Every batter you see at the plate, be it Little League, high school ball or the big leagues, has their hands down on the knob of the bat, and the hitters are looking to pull every pitch over the fence.
Defenses, especially in the “bigs” have adjusted with infield shifts that have three or more infielders on one side of the second base, whichever is the “pull or strong” side for that particular hitter.
Do the hitters adjust? No, they just continue to bang away right into the shift, hitting hard grounders right into the shift and continually getting thrown out at first from a player positioned halfway into the outfield.
Hitting is a lost art, or so it seems. My reference in the headline of this editorial recalls two old-timers that were masters at their craft of hitting. Nellie Fox played most of his Major League career with the Chicago White Sox back in the 1950s. He used a bat with a handle as big as most bat barrels today. He choked up (moved his hands from the bottom knob up about two or three inches) for better bat control. He was not a power hitter, but just kept hitting the ball where it was pitched and where he wanted it to go. Fox hit over .300 for several years, led the league in hits and was the White Sox’s leadoff man or second hitter most of his big league career.
Rod Carew of the Minnesota Twins and California Angels in the 1960s through the 1980s was a left-handed hitting machine. He had the speed to lay down a bunt and beat it out. He used his bat like a surgeon does a scalpel. Carew could slice a ball to left field or pull one down the line to right. He plunked the pitchers’ best pitch over the infield and short of the outfielders. Rarely did he ever swing for the fences. Carew was one of the best hitters ever in baseball in his prime. Over 18 years in the major leagues, Carew hit for a lifetime average of .328, a remarkable number for so long a career.
I have already seen several instances while watching major league and high school games this year that would indicate the art of hitting is definitely a lost art. Young hitters, overmatched by a more mature and experienced pitcher, still swing as hard as they can, trying to pull everything thrown their way. They exhibit no control of the metal bats, no understanding of the art of hitting. Their hands are down at the very end of the bat for maximum leverage and for maximum power.
Hitters, if you are overmatched at the plate (and you know when you are), choke up on the bat. Gain more control of your swing. Don’t look to kill the ball; just meet it squarely. If the pitch is a little outside, take it to right. If it’s inside, pull your hands in slightly and bend it through the hole at shortstop. If a runner is at first or second and is being held on by a fielder, the defense has just created a huge hole in the infield for the hitter to shoot for. Take advantage. Control your swing, make contact and send the ball through the hole in the defense. Become a hitter, not just a swinger and an easy out for the other team.
In the major leagues, the power hitters are almost all facing a shift of some kind. They still keep swinging the bat the same way, failing to take advantage of what is given them.
I have watched several Texas Rangers’ games so far this season. Prince Fielder has always been a left-handed power hitter, but he hits right into a shift, swinging for a home run and looking to pull the ball at every at bat. Mitch Moreland of the Rangers runs into the same shift but has, on occasion, crossed up the defense with a base hit to the left side. Granted, home runs correlate to big bucks if you hit enough of them, but a good, solid base hit to the other side could do almost as much damage and should happen with much more frequency than that shot out of the yard.
Batters, do your team a favor and become a hitter.