When and How to Look for a Pitch
The Mental Approach to Hitting Series
Baseball and Fast Pitch Softball
To hit productively at higher levels of play a hitter must learn to be selective. That is, they must mentally focus on swinging at a certain type(s) of pitch and let other pitches go by.
When and how to look for a pitch are productive skills for hitters to add to their expanding collection of mental abilities. The ultimate goal of a “look” is to increase the chances of driving the ball hard.
Since hitters have differing strengths and weaknesses, the pitches which they select to swing at will also vary between hitters.
In this article, Building Rome Series describes when to look for a pitch by identifying optimum situations and how the look must fit the hitter’s abilities.
Please see our article Eight Steps to a Productive Plan at the Plate for insight about how to incorporate looking for a pitch into your overall plate approach.
Building the High-Level Swing
When and How to Look for a Pitch article is a condensed version of the more comprehensive training guide for improving a hitter’s mental approach found in Building the High-Level Swing.
We will begin by identifying nine hitting zones:
Inside/Low, Inside/Waist, Inside/High
Middle/Low, Middle Waist, Middle/High
Outside/Low, Outside/Waist, Outside/High
To Look for a Pitch – Identify the Hitter’s Most Productive Zones
To implement effective looks, it is first necessary the hitter know which pitch locations they hit best.
Here are two methods to identify a hitter’s most productive hitting zones:
- Use a front toss, or a pitching machine, targeting specific hitting zones.
- Chart the hitter’s game at-bats.
For either method, calculate the percentage of hard-hit balls in each zone.
Periodically repeat this evaluation as ideal hitting zones may change over time.
Should Youth Players Look for a Pitch?
Around age 13 may be an appropriate time to introduce the concept of looking for a pitch. Many hitters at this age are ready to heighten their mental approach. Let’s say you are the coach or parent of an accomplished young hitter who always seems to hit a specific pitch location for a high percentage of solid hits. For example, the hitter crushes the low pitch but frequently pops out on the high strike. And crucially, they are relaxed and confident at the plate. Ask the great young low-ball hitter to lay off the high pitch, even if it is a strike; they look low, but only when there is zero or one strike in the count. Be sure to rehearse the look during practice.
Types of Looks
More experienced hitters, high school and above, can look for:
Looking fast can make it easier to hit the fastpitch.
Conversely, if the pitcher is throwing slow breaking pitches with high frequency, looking slow and taking fast can be productive.
Looking for a pitch in a specific hitting zone can make it easier to hit that pitch. Pitches in all other zones must be takes.
Looking for a specific location can also help the hitter avoid swinging at the pitcher’s best pitch. For example, look inside to avoid grounding out on a great low slider, drop, or curve off the outside corner.
As hitters develop their pitch recognition skills and ability to recognize a pitcher’s patterns, they may want to look for specific types of movement pitches. Before entering the batter’s box, the hitter should visualize their swing path and rehearse their timing for the movement pitch they are looking for. They must take the pitch if they don’t see the pitch recognition keys or see a different spin.
Productive Situations to Look for a Pitch
Here are some common looks used by productive hitters:
- Look for a pitch in the hitter’s ideal hitting zones(s).
- With two strikes, look for a pitch in an expanded strike zone.
- Based on the pitcher’s patterns, look outside or inside.
- If the pitcher is throwing primarily fastballs, look fast.
- If the pitcher is throwing primarily off-speed, look slow.
- After a changeup, look for an inside fastball.
- If the hitter gets fooled or chases a pitch early in the count, look for it again a pitch or two later.
- After a low fastball on the corner, look for a movement pitch starting in the same location.
- After a high strike, look for a low strike and vice versa.
- Against a dominant sinker (baseball) or drop ball (fastpitch softball) pitcher, look for a mistake up in the zone.
- Against a dominant fast pitch rise ball pitcher (fastpitch softball only), look for a pitch below waist high. This avoids chasing the rise ball, which is above the zone.
- A fastpitch slap hitter might look for an outside corner pitch moving away, a changeup, or an inside curve. These pitches are typically the most challenging for a running slapper.
Training to Look for a Pitch
Each look should be practiced before implementing the look in a game.
The hitter must train to be comfortable and confident not swinging at any other type of pitch other than the pitch looked for.
Otherwise, the look will be unproductive, and looking will just add stress to game at-bats.
Look for a Pitch Drill
See The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide,Tool XXXI: Mental Training Drills, Drill III – Look for a Pitch Drill.
The essence of a quality at-bat is when hitters don’t swing at any difficult pitches to hit but instead make hard contact with a pitch in their most productive hitting zone(s). These two critical goals are traits of High-Level hitters.
Building Rome Series Blog: The Mental Approach to Hitting Series
Here are the videos and articles in The Mental Approach to Hitting Series:
Building Rome Series Books: Building the High-Level Swing Series
See Building the High-Level Swing for a detailed and comprehensive description of 100 hitting fundamentals and 140 step-by-step drills that efficiently construct the batting swing from the ground up.
In the Building Rome Series of books, the construction of skills are in functional order, providing a “roadmap” to becoming a great hitter.
All baseball and fastpitch softball players can “climb the Roman Coliseum steps” to become a powerful and productive hitter.
Enjoy the quest!