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Williams: The Art of Hitting

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I’ve been covering baseball development for over 15 seasons, with several years of following minor league development prior to that.

In my time, I’ve had a lot of conversations with hitters and hitting coaches about the difficult process of hitting a Major League pitch. Not just a fastball, but any Major League pitch.

Growing up, I quit playing baseball around age 13. My sport was tennis, and because of the movement of that sport, I’ve always had more of an inherent understanding of The Art of Pitching. That has allowed me to create some of my favorite features over the years, fueled by deeper questions than most reporters would know to ask.

Over the last few years, I’ve been asking a lot of deep questions about hitting. Conversations with Jon Nunnally, Callix Crabbe, Jonny Tucker, and John Baker in the Pirates’ organization have advanced my understanding of the complexities of hitting. Past conversations with former Pirates hitting coordinator Larry Sutton and many different hitters and hitting coaches provided the base of knowledge.

At this point, I feel comfortable with my knowledge base to give what I am certain is a unique view on The Art of Hitting. I don’t know if the Pirates, or any other MLB team, thinks the way I think about hitting. I also can’t be easily convinced that I’m wrong at this point by anyone inside of or outside of the game.

At a certain point, after so much knowledge on a subject, you need to present what you believe to be true, and see what beliefs are unique to you.

The Hitter’s Arsenal

Every hitter should have four swings:

1. They time their swing to the fastball. Match power for power. Your fastest pitch against my fastest swing. “Knuckle up” mode.

2. Awkwardly contort their body to slower stuff as they’re adjusting from being timed to the fastball. “Oh shit! Sentinels!” mode.

3. Accelerate like a motorcycle to catch up to the speed of a fastball, after previously hunting stuff moving at a slower pace. Terminator mode.

4. Time to the offspeed. Use their power swing against the slower stuff from the pitcher, rather than trying to match power vs power. This requires good agility and reaction times covering a larger area. T-1000 mode.

A hitter should either be knuckling up to challenge the power of a pitcher, while being on the watch for Sentinels; Or, they should be the most advanced Terminator they can be.

The Multiple Realties of a Hitter

Every hitter has two main universes in which they can exist:

1. The Matrix – The traditional way of hitting. It’s for hitters living in an ideal universe where no pitcher is more powerful than them. Time your swing to the fastball and hunt fastballs with your power swing, while defending against those Sentinels crawling down the walls of the strike zone with a defensive flail of your weapon.

2. Terminators – In this mode, a hitter slows their pace to offspeed stuff, and reacts to fastballs. The intent of the slower pace is to adjust their body with quick reactions and bat-to-ball movements, like a T-1000. Worst case, the hitter occasionally can’t accelerate their movements and speed toward a fastball, and they end up look like a slower, O.G. Terminator fell off his motorcycle. Best case, they can walk unharmed through the fire.

Most hitters are going to live in The Matrix, though some realize their inherent disadvantage at the plate and become Terminators.

Hitters are can either choose to attack the easy stuff and adjust to the difficult stuff, or they can attack the hard stuff and adjust to the easy stuff.

Some hitters are Multiversial.

They can jump back and forth in a single at-bat between being Terminators hunting slow targets, to existing inside The Matrix where they can stop the fastest bullets with their bat.

Traveling back and forth between universes is difficult. Most hitters should choose a single universe each night, based on the pitcher, and based on the hitter’s ability to adjust up or down with their mind.

The pitcher has the natural advantage in every universe: The element of surprise.

The Art of Hitting

Hitters need to figure out what universe is best for them to react to a specific pitcher’s surprise potential. How many Sentinels are coming through that strike zone portal? What version of Terminator are they that night?

Ideally, a hitter needs to exist both inside a utopian Matrix where there are no rules and inside an apocalyptic wasteland where they are tasked to seek and destroy slow targets. The reality of hitting is that it’s all dystopian, regardless of the confident level of the hitter. The hitter is at a natural disadvantage, relying on split-second reaction times, with the goal of turning into robots who launch successful attacks without hesitation.

A hitter needs to master all four of the above swings. They need the offensive and defensive swing from both universes. As bat speed tracking becomes more common, we’ll see some hitters with two separate velocity trends, signifying that split between an offensive swing and a defensive swing. Both hitting universes have offensive and defensive swings. The universe a hitter exists inside depends on if they have an overall approach geared toward offensive swings (The Matrix) or defensive swings (Terminators).

Ultimately, hitting is a game of quick wits. It’s all about mindset. Does the hitter live inside a utopian Matrix fantasy where they have the power to control reality? Or, do they live in a reality of mass destruction where a 30% success rate is considered legendary? You don’t need to know much about the game of baseball to know which one is more likely.

I think a lot of hitters go wrong trying to be The One inside The Matrix. That’s a difficult role, as it requires the ability to essentially write reality. The easier approach attempts to be a T-1000.

Pirates Examples

Oneil Cruz looks like The One.

How else do you explain record-setting, reality re-writing numbers each week? Yet, he also shows how difficult it is to consistently be able to take down pitchers as if they were agents inside The Matrix. Cruz might just be a red pill who knows how he can bend the reality, without the ability to do it at will. Pirates fans hope he is The One who can stop every bullet.

Nick Gonzales looks like a T-1000 this year. He looks more laid back and relaxed, with better results against offspeed, with his quick bat finding any pitch. Watching him adjust to and single off a 96 MPH sinker on Wednesday, which looked like it would otherwise hit his knees, was some Robert Patrick maneuvering.

I personally don’t know how this dystopian fantasy world take on hitting relates to what the Pirates are actually doing.

I don’t know how many of the coaches, coordinators, or players I’ve talked with over the years would have this thought process, or would even agree with the concept.

These are just my beliefs on how hitting should be analyzed, with a fun way of qualifying individual hitters.

If you’ve red this far, you are the resistance.

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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