When to take a pitch?

In all seriousness, this is an interesting question, so let me throw out a disclaimer. There are situations in the youth game now that I haven't been around for awhile. For instance, there are rules in high school about pitch count, and many high schools only have 1 stud pitcher. Obviously in a state championship scenario there may be times to bend things a little and increase pitch count.

That being said--from the little I have been able to gather form talking to dads--too many coaches of travel teams and such are thinking the idea of the game is to better their personal W-L record. This is BS in my opinion. The record of the team should always take a (way) backseat to developing the hitter and teaching them to play the game right. If I hear one more story of a kid who is told to stand right on top of the plate to get hit or scare the pitcher into throwing a ball so the team can win and the coach can post his record on Facebook--I think I am going to throw up in the back of my mouth. K, off my soapbox.

Overall, I don’t condone watching good pitches to hit go by. Few things are more important mentally than working the count and being ready to capitalize on a mistake pitch. As you move up in levels, one of the biggest differences is the ratio of drivable pitches per strikes thrown. In high school you may see 3 out of 5 strikes that are over the heart of the plate. This number shrinks rapidly to maybe only a 1/2 of a pitch per 5 if a guy is really dealing in the high levels of pro ball. It makes no sense to let a mistake pitch go by for no reason.

This means the hitter needs to be ready and do his homework. I was constantly timing my load to the pitches before the game, when on deck, and even in my mind. I asked questions to the guys in front of me. Does his fastball cut? Sink? Is it sneaky? This way I could be ready if it was a pitch I could mash.

More importantly, how you take the pitch may be just as important. One thing that really bothers me is when a hitter takes a pitch without loading, as if he is truly about to swing. If you don’t load aggressively and correctly it is a wasted opportunity to see release point and get the timing of the pitcher. Load as if you are going to swing! Try to gain as much timing and knowledge as possible for a future swing.

In the end, it is up to you and your coach when you decide to see a pitch. Here are some suggestions:

1. A 3-0 Count. I have hit a few long ones here, but I have also over-swung and popped up more than I care to admit. This decision is between a coach and a hitter he has faith in. A coach may have the hitter take off a certain pitcher and not another. Maybe the hitter is on fire and he lets him swing. The situation and a coach’s “baseball sense” dictate the plan. A good fastball to hit is probably coming and it’s hard to let it go by. Even pitchers that pitch ‘backwards’ usually throw fastballs in a 3-0 count thinking you won’t swing and go to off-speed when it’s a 3-1 count and you are looking for the heat.

2. The first at-bat against a pitcher. If I had any doubt about what the pitcher’s fastball looked like or if there was anything quirky at all about his delivery, I would often take one pitch. Not one strike—one pitch. I would take the pitch with my normal load and routine, as if I was going to swing at the pitch. I would focus on release point and timing my load. I rarely just automatically took a pitch with runners in scoring position.

3. You don’t feel right or are struggling. If I felt as if I wasn’t seeing the ball well or I had been struggling—sometimes it helped to take a pitch. It seems like I would end out with a 1-0 count quite often, which helps. This may be the first at-bat of the game whether I was familiar with the pitcher or not. Maybe I had a bad batting practice where I was jumping at the ball too much. Who knows? A hitter should be familiar enough with his make-up to know when it might be good to see a pitch.

4. Your coach says to “take a pitch” (lead-off hitter). Often times, a coach will tell a lead-off hitter to “see one.” This is good advice. Nothing is worse than the opposing pitcher having a 5-pitch first inning and the rest of your team having no clue what his stuff looks like. 3-0 counts also fall into this category, and in some cases maybe even 3-1 in rare circumstances.

5. Taking a strike in the last 2 innings and down by more than 1 run. It’s impossible to hit a game tying double or homerun if no one is on base and you are down by more than one run. I have seen this philosophy work well many times. Usually, it is only applied when a relief pitcher is entering the game. It makes the new pitcher work for his outs, and maybe he is a little off that night. Maybe the game mound is different than the bullpen mound he just threw off of, and this causes him to be erratic. Who knows what’s going through a closer’s head, if anything at all? Plus, it gives the hitter a chance to ‘lock in’ on the timing and release point of a new pitcher.[/QUOTE]