Brandon Matthews is the current hitting coach at Paul D. Camp Community College in Franklin, Virginia. He has coached at many different levels of baseball including high school and college. He played collegiately at Chowan University and has been coaching baseball since he was 20 years old. Brandon is a proponent of Performance-oriented & data-driven player development. On January 1, 2019, Brandon joined the Baseball Rebellion team as a writer and content contributor for Baseball Rebellion.
Reach out to Brandon on Twitter: @Bmatt0416
When hitters are not having success, the most common thing they think about or ask their coaches about relates to hitting mechanics. How does my swing look? Do you see anything wrong with my swing? These are questions coaches hear a lot, but they are usually the wrong questions. A hitter is only as good as the decisions he/she makes and this relates to having a good hitting approach.
Having a good swing is useless if a hitter has a poor approach and makes bad decisions. The strike zone exists so the hitter has a fair opportunity to hit the ball hard. Data collected by 643 Charts during the 2018 season of NCAA D1 baseball showed hitters hit a combined .183 with two strikes. Hitters usually experience poor results due to 1) taking a strike that should have been smashed 2) missing a good pitch to hit and 3) swinging at balls. The lesson here - your approach is as important as your swing.
Good hitters are selective aggressive hitters - looking to do damage within the first 3 pitches of an at-bat. Almost every pitching coach wants their pitcher to throw strike one and to get 2/3 pitches over for strikes to begin an at-bat. Hitters - you are going to get a competitive fastball to hit prior to two strikes, be ready for it and smash it! No one should be taking a pitch for the sake of taking a pitch.
Sometimes hitters simply miss, but poor hitters usually create their own lack of success by taking too many strikes - or chasing bad pitches. This is usually due to not having a plan at the plate. Trust can also be a factor. A hitter has to trust their plan and avoid self-doubt.
According to Dean Stotz, over four years of data with the Stanford baseball team showed that first pitch strikes occurred 56% of the time and 67% of first pitches were fastballs. According to Jerry Weinstein, almost 93% of first-pitch strikes result in an out and MLB pitchers throw about 57% first pitch strikes. An article at Baseball Prospectus states that 60% of MLB at-bats start with a fastball. It is easy to see why hitters should be ready to do damage early.
As I mentioned previously, good hitters are selectively aggressive. This means they are hunting zones where their swing plays the best and putting the brakes on anything else. For the most part, hitters should hunt the fastball early; however, information changes situations. If there's reliable information on a pitcher that likes to work off-speed for strike one then hitters should use that in their approach. Hunting zones can take away pitches and allows a hitter to be on time for the fastball but also prepared to hit a hanging slider in the same zone!
Hitters should self-assess their approach and evaluate their plan of attack. Am I taking too many strikes? Am I missing good pitches? Am I swinging at junk? How is the pitcher pitching my teammates? Hitting journals are great for hitters to document and reflect on this information.
Walk to the plate with a plan of attack, trust yourself, and look for a fastball to crush within the first three pitches!