Today’s guest post comes from Coach Jake Boss. Coach Boss is the head baseball coach at Michigan State University. He has been coaching baseball at the Division I level since the 1998 season when he was an assistant at Eastern Michigan. He has also served as an assistant at the University of Michigan, and later returned as the head coach of Eastern before accepting his current position at MSU. Coach Boss is also the co-author of the book, Dare to Hit .400, and has been a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association since 1995. You can learn more about Coach Jake Boss by visiting here.
We want our hitters to be aggressive early in the count, especially early in the count with fastball strikes, and especially early in the count with runners in scoring position. That philosophy differs from the general professional hitting philosophies of taking pitches, getting deep into the count, and getting into the opponents bullpen by driving up the pitch count. Both approaches have the same end result, but a different way of arriving at that end result.
A College Hitter’s Approach at the Plate
The differences between the college and pro game should have a dramatic impact on hitting philosophies at both levels. First, the college player is able to use an aluminum bat with a significantly larger sweet spot (even after the BBCOR standards) than a wood bat. With the advantages of an aluminum bat, we believe hitters are foolish not to expect and hope to use that bat at any time in the count. In addition, the pitching in the college game is not what it is in pro ball yet, so pitchers will have more of a tendency to miss their location either completely, or within the strike zone, providing a good opportunity to hit. At the college level, we want our hitters to feel like they are in control of the at bat, and that if a pitcher makes a mistake, even on the first pitch of the at bat, it will be hit hard somewhere on the field. We will try to drive up a pitch count by being aggressive and causing the pitcher to nibble early in the count because he is trying not to make a mistake. The more uncomfortable he is on the mound, the better opportunity we will have to hit a mistake. I would prefer our hitters to drive the opposing pitcher out of the game because he has been ineffective, not because of a high pitch count.
The Professional Hitter’s Mindset
It’s interesting to watch the pro game and how the approach seems to change from early in the game to late. Pro hitters take a lot of pitches to drive up pitch counts because they have to be more selective with a wooden bat in their hands. An unforgiving wood bat will expose any type of bad swing or poor pitch selection much more quickly than an aluminum bat will. In addition, the professional pitcher is good enough to locate within the strike zone to the point that hitters will get themselves out by merely swinging at strikes. Pitching in Major League Baseball is the best in the world, hitters have to be selective and wait for a mistake with less than 2 strikes in order to have any kind of success. Later in the game, however, it does seem that hitters will be more aggressive with runners in scoring position.
Two Strike Approach
The 2 strike approach in college baseball seems to differ from pro baseball to a certain degree as well. Many college hitters will spread out, come up off the knob of the bat, and focus on putting the ball in play and trying to put pressure on the defense by getting down the line quickly. The chance of forcing a defender into an error is much greater in the college game than in pro ball. To many pro hitters, the strikeout is a byproduct of the type of hitter they are. Power guys will strike out and not be concerned about it because if they are an average runner, a routine ground ball is an out anyway, so why change their approach from what they do best.
The pro game is played at such a high skill level; it’s very difficult to model the high school or collegiate hitting approach to that of the pro game. The end result and goals are the same, the means by which we achieve those results are very different depending on the level at which you play the game.