By Todd Thomas
How important is it to have a good eye at the plate? That is to have an acute ability to know a ball from a strike and to offer mostly at strikes and much fewer times at pitches out of the strike zone. Unless you are Vladimir Guerrero, it can most certainly have an effect on your overall success in hitting. Okay, it affects Vlad too, but to a much lesser extent. The previous statement is a major league understatement. :-)
There's a statistic in baseball called O-Swing%(outside swing percentage). This statistic measures the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside of the strike zone. It's significance is important because when a batter swings at a pitch thrown outside the strike zone, the chances of success are severely decreased. A hitters O-Swing% is a good measure of true plate discipline.
On the flip side is a Pitcher's O-Swing%. A high O-Swing% is good for a pitcher because it shows how adept a pitcher is at tricking batters into swinging at pitches outside the strike zone.
Major League hitters average O-Swing% changes slightly from year to year, but generally is in the 23-25% range. For example, the average major league hitter who sees 4 pitches outside the strike zone will swing at 1 of those 4 on average.
Texas Ranger fans are painfully familiar with the struggles of Josh Hamilton had this season. Prior to August 2nd, Josh's O-Swing% was nearly 44%. Swinging at this high of a percentage of pitches outside the strikezone points in the direction of why Hamilton struggled so much in 2009. Most people wondered what's wrong with Josh's swing. No doubt the Rangers have been working with Josh for an extended period of time on minor swing adjustments, but a quick look at this number would indicate a problem of more of a mental nature than physical.
In Josh's most recent hot streak, his O-Swing% dropped near the Major League average of 23%. And AMAZINGLY, his swing has "returned". My assertion is that Hamilton's swing never really deserted him. It was his approach at the plate that was the major culprit not a mechanical issue. Since he improved his O-Swing%, Josh hit nearly .500 with multiple extra base hits.
Sometimes you have to look deeper into your struggles at the plate than just to say I must be doing something mechanically wrong so I should go get a lesson. Having a professional hitting instructor work with you and look at your swing is never a bad idea, but if that's all you look at for solving hitting problems and you never consider what may be ailing you in your mental game(or lack thereof), then frustration may follow you when your instructor says your swing looks good.
Do you have a plan going to the plate? Get one. Do you have a solid pre-pitch routine that you follow before every pitch to help you be focused, relaxed, composed, and confident? Develop one. Having a solid mental approach is a huge advantage and can lift any given player closer to his/her true potential. BUT you must have the desire to win at the mental game. Most don't. Do You?
Todd Thomas is a Baseball Coach and Professional Hitting Instructor for Mike Epstein Hitting. Coach Todd's personal hitting website is http://www.HitItHere.net. Coach Todd also enthusiastically endorses http://PlayMyBestBaseball.com as a place where baseball and softball hitters can master the Confidence, Composure, Focus and Consistency of their game so they can reach their full potential.
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