchers thrive when they get to two strikes quickly (0-2 BA: 0.125, OBP: .160, 1-2 BA: .159, OBP: .166).
  2. Hitters do their most damage when ahead in the count (no BA in hitting plus counts was below .341).
  3. Three ball counts are a hitter’s dream and a pitcher’s nightmare (hitters get on base more than 70% of the time in three ball counts).
  4. The only time when batting averages sunk below 0.300 was when the count went to two strikes. The worst BA in any non-two strike count was .330 in 0-1 counts. The best BA in a two strike count was the 3-2 count (.216).

Let’s dive a little further. Two counts I want to emphasize are the 0-0 count and the 1-1 count.

0-0 Counts

The first pitch is crucial to the direction the at-bat will take. Pitchers are going to throw their best pitches in their highest strike percentage locations in 0-0 counts. They want to get to two strikes as quickly as possible. They’re not going to nibble around the strike zone - they’re going to go right at you with their best stuff.

To avoid falling into two strike counts, most hitters are going to be very aggressive in 0-0 counts. They know the pitcher is going to throw the ball over the plate early in their at-bat. By hopping on pitches early in the count, they reduce the likelihood they’ll see an offspeed of breaking ball later in the count. In 2018, the MLB BA on cutters/sliders and curveballs was .267 and the BA on changeups was .279. On 4 seam and 2 seam fastballs, MLB hitters batted .348.  

In 2017, MLB hitters batted .348 on 0-0 counts and slugged .585. 2017 batting champion and AL MVP Jose Altuve (.346 BA) hit a staggering .449 in 0-0 counts. 2017 AL MVP frontrunner Aaron Judge was just as exceptional batting .400 in 0-0 counts. Mike Trout, another pretty popular name in baseball, batted .447 in 0-0 counts. When we look at all three players in two strike counts, they barely combine to scratch .200 (Trout didn’t even touch .200 in 0-2, 1-2, or 2-2 counts).

As a pitcher, this does not mean 0-0 counts are time to nibble. According to research done by Jerry Weinstein, 92.7% of first pitch strikes lead to an out or strike one. 69% of strikeouts begin with a first pitch strike, while 70% of walks start with first pitch balls. If you throw a first pitch strike, there is an 80% chance two of your first three pitches will be strikes. Considering what we know when the best hitters in the world get to two strikes, this is a huge advantage for pitchers.     

1-1 Counts

Aside from 0-0 counts, 1-1 counts are arguably the most important count in baseball. To illustrate this, let’s look at some numbers for what happens after 1-1 counts. If the pitcher throws a strike and gets the count to 1-2, hitters struggled batting .159 with a .166 OBP. If the pitcher throws a ball and lets the hitter work back into a plus count, BA and OBP jumps to .349 and .351 respectively. In the matter of one pitch, we’re looking at a difference of .190 in BA and .185 in OBP.

As a pitcher, 1-2 counts are where we thrive. We can throw our best swing and miss pitches without worrying about whether we’ll walk the batter or not. Hitters can’t be as selective and must battle off a variety of pitches to work themselves back into a favorable count. In 2017 in 1-2 counts, Altuve batted .235, Judge batted .172, and Trout batted .188.  

In 2-1 counts, the options for pitchers are limited in their arsenal based on what pitches they are most confident in throwing for strikes. We know that hitters get on base nearly 70% of the time when the count gets to three balls. We also know that in 2-2 counts, hitters batted .181 at the MLB level in 2017. As a hitter, we don’t have the pressure of fighting off a wicked curveball when the thought of going back to the dugout on strikes isn’t in our mind. Plus counts are where we do our damage. In 2-1 counts in 2017, Altuve batted .444, Judge batted .621, and Trout batted .486. If we’re doing the math from the averages above, that’s a .209 difference for Altuve, .449 for Judge, and .298 for Trout.

To summarize what we’ve talked about:

  • The line of scrimmage to football is what the strike zone is to baseball. Teams who win their respective line of demarcation win games.
  • Pitchers dominate when the count gets to two strikes.
  • Hitters do damage when there are more balls than strikes and when they aren’t in two strike counts.
  • 0-0 counts dictate at-bats. Pitchers who throw strike one succeed. Hitters who hop on a good pitch early have success.
  • There is a huge difference between a 2-1 count and a 1-2 count. Winning the majority of 1-1 counts is crucial.

Coaches: Put a premium on controlling the strike zone in your practices. If you don’t emphasize the importance of hitting in plus counts or getting to two strikes quickly, don’t be surprised when your team can’t do either in games. Below are some ideas on how to do so:

  1. Practice hitting in a variety of counts (0-0, 1-1, 2-0, 0-2).
  2. Talk about approaches in each count (what pitches/locations they’re hunting).
  3. Keep it simple in the box - if you’re looking for everything, you’re not going to be ready for anything. One speed, one location.  
  4. Have pitchers practice throwing with counts to RHH/LHH.
  5. Figure out what pitches/locations they are most confident when they need a strike, strike out, or ground ball.  
  6. Manipulate the count, baserunners (RISP) to create certain situations.  
  7. Develop multiple pitches that can be thrown with confidence in 0-0 counts.
  8. Pitch backwards in hitter plus counts.
  9. Create incentives (not having to do field work, team captain for scrimmage, etc.) for those who rise to the challenge and execute in certain counts.
  10. Keep track of how your team performs in certain counts throughout the season. Especially keep track of 0-0 counts and 1-1 counts.
  11. Record your team and the other team’s walks/strikeouts.
    1. Winning teams: Your walks/how many you strike out - their walks/how many times they struck you out = positive number. Losing teams: Same equation yields negative number.

Information used in this article from the 2017 MLB season can be found below.

Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns. Keep learning and growing.

This article was written by staff member Andrew Parks. 

Your body and mind work together like a well-oiled machine to keep you safe when faced with life’s challenges. Whether it’s sharpening your focus or using adrenaline to give you the strength you don’t normally have, the mind will protect you at all costs to ensure your survival. If utilized correctly, your mind can take you to places you never could have imagined. There’s a reason behind the Navy SEAL 40 percent rule: When your body feels as if you can’t give anymore, you’ve still got
60 percent left in the tank

If used incorrectly, the powers of your mind will become your worst nightmare.
Your brain will build invisible barriers that you will start to believe. Those barriers are built with help from a small voice in the back of your mind that never seems to shut up when something is on the line. It feeds off negative emotions and manifests a permanent mark on your memory when you find yourself in a similar situation that you once failed.

When you’re about to take a math exam and you need a 75 to pass the class, it’s the voice reminding you about the test you failed just two weeks ago. You’re not good at math, it’s too much pressure. There’s no way you’ll pull off the grade you want.

When you walk up to the podium for that big speech you’ve rehearsed over 100 times, it’s the voice that makes you forget the first line you thought was ingrained in your brain. Look at all those people out there. Imagine what they would think of you if you couldn’t even make it through your opening sentence without stumbling.

When you’re up to bat in the last inning with bases loaded, two outs, and down one run, it’s the same voice giving you every reason why you can’t lead your team to victory. These guys have owned you all day. You’re the worst hitter on this team, you’ll be lucky if you touch anything.  

Instead of facing your fears head-on, this voice won’t let you risk the embarrassment. It might be a cool feeling if you succeed, but just imagine how painful it would be to fail. Who cares how much you’ve worked on your swing in the past month. Now it actually matters, and you haven’t found the barrel in your last eight at-bats. What makes you think that’ll change when it actually matters?

If you can’t tell, this voice is probably the reason why you get so worked up over something you’ve practiced a million times. It’s the reason why you freeze up in the box in the last inning and choke away your last at-bat because you were too worried about failing. It’s the reason why your mental picture of your math study guide all of a sudden went blank during your test. With each failure, the voice grows stronger and stronger until it’s the only thing on your mind when it comes to crunch time. It’s a vicious cycle that will send you back to the drawing boards searching for answers - unless you take action and put an end to the lies it makes you believe.

This is where self-talk comes into play. When you listen to yourself, you hear the fears, doubts, and reasons why you can’t get the job done. When you talk to yourself, you can feed your mind positive thoughts, encouragement, and reasons why you CAN get the job done. Your thoughts are your body’s natural defense mechanism to get you to avoid situations you might fail. Self-talk is how you remind yourself that you’re more powerful than you could ever imagine.

If you’re feeling a little nervous before your big biology exam, starve your negative thoughts with positive self-talk. You’ve prepared as much as you could. You’re ready to go, you got this! Before you take the mic and prepare to address your fellow classmates, remind yourself how you’re going to crush it. You’re a great speaker. How exciting is it to finally share with your friends and family how much you’ve worked to master these next 10 minutes. You’re on the mound with two outs, bases loaded, and the other team’s best hitter ready to erase their one-run deficit? Yeah, wish him luck. You’re the man. There’s nobody better for this situation. He’ll be lucky if he touches one of these next three pitches.

In life, we are always going to face challenges that test our faith, will, and determination. We’re going to make mistakes and fall on our face when the spotlight is beaming on us. Striking out with the game-winning run on third doesn’t make you a failure, it just makes you human. With the right mindset, a work ethic that doesn’t hear the word can’t, and some positive self-encouragement at the right moments, you will overcome these obstacles and use them to propel your game to the next level.   

Our mind fears discomfort. It doesn’t like moments where we’re most vulnerable. It’s a curse that impacts everyone who walks this earth, but the great ones learned how to conquer this by feeding their mind what it needed. When the lights turn on and it’s time to play, you don’t need more reasons why you can’t be the guy. You need the assurance from yourself that you can.  

Don’t let you give up on yourself.
Feed your mind positive words, encourage yourself when you’re down, and give yourself the confidence to rise up to any challenge that comes your way. If you’ve put in the work, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t believe you can get it done.

Don’t listen to yourself; talk to yourself. You are great, you were born for this, and you can do this.

This article was written by staff member Andrew Parks. 

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