Ahead in the Count – From the Hitter’s Perspective

Hitter's Count

As a hitter, you have to understand that the averages are stacked against you.  You will fail to reach base more times than you will actually succeed.  That’s just part of the game.  Let’s face it, a 30% success rate is not that great in most aspects of life.  But, get 3 hits over the stretch of 10 at-bats and you are considered a pretty good hitter.  So, what can you do to increase your chances of putting a solid barrel on the next pitch you see?  It’s as simple as understanding the pitch count.

Sit Dead Red

If pitchers know that first pitch strikes are of extreme importance, then hitters need to understand this approach as well for it can help them better guess what type of pitch they will see at a given time during an at-bat.  Most pitchers tend to pitch to hitters in certain patterns and typically resort to a particular pitch depending on the count (without any regard to the hitter’s abilities, strengths, or weaknesses).  If you run across this type of pitcher, chances are he tends to favor his fastball when he is behind in the count.

0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 2-1, and 3-1 are all considered hitter’s counts because the pitcher needs to throw a strike so as not to fall farther behind to the batter.   (Some coaches believe 1-1 and 3-2 are also hitter’s counts.)  And when the pitcher is desperate to throw a strike, there is a strong possibility that you are going to see a fastball in a fat part of the strike zone that you can hit hard.  We call this sitting dead red and you should be drooling as the pitcher starts his delivery.  Load up and drive that pitch into the gap.

Pitching Backwards

Now, not all pitchers will resort to their fastball in these counts.  Better pitchers will play the mental game right back at you and try to pitch you backwards – throwing offspeed pitches in typical fastball counts.  However, only pitchers who have good command of other pitches will go this route.  As the hitter, if you have scouted your opponent or you are paying attention during the game, you can pick up fairly quickly what kind of head the pitcher has on his shoulders and what his tendencies are.  Again, these types of pitchers are rare and usually you will only face them as you move up to better levels of the game.

If you do  see something other than a fastball come out of the pitcher’s hand, don’t be afraid to lay off of it.  You are already ahead in the count, so an offspeed pitch that finds its way into the zone for a strike is no big deal.  In this scenario, keep in mind that very few pitchers throw back-to-back offspeed pitches.  Now, you can gear up for that fastball again.

Getting ahead in the count is a huge priority for pitchers.  That means it should be a priority for hitters as well.  If you can understand the pitcher’s mindset when he is behind in the count, then you will have a better chance at succeeding in that situation.  Never take a pitch or a play off.  There is always something to see, hear, and learn that can make your game better.

 

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  • Stemle39

    Good article!  This part of the game isn’t taught enough!

    •  Stemle39,

      Thanks for the comment.  What other types of baseball information are you looking for? Would love to give you more.

  • Samflamont

    Phil, great article.  I like how you talk about pitchers pitching backwards.  It is a cat and mouse game, so a hitter needs to understand what the pitcher likes to do.  When I was playing with the Joliet Jackhammers, I noticed that the KC T-Bones pitchers went to their change up in every 2-0 count.  To me this meant 1 thing; the pitching coach or catcher had tendencies and they never changed.  I was able to work into a 2-0 count and knew a change up was coming, I even stepped out and said to myself, “here comes a change”.  Sure enough, I got it, and I took it (not deep) I just watched it go by for strike 1.  I worked hard to figure out what the pitcher was going to do, and even when I knew, I couldn’t pull the trigger on a 2-0 change I was waiting for.  Purely a mental thing, because 2-0 isn’t a count you swing at Change ups in, well unless you know it is coming.  Have a plan when you go to the plate, and trust the information you have gathered.

    • Sam,

      You are right, having a plan is key.  Understanding the different “games within the game” can help a ballplayer tremendously when it comes time to execute.  With so much time between action, the ballplayer who pays attention (even just a little) can have a huge advantage over his opponents.