One of the most compelling components of baseball is the strategy involved in nearly every single moment of the game.
For example: The pitcher and catcher are thinking about what pitches the hitter tends to hit well, what they’ve done in their previous at-bats, how many runners are on base and which pitch has the best chance of preventing a hit/runs scored. What kind of leads are the runners getting? What pitch is working well? etc., etc.
Infielders and outfielders are making adjustments based on if there’s a right/left-handed hitter up and what their levels of power and speed are. They’re thinking ahead to what will happen if they get the ball. How many outs? What’s the score? These factors all determine how they position themselves before the pitch is thrown.
How about batters and their thought process? There is a lot more strategy behind hitting than I can fit in one article, but power hitters, in particular, have been catching my attention lately.
You don’t have to dig deep to find that power hitters tend to strike out the most, and it’s no secret that they don’t really care. Khris Davis (OAK) is at 16 home runs with 60 strikeouts. Aaron Judge (NYY) has hit 17 home runs but has struck out 55 times. Joey Gallo (TEX) is at 16 home runs and 71 Ks. Mike Trout (LAA)– 16 HR, 42 strikeouts. Miguel Sano (MIN) is at 12 HR and 73 Ks! In 2012, Adam Dunn recorded 41 HR during the season with a whopping 222 strikeouts. Babe Ruth was referred to as the Sultan of Swat, but also as the King of Strikeouts.
What’s considered the most successful outcome of an at-bat and what’s considered the least successful outcome are simultaneously what most of these hitters seem to be the best at. Technically, these hitters are BETTER at striking out than they are at hitting home runs.
Revealing one of the many games within the game.
When a hitter strikes out, not only are they seeing more pitches, but they’re teaching the pitcher what to pitch to them. If a hitter watches a low outside fastball go by for a third strike, what is going through that pitcher’s head? Throw a low outside fastball or curve ball next at bat. If the batter is paying attention, he knows the pitcher is likely going to try that again. So he’s looking for that pitch in the next at-bat and will be prepared to do something with it! Knowing what pitch to expect naturally increases the ability to see the ball well and connect with it.
A true power hitter knows his job: to get a power hit. He knows that simply making contact with the ball might not be any more beneficial than a strikeout. If it’s not the pitch he’s looking for, it could result in an out anyway or worse, a double play. This mentality changes his swing and pitch selection. Chris Winder of the Ottawa Champions stated, “Power hitters let pitches go to set up a pitcher later. Their purpose is to power hit; they’re okay with striking out.” It’s foolish to think that any batter walks up to the plate with the intention of getting fanned. However, wanting to hit one out or at least get an extra base hit means they’re going to be looking for a pitch in their zone. If they’re not getting that – perhaps they’ll do what they have to do in order to get it, even if it means sacrificing an at bat.
I may be rehashing old theories, but in my opinion, you can never address the brilliance of baseball enough. Cheers to the strikeouts that led to home runs!
Callie Nelsen, Baseline Times MLB Contributor