Have you ever heard your coaches yell “two-strike approach” from the coaching box or dugout? What does that mean? Most of the time they are looking for their hitters to widen out, choke up, and just put the ball in play to avoid the dreaded strike out. Before deciding if this approach is positive for hitters, let’s take a look at the origin of this approach.
Young hitters have less coordination than older hitters which results in more swings and misses. Well-meaning coaches grew tired of watching their young hitters take the long walk back to the dugout. In order to fix this seemingly unfixable issue, coaches decided that hitting needed to be simplified. They decided that aggressive swings were allowed early in the count but that as soon as the hitter gets two strikes on them, they should do whatever it takes to make contact. Young hitters choked up, widened out, and swung slower than their regular, aggressive swing. The contact rate went up even though the hard contact rate likely went down due a lot of infield dribblers. Coaches and parents became ecstatic with the improvement especially after other uncoordinated young kids threw the ball all over the field and the hitter was rewarded with a “home run”. I had a nine year old come in and say that they won their championship game 24-17. I can only imagine the defensive miscues that must have occurred. But what happens when the kids mature and the defense improves? How will this once genius strategy work then?
Our answer: Not well.
As instructors, we develop our methodology based on the types of swings that play at the highest levels. Too many young players are taught defensive swings that help them become good eight, nine, or ten year olds but hinder their long term success and ultimately shorten their baseball careers. Obviously some adjustments can and should be made with two strikes to maximize value and reduce risk. Most of these adjustments lie in the mental aspect of the game. For instance, the strike zone should be expanded enough to minimize the risk of getting a called third strike. Successful two strike hitters almost always know which pitches they can drive and which they cannot. These hitters have the uncanny ability to foul off tough pitches until they get one they can crush. No two strike approach should involve changing mechanics that have been practiced and repeated over and over! In my opinion, the abandonment of one’s mechanics will almost always lead to more failure, not less. Let’s take a look at two MLB case studies who take vastly different two strike approaches.
In my visit to a Tampa Bay Rays game I noticed a major two strike change in Rays outfielder, Brandon Guyer. The top video depicts Brandon Guyer with less than two strikes while the bottom video depicts him with two strikes.
I don’t love Guyer’s swing with less than two strikes but it at least shows some intent to hit the ball hard. Almost all of this intent is taken away when he gets behind in the count. With less than two strikes, Guyer has a leg lift and turns with some authority. When Guyer has a two strike count, he widens out his stance, keeps his front foot down, and turns minimally. This was a trend I noticed on multiple at bats during this game. Some might say that he made contact and at least made the defense work but forget that his ceiling for success was greatly diminished. Over time, an aggressive approach with the possibility of a few more strikeouts and a lot more power would likely make Guyer a more valuable hitter for the Rays. It seems likely that Guyer was coached into this two strike approach at some point in his career. I wonder if his swing and his stats would be improved if he had a coach encourage him to stay aggressive as he battles with two strikes instead of being afraid to fail. Next we will take a look at the Bryce Harper, the polar opposite of Brandon Guyer and one of the most aggressive hitters on the planet.
Harper’s two strike swing is indistinguishable from his swing in other counts. While his mental approach may and should involve some adjustments, his swing and mentality maintain an aggressiveness that allows him to be one of the most productive two strike hitters in baseball. His two-strike OPS of .881 ranks second among hitters with more than 40 two strike at-bats.
The common two strike approach teaching that I have outlined thus far comes mainly from a fear of striking out. Many coaches and hitters see striking out as being the ultimate hitting failure. I think this needs to be remedied. If striking out is so awful then why are players like Reggie Jackson, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Ken Griffey Jr. all in the top 20 in strikeouts all time? At the front of our facility we have a picture of Babe Ruth (1330 career Ks) with the following quote:
Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.
While you can take steps to reduce strikeout totals, always give yourself the best chance to succeed. Remember that you have trained tirelessly to swing efficiently and powerfully. Don’t abandon hours upon hours of training just to produce weak contact. I’ve posted a Domingo Ayala video below because he brilliantly gives some insight on the subject of the two-strike approach.
Thanks for Reading!
Gabe Dimock – Baseball Rebellion Hitting Instructor