Baseball Hitting Approach – tips, tricks, and hitting with two strikes

November 29, 2021
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The right hitting mentality and approach can be the difference between a hit and an out. In a game of centimeters, it’s imperative for you to strategically approach each at bat according to the game situation at hand. How many are on base? How many strikes do you have on you? How has the pitcher been pitching you all game?

The most effective hitting approach is one that is flexible, simple, and situationally dependent. For a novice, baseball and softball can seem boring and uninspiring. But to those of us who understand the game, we know that there is so much more than meets the eye. For you to develop an effective batting approach, you have to learn the game and understand its’ intricacies. You need to know the difference between one strike and two strike hitting. You’ll need to understand how to spot a pitcher’s tendencies and how to adapt your approach to expose a weakness.

In this article, we’re going to cover how to develop a strong batting approach that will keep you engaged and focused for every at bat, regardless of the game situation.

Bottom Line: Before we get to a detailed description of plate strategy, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, just simply watch the ball out of the pitcher’s hands and react. The thinking aspect of this should happen before and after the pitch – NOT while the pitch is being thrown. If you think too much, you’ll screw yourself up. So remember, simply see the ball and hit the ball.

Study the Pitcher: tendencies, strengths and weaknesses

If you don’t have any prior knowledge of the pitcher before coming into the game, it’s going to be extra important for you to pay attention throughout the game to pick up tendencies and patterns. This means watching the pitcher’s every move from the dugout. Don’t just take a break and sit on the bench hanging out with teammates. It’s imperative that you stay dialed in and watching the pitcher.

Is the pitcher throwing a first pitch strike nearly every at bat? What is the go-to two strike pitch? Are they throwing middle-away from the batter, or are they trying to throw inside?

Unless you’re on a professional level where pitchers are throwing to each batter differently, there is a good chance you can pick up tendencies that will assist you in your at-bat.

Jot down little mental notes throughout the game. For example, if the pitcher is drilling the first pitch fastball down the middle, maybe you should develop the hitting strategy of swinging first pitch if you see that fastball. Maybe the pitcher is throwing a curveball with two strikes – so you should be ready to hit an off-speed pitch, but foul off the fastballs.

At this juncture, you’re simply taking mental notes. Lock them away for you at-bat.

Visualize While in The On-Deck Circle

Once you’ve developed your hitting plan based on the pitcher’s tendencies, it’s time to start visualizing while you’re on the on-deck circle. In fact, this can even happen when you’re in the hole or even in the dugout. You can never visualize too much.

What you want to do here is see yourself at the plate agains the pitcher. Visualize in your mind’s eye the pitch coming at you and you reacting appropriately. See any outside pitch and hit it the other way. See an inside pitch and pull it down the line. See an off-speed pitch and wait back and crush the ball the other way. Develop each scenario in your head where you’re crushing the ball on various pitches.

Additionally, you even want to visualize yourself taking the pitch. If it’s off the plate, don’t swing! Visualize what that looks like and develop the patience to take a pitch instead of free swinging.

Create this visualization and really feel every sense while you’re doing this. What does it feel like to crush the ball? What does it sound like? What does it look like as you hit the ball and it takes off? Even, what does it smell like? You’re sitting at the plate with the dirt in the air, the smell of the catcher’s leather glove…. Really set the scene and pay attention to each detail.

Bonus: Use these visualization techniques while you’re laying in bed going to sleep at night.

Step Up to the Plate

As you step up to the plate, the most important thing for you the feel in the moment is confidence. You’ve prepared for this. You’ve studied the pitcher, you’ve visualized yourself getting a hit, and now you’re ready and deserving to see that come to life.

Feel the confidence and boldness coursing through your veins. Keep visualizing that hit in your mind’s eye as you are walking up and digging in. Keep your chest out and stand up straight in order to project confidence to the pitcher.

Pitchers will thrive on a batter that steps up to the plate timidly. That pitcher is watching your every move just like you are watching theirs. So project confidence, even if you don’t feel it!

Now, you’re ready for the first pitch.

Adjust Your Approach Depending on the Count

It’s time to package everything together. How is the pitcher pitching? What are the tendencies and patterns? What have you visualized?

It’s also a good time to mention the fact that you should develop your own hitting approach regardless of what the pitcher is throwing. Perhaps you are a #3 hitter and are expected to hit for a bit of power and drive in runs. But perhaps you are speedy player and can steal a lot of bases – so your approach might be to simply try to get on base any way possible.

Really figure out who you are as a player, because it matters. For those who are speedy and can run the base paths with ease – it’s good to develop a patient hitting approach where you take a lot of pitches and force the pitcher to throw you strikes. If you are a #3, #4, or #5 hitter, it might be best for you to develop the approach of hitting early in the count in order to likely hit fastballs.

Either way, figure out what you excel in and develop your hitting strategy around that.

Your job becomes marrying your hitting strategy to what the pitcher’s tendencies are. If you’re a power hitting and the pitcher is throwing a lot of first pitch strikes, it would be a good idea for you to sit “dead-red” and swing at the first pitch. If you’re a fast centerfielder that’s batting lead off and you see the pitcher throwing a lot of junk and off speed pitches, it might be good for you to take a lot.

Whichever your strategy is, we’ll take a general synopsis of what each count should look like and what most batter’s should be thinking about in-between pitches. Again, remember that you need to develop the ability to shut your mind down while the pitch is being pitched. Don’t think. Just see the ball and hit.

  • 0-0 Count
    • As stated above, what kind of hitter are you and what has the pitcher been doing throughout the game? If you’re one of the first batters of the game, it’s usually a good idea to take some pitches so you can see how the ball is moving out of the pitcher’s hands. However, as you get further into the game, or even if you’re lower in the lineup and have been able to pickup some early tendencies, you might see that the pitcher is throwing a lot of first pitch strikes.
    • Some coaches might say that you often want to take the 0-0 count. For us, we love this pitch because it’s often the best pitch you’re going to see all at-bat. And for those of you that are in the middle of the lineup, you should take advantage of this. Swing away! And swing hard – don’t swing with a defensive swing like you may need to when you have two strikes on you. Swing for an extra base hit.
    • If you draw a lot of walks and are fast, it’s usually best to take this pitch.
    • The bottom line on 0-0 is that the pitch has to be exactly where you want it. You get 3 strikes, so don’t waste one swinging at crap. This should be right in the zone you want to hit. If you’re looking inside, it should be inside. If you’re looking middle-away, it should be away. You might be looking for a pitch right down the middle, but it’s actually on the outside corner – Don’t swing! Yes it might still be a strike, but it’s not where you want it so don’t swing at it. You’ve got two more strikes to hit what you want.
  • 0-1 Count
    • The probability that you get an off speed pitch on a 0-1 count increases significantly. Anytime you are down in the count, the probability of an off speed pitch is always higher.
    • For you base stealers out there, keep this in mind because stealing on a pitch where the pitcher is ahead is usually the best time to go because it’ll be an off speed pitch. That means it’s slower and could be a ball, so you should have more time to take the base.
    • When you’re 0-1, you still want to be selective at the plate. Don’t swing at crap. But do know that if the ball is a strike and it’s hittable, you should be seriously thinking about swinging. Getting down 0-2 on taking the first two pitches is a good way to be in the pitcher’s hands. They can do whatever they want at that point.
    • So your approach here should be to be a little less selective than a 0-0 count and to swing at a strike. Remember that you’re not in defensive mode yet so you still have a strike to give.
  • 0-2 Count
    • This is definitely the count you want to avoid being in as a batter. It’s the highest probability out for pitchers and it’s what they strive to get to. You are mainly at their mercy. It’s certainly not impossible to get yourself out of those hole though. Especially when you have a good hitting strategy.
    • We recommend developing a defensive hitting mode for 0-2 counts. This means to “shorten up” and try to make contact with the ball. Instead of trying to hit for power, you’re now trying to simply get a base hit. So slow down your swing speed a little and just put ball to bat.
    • With that being said, this is where we need to start thinking about the pitcher’s tendencies. Do they have a good curveball? A good changeup? Or are they mainly just throwing fastballs?
    • In the scenario that the pitcher has an array of pitches, you’ll want to think about the following:
      • The pitcher has three balls to give. For pitchers that throw a lot of junk, they often like to waste a pitch here. They might throw a curveball in the dirt or way off the plate to see if you’ll swing at it. More times than not, the pitcher will throw a ball here to see if you’ll chase.
      • For fastball pitchers, they will also likely try to waste a pitch. Typically, this comes in the form of a high fastball out of the zone. It will look really good, but you’ve got to lay off. For fastball pitchers that throw heat, it’s especially important for you to not swing at the high fastball.
    • One of the best hitting strategies we recommend is to develop a two strike hitting approach where you are only hitting for base hits and are looking for off speed pitches to hit. This will work nearly every time unless the pitcher has a scorching fastball. What you do is look for the curveball, changeup, slider, or other off speed pitches to hit. Look to wait back and hit these pitches to the opposite field. And if the pitcher does throw a fastball, just foul it off. You’ll be behind on it most likely, but that’s fine. You get an unlimited amount of foul balls so just keep fouling off those fastballs until you get the off speed pitch you’re looking for.
  • 1-0 Count
    • You’re ahead in the count and that means to get even more selective than you were on your 0-0 count. The pitcher has to throw a strike to get back to even, to they are going to try and throw a strike here. Pitchers don’t want to be down 2-0, so a 1-0 count is certainly a hitter’s count and you’re in the driver’s seat.
    • Be looking for your pitch. This is similar to the 0-0 count so go read that above. Be selective and only swing at the exact pitch you’re looking for in the exact zone you want it.
  • 2-0 Count
    • This is the best hitter’s count to be in. On average, this is the highest rate of probability for hitters to get a hit. So it’s important for you to be extremely selective here. This is the only count in the entire at-bat that you should be sitting “dead red” and ready for a fastball right down the middle. Yes, you can make a case for the 0-0 and 0-1 counts, but this is the extreme version of that. When you get to 2-0, you should only be hitting a fastball right in the zone you’re looking.
    • The pitcher has to throw a strike here otherwise they’ll go down 3-0, and they do not want that to happen. Some pitchers at advanced levels will know that they can groove a curveball here, so if you are facing a pitcher like that that is notorious for 2-0 curveballs, switch your approach to hitting that. And if they do groove a fastball, just let it go because it wasn’t the pitch you were looking for.
    • The main thing here is that you are in control. Don’t swing at crap and only be hitting the exact pitch you want.
  • 2-1 Count
    • You’re still in a hitter’s count and the pitcher still has the pressure on them. This is an advantageous hitter’s count because the pitcher is not wanting to risk going to a 3-1 count. It’s highly likely that you are going to get a strike.
    • With that being said, since you have 1 strike on you, you need to be a little less selective than when you have 0 strikes. However, you certainly still want it to be a hittable strike and something you can drive. Don’t swing at the garbage 2-1 curveball that’s low and away. There is a decent chance that gets called a ball and you move to a 3-1 count, so just let it go (unless that’s the pitch you’re looking for). Be selective here.
    • If the pitcher is really good and you manage to get yourself in a hitter’s count like this, you definitely need to treat this count as if you have two strikes on you. If the pitcher has been pitching lights out, it’s highly likely they are going to throw a strike here and you need to be ready to drive it. If you take a strike and go to 2-2 against a really good pitcher, they then will have the advantage. So it’s best to try and drive the ball on the 2-1 count instead of letting yourself get 2 strikes on you.
  • 3-0 Count
    • For all the is holy, please do not swing at 3-0. Unless you’re in MLB or are at a super advanced level, you should always be taking a 3-0 pitch. Make the pitcher sweat and make them throw you a strike. Chances are, you’re going to get a walk. And in the grand scheme of baseball, a walk is just as good as a single (with no runners on base)
  • 3-1 Count
    • This is like a 2-0 count where you want to be sitting dead red. The pitcher has to throw a strike here in order to not walk you. So they have a lot of pressure on them to make the pitch. We recommend having nearly the same approach here as a 2-0 pitch, with just a tad less selective mentality. Yes, you want to only swing at “your” pitch, but what you risk here not swinging is going to a 3-2 count, which is a two strike count. When you’re 2-0, the only risk there is to get 1 strike on you, which is much more advantageous than a 3-2 count.
    • So only swing at your pitch, but be a little less picky.
  • 1-1 Count
    • This is similar to the 0-0 count, with a few differences. Think about your at-bat like a airport’s runway. There is only so much runway before the plane has to take off. It’s finite and limited. The plane can certainly still take off at any point during that runway, but as you get closer to the end, things get a little dicey. For a 1-1 count, your approach should still be to swing at “your” pitch, but with a few caveats.
      • If you know the pitcher is good and has good command of their pitches, a 1-1 count might necessitate swinging at a strike that you maybe don’t particularly want. Why? Because you don’t want to get two strikes on you with a good pitcher like that. Against excellent pitchers, treat your 1-1 count like a 1-2 count.
      • If the pitcher doesn’t have a strong fastball, it is likely a good idea to switch your approach over to looking for an off speed pitch at a 1-1 count. The pitcher will likely try to get you to chase something or to trick you into thinking you’re going to get a fastball. While you don’t want to usually swing at off speed pitches early in the count, you need to be ready for it if that’s what the pitcher specializes in.
  • 1-2 Count
    • A 1-2 count is very similar to an 0-2 count, with one small caveat: The pitcher is less likely to burn a pitch.
    • While an 0-2 count often brings a crappy pitch that’s unhittable, a 1-2 count will usually bring a pitch that is much closer to the plate and might even be a strike.
    • Much like the 0-2 count, it’s imperative to develop a defensive mindset. Be thinking off speed and simply foul off the fastballs. The pitcher is likely to throw an off speed pitch, or possibly even a fastball just slightly off the plate. For these pitches that are close, SWING. If it’s off the plate, just try to make contact and foul it off. If it’s in the strike zone, try to just make solid contact and see where it goes.
  • 2-2 Count
    • The 2-2 count gives the pitcher a slight advantage. They’ve got two strikes on you, but they also don’t want to throw a ball and risk a full count. As with any two strike count, you want to be in a defensive mindset. Really, this count isn’t a lot different from a 1-2 count. The approach should be relatively the same. Foul off the fastball and be ready to hit the off speed pitch.
  • 3-2 Count
    • This is the ultimate stalemate. And we like to think of it as more of a hitter’s count than a pitcher’s count. The pitcher has to throw a strike otherwise they will walk you. But of course, you have the pressure of potentially getting out too. In general, be believe the pitcher has more to lose so they often will try to throw a strike here.
    • You can’t be too selective, and against good pitchers, you need to still be ready for off speed. Many good pitchers are notorious for pulling out their best off speed pitch to trick hitters that think they’ll be getting a fastball.
    • The best approach in our opinions if you’re facing a better than average pitcher is to still plan to hit with a defensive approach and hit the off speed. You can foul off the fastball. And with pitchers that are average and below, plan to hit the fastball and foul off the off speed.

Making Adjustments After Each At-Bat

As you go throughout a game and have multiple at-bats, be sure to learn and grow after each one. What went well and what didn’t? What adjustments need to be made for the next at-bat? Or, if you had a really poor at bat, maybe you just simply need to forget it ever happened and get ready for your next at-bat.

Maybe you struck out and looked silly on the pitcher’s changeup. Well, it’s a good chance you’re going to see that again. Maybe you crushed the pitcher’s fastball – well, they might try to throw you off speed next at bat.

The most important thing here is to develop a kind of intelligence on the field where you’re learning and making alterations each at bat. The pitcher is making adjustments to how they pitch you, so you need to make adjustments to how you hit them. It’s truly a chess match and the best players know how to play this part of the game.

Conclusion: Adapting Throughout a Game & Season

As a season goes, you’re going to go in and out of slumps and hitting streaks. Your hitting approach needs to change depending on where you’re at in the season.

For those dealing with a slump, it’s usually best to try and hit the ball to the opposite field. George Brett used to always do that if he was struggling – he’d think middle/away and would try to hit the ball to the opposite field. What this does is lock your shoulder in from opening up, and it can often make you a bit more selective at the plate.

For those on a hot streak, keep doing what you’re doing and stay dialed in. Study those pitchers and keep getting better as the season goes.

All in all, the baseball hitting approach should be developed and thought about outside of an actual pitch being thrown at you. When you’re hitting the ball, you want to simply rely on your reflexes and preparation, not your brain. Just see the ball, hit the ball, and don’t overthink it. Leave the thinking for another time.