I had the opportunity to chat with Chad Mottola whilst standing behind the batting cage, watching the Jays hitters try and knock the hell out of some batting practice balls. I say knock the hell out of them because it was remarkable how few of them actually tried to drive the pitch where it was pitched. They all wanted to send it over the fence. No one ever seems to go the opposite direction with pitches in batting practice unless otherwise told to do so by the coaching staff. The end result is usually always young hitters trying to yank softly lobbed batting practice only to fly-out or roll-over.
I understand why they do it. It feels good, it looks cool, you want to hit homers in a game… But really, if it’s the wrong pitch, you can’t swing it into the right one. The retired pitcher in me can’t help but smirk. Hitters are silly.
I told this to Motor—as we are fond of calling Chad Mottola—and he agreed. Hitters are silly, sometimes. But no sillier than pitchers who are afraid of throwing to an adversary who, by default, has the lower hand. Even their greatest success is still comfortably inside the realm of failure. Only in baseball is 3 out of 10 good.
Hitters—said Motor—are at the mercy of the pitcher. This can be seen by how many of the balls hit during batting practice are hit incorrectly, or, even when hit well, they would be outs in a game. He said that even during live batting practice, when hitters know what’s coming and their is no count, there are still only about 5 balls put into play.
The art of hitting is immensely difficult, and yet, ironically, while practicing to overcome this difficulty some hitters still prefer to look cool over learning how to be more productive. So many hitters hit like power hitters in batting practice when they are anything but come game time. So many hitters, even gifted ones, don’t know their strengths and weakness.
A good hitter works himself into a situation to use his best swing on the pitch he can do the most damage too. Sometimes he’ll get it, sometimes he wont. Sometimes he’ll miss it when he does get it. Most of the time the hitter will get pitches that are not optimal, and in those moments there must be some give and take. It’s almost zen like—moving with the pitch, understanding what the pitch wants, working with it to achieve success, becoming one with the universe… riding a unicorn.
In a way, all of baseball is working yourself into a situation to use the skills you have to achieve max effect. There are so very few of us that can do it all, we must do what we can well. Even when the great Jose Bautista gets up to the plate I doubt very much he’s thinking about hitting home runs. In fact, I’ve never once heard him refer to his swing as his “home run swing”. It’s simply “his swing” and he has learned how to apply it to pitches in such a way that it produces home runs, which is, in turn, him learning how to get himself into a situations that provides him pitches he can put his swing on successfully.