An approach at the plate in simple terms, is having a plan.
A hitter should always have a plan, or approach, going into an at-bat. The approach can be situation-specific, pitcher-specific, and even count-specific. Approaches are highly individualized, and there is no formula that works for every player. Developing an approach should factor in the player’s strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies.
Since approaches need to change based on the situations and other factors, it is important for players to have a repeatable thought process to guide them through their decision-making. Self-awareness is a key component of developing a solid approach, which will be necessary for any player to have continued success as they progress through their careers.
What is a Hitting Approach?
An approach is the game plan a hitter takes into an at-bat. It is predetermining the goal of the at-bat, and what is trying to be accomplished. Examples of this could be getting on base, moving a runner, driving in runners in scoring position, and so on. Approaches can change pitch to pitch, situation to situation, and count to count.
Hitting approaches operate like a flowchart. Hitters should have a general understanding of what pitches they prefer to hit and in what location. From there, based on the pitcher, count, or situation, the approach can work its way into a more specific approach. Let’s use a scenario as an example:
Scenario: The #2 hitter is preparing for their at-bat, and their plan is to look for a fastball up in the zone that they can drive in a gap. The leadoff hitter doubles, and is now on second base with no outs. The #2 hitter must now determine the situation and adjust their approach, if necessary. Since the hitter’s job now is to move the runner over to third base, they are going to change their approach slightly. As a right-handed hitter, they are going to look for a fastball on the outer half of the plate that they can hit hard to the right side of the field, advancing the runner. The pitcher throws two strikes on the inside corner, and the hitter takes both pitches making the count 0-2. The hitter must now adjust their approach again. They can no longer look for a specific pitch, as their job with 2 strikes is to put the ball in play or draw a walk.
As illustrated, approaches are not a one-size-fits-all and can be constantly changing. Once a player has developed a solid approach to all situations, it will take the guesswork out of the at-bat and lead to much more success at the plate.
Why is a Hitting Approach Necessary?
One of the most difficult aspects of the game of baseball is the mental side of it. Many professional players and managers will argue it is just at important as physical talents. A good approach increases a player’s chances of success, which can come in two forms. First, every player has strengths and weaknesses, and an approach can help a hitter focus on utilizing their strengths and avoiding their weaknesses. Second, an approach can also increase a hitter’s chances of success in cases of situational hitting.
It is worth pointing out that not all approaches have to be complex. For example, if a hitter tends to overthink at the plate, a simple approach might suit them best, such as “hit fastballs that are a strike”. This is where self-awareness is key, and the base of any hitting approach needs to start with understanding the hitter’s strengths and weaknesses, both mentally and physically.
How to Develop a Hitting Approach
To begin developing a hitting approach, start with clearly defining a hitter’s strengths and weaknesses. This is important for hitters to know this, so an open dialog reflecting on previous at-bats is a great way to start collecting this information. Strengths and weaknesses can come in many forms. A few to consider are as follows:
- Does the hitter have a good eye at the plate?
- Does the hitter draw a lot of walks?
- Is the hitter comfortable hitting with 2 strikes?
- What does the hitter’s spray chart look like?
- Is the hitter good at hitting off-speed pitches (curveballs, sliders, changeups, etc.)?
- How does the hitter handle higher velocity pitching?
- Does the hitter have good bat control?
Building an approach around the answers to these questions is step one of developing a complete hitting approach that a player can use in any situation.
Situational and Two-Strike Hitting Approach
Hitters can really begin to differentiate themselves when they are able to take their standard hitting approach and tailor it to situational hitting. Situational hitting is when there is a specific objective such as moving a baserunner from second base to third base, or scoring a runner on third with less than two outs. Let’s use a runner on third, with less than two outs as an example. In that situation, the hitter knows a fly ball to the outfield will score the runner, so a hitter should be aware of what pitches will give them the best chance to do this. In many cases, this may be pitches up in the strike zone. These are easier pitches to hit in the air for many hitters, so that may be a good approach for them. In that same situation, another hitter may prefer to sit on a curveball, knowing one of their strengths is the ability to drive curveballs into the outfield. The potential complexity of hitting approaches is endless, but beginning to develop and follow approaches early in a hitter’s career will set them up for success in all hitting situations.
Hitting with two strikes is the most common example of when a hitter will need to shift their approach. Much like every other situation, a two-strike approach can be simple or complex, depending on what works for the hitter. An example of a simple approach can be as simple as thinking “swing at strikes,”- this might work great for some hitters. Others may need to add another level to that, for example, think “don’t get beat by a fastball, adjust to off-speed”. The idea is to find a mental thought process that works for the individual.