Place hitting is more about accuracy than power. As you develop your hitting skills, you’ll want to decide whether you want to be a power hitter, a place hitter, or both. In doing so you should know about Fitt’s law. This well-established scientific principle of motor behavior is about the speed–accuracy tradeoff. In hitting terms, it means that the faster you swing the bat, the less accurate you’ll be. Thus you need to decide whether you want to swing the bat with greater speed or give up some of that speed so that you can hit the ball more accurately. It may be a decision to hit .500 with occasional home runs or hit singles three out of four times to hit .750.
Here are the key things that place hitters do differently compared with power hitters.
- They more often use a conventional grip to maximize bat control.
- They tend to use a more open stance or ready position.
- They are modestly nomadic, making minor location adjustments with their feet in the batter’s box as the pitch approaches to position themselves to hit to the location they have targeted.
- The load phase involves less movement. The hands may reach back only a short distance before starting forward in the swing phase.
- The stride is shorter; it’s a smooth, soft step that adjusts the position of the batter to the location of the ball to hit it in the direction desired.
- The swing is less powerful (slower speed), and the emphasis is on timing the swing to hit the ball to the desired location.
A less powerful swing doesn’t mean a weak swing. Place hitters want to hit the ball sharply too so that fielders have less time to catch the ball. As Fitt’s law states, they trade off some speed in the swing to swing more accurately.
Hitting to the Near Field
If you’re batting right-handed, the near field is the left side of the field, and if you’re batting left-handed, the near field is the right side of the field. Most players learn to hit to the near field when they first learn the game; that is, they learn to pull the ball toward third base if hitting right-handed and toward first base if hitting left-handed. This swing seems to come more naturally, with greater accuracy and more power.
Right-handed batters like to hit the 5-6 hole between the third baseperson and shortstop; left-handed batters may try the 3-4 hole between the first and second basepersons (see figure 2 on page 8 for a review of the holes). If the third baseperson moves away from the foul line into the 5-6 hole, right-handed hitters may choose to hit the ball down the third-base line. Likewise, left-handed hitters may try to hit the ball down the first-base line if the first baseperson moves into the 3-4 hole.
To hit the ball to the near side, you want a pitch on the inside half of the strike zone that is waist to shoulder high at the point of contact. Hitting an outside pitch with accuracy to the near side is difficult, especially if you’re trying to hit just inside the foul line. Another pitch to avoid is the low, inside pitch, which if hit will likely go foul or to the third baseperson if you’re a right-handed batter and to the first baseperson if you are a left-handed batter. Also avoid deep, inside pitches. Those you’ll likely pop up or foul, and they are definitely difficult to hit to a desired location. See Offense→Advanced Hitting→Near- and Opposite-Field Hitting on the DVD to master these skills.
Hitting to the Opposite Field
Hitting to the opposite field (right-handed hitters to right field and left-handed hitters to left field) is a valuable skill not only for place hitters but for power hitters as well. If your opponents discover that you can hit only to the near side, they may shift more fielders to that side of the field. When you hit at least occasionally to the opposite field, defenses must play you straight away.
The key difference between hitting to the near-side field and the opposite field is that in the second case you let the ball come farther into the strike zone when hitting it (see figure 2.4a-b). Therefore, to hit the ball between your shoulder and waist, you’ll want to stand forward in the batter’s box. If you stand back in the box, the ball will more likely be low in the strike zone and more difficult to control.