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Re: Pitch Selection (zone hitting)

Posted by: () on Fri Apr 12 21:01:11 2002

My daughter plays fastpitch softball. She is a great hitter during pratice. When she plays in a game she struggles. She claims she has a hard time doing pitch selection (swing or not to swing). Any suggestions or tips.
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> > --------
> > I teach my kids something I read about called "zone hitting".
> >
> > With less than 2 strikes, I tell the kids that "the pitch belongs to you", i.e. they have the advantage over the pitcher.
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> > First, they need to figure out where their "sweet spot" is. Where is the very best place they can hit a pitch, based on experience? With no strikes, they need to be looking at that location, expand it to about the size of a shoebox, and if the balls not there, they're not swinging.
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> > With 1 strike, the zone expands a bit. I tell the kids, initially, a "1 strike" zone is about the size of a basketball. That means nothing over the belly-button, and nothing below about 3 inches above the knees, for most kids.
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> > With 2 strikes, the "pitch belongs to the pitcher". He's got the advantage. They need to (a) choke up on the bat, to make it a bit quicker, (b) expand the zone to about shoulder level (above the armpits!), just below the knee, and 3 inches either side of the plate. In "2 strikes mode", the goal should be to make contact, any kind of contact in the expanded zone. In fact, if in doubt, pound the pitch into the ground for a foul. I tell the kids if they make it to full count, and spoil 3-4 pitches on a 2 strike count, they've had a quality at bat (the next teammate will hit the pitcher, because they wore him/her out).
> >
> > Obviously, the kids have to learn to adjust their "zone" with the pitching. If the pitcher is hot, hitting corners, moving it around well, they'll have to expand their mentally defined "zone" a bit to keep up with him. If he or she is all over the place, they tighten it up.
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> > Most of all, I tell the kids to get mentally prepared. Step out after each pitch, take a big breath, mentally go through the count, how many outs, what the zone will be for the next pitch, what kind of pitch they're looking for, etc..
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> > Your daughter may be scared of the ball. Barry Bonds describes a tracking drill that sounds pretty good, which is to have the player stand in with a glove at the plate, and take BP with the glove. Instead of hitting, they track and catch the ball with the glove.
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> > All the above, a little at a time, and then lots and lots of strokes. Some kids grab the "zone hitting" concept, and they become "hot" the next day. Others just get confused. I try to teach them the "basics" first, and when they seem to be picking that up, I talk to them about the other details (i.e. watching what the pitcher is throwing, etc.).
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> > Regards.. Scott
> Zone hitting is really a silly thing to teach kids. If the pitcher throws a strike that is not in the zone the batter lets it go. The strike zone is about 10 times bigger then a shoe box. So, there are 9 strikes the picher could throw that the bater will not swing at. PLUS many softball pitchers make a special effort to throw a strike on the first pitch. Its not unusual for the first pitch to be the best pitch a batter will see. This is true because a very high percentage of batters let the first pitch go by. Probably because they have coach who teaches them "zone" hitting." Pitchers giggle at these hitters. Pitching coaches love these hitters. Its funny when they let two good ones go by and wind up swinging at a ball in the dirt or over their eyes. They go back to the dugout throwing their helmet. The coach shakes his head and wonders what wrong with "her."
> So, now the batter has given up 1/3 of their advantage. So now the batter enlarges the "zone." Now its a basketball, heheheh, which might be about a 6th the size of the strike zone. So the pircher can throw 5 strikes that the batter won't swing at. Now the batter will give up 2/3 of the advantage. Plus, she now has to swing at "anything" that is close. Any average pitcher with 2 and 2, 1 and 2 or 0 and two will not throw a good pitch and the batter is in a deep deep hole.
> I don't see how it helps a kid who can't hit to tell her not to swing at strikes. Or to give away her advantage. Plus, if a kid could identify a ball that will be in a shoe box size area in the contact zone they are not having trouble hitting.
> This is silly advice. Don't tell your daugher to do it.
> F. J.


Well, F.J. obviously feels pretty strongly about this. He went out of his way to use all sorts of pejorative terms, e.g. "silly", "pitchers giggle" at such hitters, etc., to characterize my advice.

In fact, he may be right. Internet advice is worth about what you pay for it, and so are the critiques of such advice. You may want to read a book to weed out the "Myths" from the more reliable information. Of course, F.J. contributed nothing helpful either, so one might wonder what his motivation was. He doesn’t seem to care much about your daughter’s problem, did he.

In any case, I addressed the issue of quality variation between pitchers. Obviously, if the pitcher is getting a high percentage of 1st strike pitches through the zone (or if the Umpire is helping her get those strikes), you have to open the "shoe box" up more to compensate. In my experience (rec. ball, travel ball, softball/baseball, 15 yo and under), there aren't a lot of pitchers out there (softball or baseball) that are getting that first strike in 60% of the time, as they should be. If your team runs into the 1 of 20 superstar-pitcher who has such control, you may have to tell your struggling hitters to treat every pitch like a "two-strike" pitch (something we also work on during BP), i.e. choke-up a bit, open up the zone, etc.. (True, we don't want them grounding out or "spoiling" a bad pitch on 1 strike, in a situation where 60%+ of pitches are coming into the zone on the first pitch, the challenge is to make contact, gaining confidence from every swing where contact is made.)

The problem young players have focusing on a strike zone 10 times larger than my "shoebox" on no strikes, or 6 times larger than the "basketball" sized zone on 1 strike, is that this is more territory than their attention span can handle. What "zone hitting" does is aid them in separating the wheat from the chaff. It helps them focus on what exactly a "good pitch" and "bad pitch" is. A pitch above the belt on less than 2 strikes will probably be a ball about 8 of 10 times. A pitch near the knees on less than 2 strikes will probably be a ball at about the same ratio. If they have a better defined “target” to look at, they have a better chance of hitting the ball when it’s in that target. Moreover, they have a better chance of drawing a walk, or hitting something that will do some good. What’s the point of hitting the ball on the outside corner, down and away for a ground ball out, or popping out on something high in the zone?

Well, I'm not going to try to "sell" this particular philosophy. Our struggling hitters end up striking out less, picking up more walks, and when we add in bunts, we get them on base more often. Striking out 4 for 4 destroys their confidence. F.J. can chuckle over his beer, but every strike-out a young player avoids gives them that much more confidence the next time at bat.

Giving a young player a huge zone, having her or him swing wildly at every first strike because "it may be your best pitch", telling them to "learn the strike zone" without giving them any guidelines, is just plain silly.

Oh, and one more thing: No pitcher of mine who laughs at a batter who strikes out on a pitch, no matter how silly the swing, or how good the pitch (i.e. nasty curveball or slider), will "giggle" or laugh afterwards. If they've played for me more than two weeks, they know they'll be off that mound in 30 seconds. There's no place on my team for the sort of disrespect or arrogance that “F.J.” obviously relishes. But then, that's just my approach to youth baseball. The lessons in character that young players learn on the diamond matter a whole lot more than anything that happens on the field.

Hope your daughter starts getting the hits!



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