Two strike hitting is a commonly talked about part of hitting. One Google search and you can find tons of results on the two strike approach. Some of the most common themes related to two strike hitting include: 1) choke up 2) widen your stance 3) expand the zone 4) crowd the plate 5) protect the plate - put the ball in play. Hitting is one of the most difficult things to do in professional sports, and I just told the hitter to do a lot of stuff. This clutters the mind, and makes a difficult situation a lot more difficult. Let's take a better look at two strike hitting.
First let's take a look at some NCAA data collected by 6-4-3 Charts, a data analytics company for amateur baseball.
In 2019, NCAA baseball players hit a combined .186 with two strikes. You could go back years and look at historical batting data and see that two strike hitting has had a pretty consistent failure rate. Why do we keep using the same method of two strike hitting when we are consistently getting poor results?
If you notice in the chart above, every count prior to two strikes produced a batting average of .348 or better. When the at-bat gets to two strikes the success rate has a significant decline. The best two strike batting average is found in the 3-2 count at .215. In my opinion, the amount of the decline is overwhelming and as coaches we should be doing a much better job of helping our hitters close that gap. Such a sharp drop off leads me to believe the traditional method of two strike hitting is flawed and counter-productive.
Tip #1 Control The At-bat Prior To Two Strikes
Your approach is as important as your swing and can be as helpful or hurtful as you make it. Be ready to hit your pitch within the first three pitches of the at-bat. Most hitters fall victim because of 1) taking a strike early 2) missing good pitches early 3) swinging at bad pitches. In the 2019 NCAA season. hitters hit .363 on the first pitch of the at-bat. Wasting strikes early is fairly useless and each strike decreases the hitter's chance of success. Hitters should also control the 1-1 pitch. Hitters hit .358 in the 1-1 count versus nosediving to a poor .174 average in the 1-2 count.
Great hitters control the red box and punish the red circle. Too many hitters take a fastball for strike one on the edge of the red box and claim it wasn't "in their zone." Well, now it is strike one and you're probably not getting it in a better spot. At higher levels of baseball, pitchers don't miss in the circle often.
Tip #2 Stop Expanding The Zone - Hunt In The Zone
"Giving the pitcher an extra two inches around the strike zone makes it 35% larger. Make sure you get a good ball to hit." - Ted Williams
That's correct - stop expanding and stop protecting. We are not playing defense at the plate. Whether we have two strikes or not we are still on offense - act like it! The strike zone is still the same and the plate is still 17 inches. The pitcher is still restricted to offering another pitch within the strike zone; unless we help them! It is a fact, pitchers throw more balls outside of the zone in two strike counts. As hitters, as soon as we start thinking about expanding and protecting the plate we are encouraging our body to trigger and swing at bad pitches. Picture it - the 55 foot breaking ball not even remotely near the plate or the fastball under the hands and the hitter swings and misses. Instead of thinking about expanding and protecting, hitters should zoom focus inside the strike zone. This mentality encourages the brain to send the right signals to the hitter in order to lay off pitches out of the zone. The traditional way of thinking encourages the hitter to actually chase.
Coaches, we can't have it both ways. We can't expect our hitters to hit everything (I mean wouldn't hitting be easy if we could) and at the same time not chase pitches that aren't even competitive. Give your hitters the best opportunity to be successful with two strikes. Encourage them to hunt in the zone and watch them become more disciplined to shut down the swing when pitchers try to bait them outside of the zone.
Tip #3 Don't Widen Up & "Put The Ball In Play"
I hate it when I hear someone tell a hitter to widen up and "choke and poke" in a two strike situation. Hitters spend countless hours upon hours training their body to move through balance and get a good swing off and then when we get to two strikes we think the best idea to be successful is to abandon our training and do something totally different. If altering the way our body moves improved our chance to be successful with only one strike remaining then we should have been doing those things with the first two strikes. The main idea - changing your setup and the way your body moves discourages the hitter to consistently deliver the barrel to the ball and move through balance. We trained a good swing to abandon it in the most difficult situation - that doesn't make sense.
There's a reason you get three strikes instead of two. Maybe hitters are having such poor success with two strikes because the traditional method of two strike hitting is almost like throwing in the towel. Two strike hitting is not survival - it is still hitting!
The above chart is the improvement we experienced at Paul D Camp Community College from year 1 to year 2. Walks per game increased, homers per game increased, all while strikeouts per game decreased!
Tip #4 Control What You Can Control
As hitters, we need to keep our mind on things we can control - our thoughts, our approach, and our decisions at the plate. We should be focused on what we want vs. what we don't want. Most of the time in two strike situations hitters think "don't strike out." This is negative thinking and this type of thinking usually results in negative outcomes. As coaches, we need to encourage our players to have a confident two strike mentality and we should be careful to blame them for situations similar to the one in the image below.
The above pitch is simply not a strike, but it is a quality two strike take by the hitter. Instead of blaming the hitter for this pitch, we should focus more on the story of the at-bat. How did the at-bat get to this point? Did the hitter take good pitches earlier? Did they miss good pitches? Did they swing at bad pitches? Be consistent in helping hitters keep a good mindset at the plate - the fear of striking out in itself often leads to more strikeouts.
If you had a member of your family being held captive and the only way to get them out was to increase your success with two strikes, would you train differently? Would you question your traditional method?
Hope this helps.
See you on the diamond!