The great Ted Williams summed up the mental game of hitting very easily when he said “Get a good pitch to hit.” Of course, there is much more that can be advised about the mental game of hitting but, ultimately, that is the best advice when a batter is in the batter’s box. All the analysis, preparation and visualization should end when a batter is facing the pitcher and getting a good pitch to hit is all that there is left to focus on.
I often ask my hitting students, “What makes a great hitter – those that are good two strike hitters or those that are not?” Most answer, “Those with two strikes.” Of course, that is better than the alternative but I reply, “Not necessarily.” When a hitter has two strikes on them, especially when this happens often, hitters are in a defensive mode and are at the mercy of the pitch. I try to convince them that great hitters are the ones who make good decisions before they get two strikes on them
With this in mind, following are things that will help the mental game of hitting for baseball players:
1. Prepare for and expect the first pitch to be in the middle of the plate. When the pitch is located there, hitters should swing at it. A hitter’s odds of hitting the ball solidly go up greatly when balls are in the middle of the plate, regardless if it is high or low. When it is not in the middle, hitters should lay of it.
2. When batters are ahead in the count, they should think of the pitch they hit the very best – inside, outside, high, low. Whatever it is, that is the pitch they should look for with a 1 & 0 count. As above, if that pitch comes, they should swing at it and lay off all other pitches, ball or strike.
3. When the batter falls behind in the count before two strikes, hitters should know the two-thirds of the plate that they handle best and only swing if the ball is in that zone. It is worth risking going to a two strike count when the first two strikes are in an area that the hitter does not hit well.
4. With two strikes, all hitters are the same. When a pitch is a strike or very close to a strike, the batter must swing to avoid being called out on strikes. The pitcher definitely has the advantage when the hitter has two strikes because the batter must be prepared to handle every inch of the plate, from low to high.
To help with this total plate coverage, hitters should learn to look for pitches on the outer part of the plate and adjust to pitches that are on the inner half of the plate. This philosophy better protects the hitter from outside and off-speed pitches because it will help them from opening up to soon on those pitches.
As players get to the higher level of balls and pitchers are more consistent, they can change this approach some to take advantage of their strengths and the pitcher’s weaknesses. Also, the best hitters remain confident because they have a good fundamental swing, have prepared in practice and believe in that swing to be able to make good contact, no matter the count. Finally, hitting coaches should help young hitters to learn about their individual strengths and weaknesses to help their “mental game of hitting.”