Preparing a Hitter’s Plan at the Plate
The Mental Approach to Hitting Series
Baseball and Fastpitch Softball
Having a plan at the plate increases a hitter’s productivity. A strategic plan is a learning tool for focusing the hitter on what they do best. Creating and executing a plan at the plate, utilizing a tried and true plate approach, should be a part of every hitter’s game routine.
In this article, Building Rome Series describes how to prepare a useful plan at the plate. We provide a template (click here to download the template from our download page) for an effective plan and what should be left out. Then, in eight steps, we show how to prepare a plate approach suited to the strengths and abilities of the hitter.
Building the High-Level Swing Series
This article is a condensed version of the more comprehensive training for improving a hitter’s plate approach found in the Building the High-Level Swing Series. (click the link to learn more about our hitting fundamentals and drills book).
Getting Comfortable with Using a Plan at the Plate
At first, preparing and executing a strategic plan may seem cumbersome. But, stay with it; the plan will become easier to execute as the hitter finds what works best for them facing various types of pitchers.
Eventually, the plan will become a source of comfort. A well-rehearsed plan at the plate builds confidence and results in a higher frequency of quality at-bats – productivity increases.
Plan at the Plate for Youth Hitters
Learning to be a student of the game from an early age can pay huge dividends as the hitter gains experience. Even younger players should be in the dugout watching and moving to the pitcher’s tempo and speed, striving to identify release points, types of pitches, pitching patterns, and evaluating the umpire’s zone.
Strike zone discipline (click the link to increase quality at-bats by improving plate discipline and selectivity), where the young hitter strives to swing only at strikes, is an appropriate first goal. Then, as the level of competition increases, the plan should gradually evolve to contain more intricate and different strategies depending on the first pitch, no strikes, one strike, and two strikes.
Keep the Plan at the Plate Simple
The hitter must be careful not to clog their mind with too much strategy. The Eight-Step Strategic Plan (click the link to download a customizable template) is constructed to contain just enough planning for a productive at-bat. It does not and should not contain all the small nuances which can arise in a typical at-bat. There is only so much the hitter can plan for. The rest should be left to reacting and trusting their preparation.
Fit the Plan at the Plate to the Player
The Eight-Step Strategic Plan is provided as a checklist to get the hitter started planning. As experience is gained, the plan should be adjusted and modified for the specific hitter’s strengths, weaknesses, and goals.
Internalizing the Hitter’s Plate Approach
If the only time the hitter goes through the planning process is during a game situation, their brain will know this is not the norm. The athlete responds by being overly conscious (click the link for how to improve performance by adjusting mental focus) because planning is not automatic.
So, how do we make the planning process more automatic and improved? We practice it. A successful hitter’s routines are so well-rehearsed that decision-making at the plate can be on autopilot.
Plate approach should be thought about in the dugout, on-deck circle, and when the hitter steps out of the box between pitches. Reviewing the plan at these moments best prepares the batter to execute the “looks” contained in the plan.
No Internal Thinking in the Box
Once the hitter enters the box, thought patterns should be external and automatic (click the link for a description of types of external focus). The mind is cleared with a singular focus on seeing the ball. Looks happen automatically when they have been deliberately practiced and applied.
If the planning process is incorporated in the hitter’s routine, each season of competitive play moves the hitter closer to the ideal of consistent quality at-bats.
The Eight-Step Strategic Plan at the Plate
Click the link to download the template for The Eight-Step Strategic Plan.
Step 1: Know Your Role
Step 2: Know the Situation
Step 3: Know Your Ideal Hitting Zones
Step 4: Know the Pitcher.
“It is not really so complicated. It is a matter of being observant …”. (Williams T. , Science of Hitting, 1970)
Step 5: Know the Umpire.
Step 6: Decide on Position in the Box.
Distance From Plate.
Front to Rear in Box.
Step 7: Decide on One Swing Thought.
A swing thought is a keen focus, performed outside the batter’s box, on a single hitting mechanic or goal.
For example, the hitter recognizes they struck out swinging under a high strike during the previous at-bat. Before the next at-bat, the hitter chooses a swing thought to aim for the top of the ball when the pitch location is above the waist. They visualize their adjusted swing path.
Once entering the batter’s box, the swing thought should be put on automatic, allowing the visualization process to work.
Step 8: Make the Strike Count Plan.
Plan on First Pitch (0-0 Count)
“Many hitters will stride but take the first pitch in the first inning of a new pitcher. The advantages are to time and get your tempo to match the pitcher’s speed and delivery.” (Williams T. , Science of Hitting, 1970)
- Look for a fastball in the hitter’s ideal hitting zone.
“A good hitter can hit a pitch in a good spot three times better than a great hitter can hit a ball in a questionable spot.” (Williams T. , Science of Hitting, 1970)
The hitter should isolate the fastball in their ideal zone and take any pitch not in the ideal zone or with a slower speed.
- Look for a type of pitch other than a fastball.
If the hitter guessed correctly, there is a good chance they will make solid contact. However, to prevent a weak hit and out, it is crucial the hitter take the pitch if it is a faster speed or different spin.
No Strikes or Way Ahead (Count 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 3-1)
The pitcher has been observed to have marginal control. Therefore, the hitter will take until the first strike is called and will take with 3-1 count. This gives the pitcher increased opportunities to walk the batter.
- Look for a fastball in their ideal hitting zone(s).
Just as the smart pitcher takes advantage of being ahead in the count, the smart hitter understands when they have the advantage.
One Strike (Count 0-1, 1-1, 2-1)
- Use a two-strike plan.
If the hitter is facing a great pitcher, they may not want to get to a two-strike count. In this situation, the hitter utilizes a two-strike approach (see Two Strikes below) with one-strike.
- To narrow possibilities, look for any type of pitch in a specific location.
“Through experience, I can attest that trying to look for a certain type of pitch each and every at-bat is extremely difficult. There are times when the hitter can look for a specific pitch and have some success but to maximize the likelihood of success, players should look for pitches by location and use the appropriate swing path.” (Hitting Low in the Zone: A New Baseball Paradigm).
When looking for a pitch in a certain location, the hitter should be timed for a fastball then recognize and adjust to off-speed.
- Think like the pitcher and look for a specific pitch.
“Know what pitch got you out last at-bat. Know what pitch made you look silly in same at-bat and look for it again.” (Williams T. , Science of Hitting, 1970)
- Look for a fastball, high or low.
- Look for a fastball in their ideal hitting zone(s).
- See the ball and react.
The hitter does not have any preconceived notion about the type of pitch or location – they are ready to hit any pitch.
Two Strikes (Count 0-2, 1-2, 2-2, 3-2)
Striving to drive the ball hard when the hitter’s back is against the wall has challenged hitters from the earliest days of the sport. The primary reason two-strike hitting is so difficult is that it is the only time the hitter must guard against every pitch type, speed, and location which the pitcher can throw.
With two strikes and less than full count, most pitchers want to get the batter out without giving them a good pitch to hit. They want to throw a breaking ball that the hitter sees as a strike but then curves out of the zone. Or surprise the hitter with a fastball just off the corner. It is crucial the hitter is aware of these goals and be ready to take the chase pitch.
- Allow all pitches to travel to mid-body and utilize an inside-out swing path.
A primary concern when facing a great pitcher having good velocity and change of speeds is the inside fastball. The hitter knows they must be quick to get the barrel out front on the potential inside fastball.
Through a strategy of allowing all pitches to travel into the body, past the hitter’s front foot, the timing issue for the inside fastball is eliminated. The hitter now has more decision time to evaluate close pitches. Timing off-speed and movement pitches also become easier.
- Prepare for in-between speed.
The hitter should average the pitcher’s slowest and fastest pitch then strive to time their swing to this average. By doing this, the hitter can have a chance to catch up to the faster speed pitch yet still be able to stay back and put the off-speed strike in play.
- Expand the zone and battle.
- Look away, react in.
With this approach, the hitter is giving up on the inside pitch to look for the most likely pitch location, outside. The idea is the hitter can’t cover everything.
- Shorten the swing.
Shorten the swing by moving closer to the plate, slightly open up foot alignment, spread out the width of the stance, choke up slightly, and/or load hands to a point just behind the hitter’s chin.
- Choke Up.
- No Stride.
Eliminating the stride has similar advantages to choking without plate coverage issues. Also, for many hitters, no-stride may be less detrimental to bat speed than choking.
- Flat Bat.
An option requiring the hitter to dramatically shorten their swing by pointing the barrel at the umpire’s head with no further load of hands.
- See the ball and react.
Final Words About Plate Approach
To win championships, extending at-bats and increasing pitch counts are the keys. Hitters must often take borderline pitches early in the count. Remember, even great pitchers make at least one mistake every at-bat.
Accomplished hitters have a high degree of focus on planning for each game at-bat. Plan well to hit well!
Building Rome Series Blog: The Mental Approach to Hitting Series
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Building Rome Series Books: Building the High-Level Swing Series
Click Building the High-Level Swing Series to learn more about our new two-book hitter series containing 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!