Understanding Baseball Strategy
By Brian Schofield
I can't tell you how many times I've had someone tell me how boring baseball is to watch. People tell me all the time that they fall asleep during games and can't stand it. I'm thinking to myself, how can anyone hate baseball? But then it hit me. I hate to watch soccer and car racing because I think those sports are boring, but most of my boredom results from my lack of understanding of the rules, strategies, etc. So, to help you develop a further love of baseball I've decided to cover some of the common strategies of the game. My hope is that by understanding these strategies you will begin to enjoy watching the game as much as I do.
I get really annoyed when I'm watching a game in a public venue and a fan yells out "Why did he swing at that pitch with a count of two balls and zero strikes (2-0)?" It kills me. I force myself to take a deep breath and remember that I to have made similar comments. It is lack of understanding. Pitchers don't want to walk batters. It's that simple. If they don't reach the base, they can't score. So, when you see a batter swing and the count is 2-0 or 3-1 you have to realize that the batter is expecting a good pitch. The batter knows the pitcher doesn't want the walk so he assumes the pitch will be where it can be hit. This is called a hitter's count. Watch how many home runs are hit when the count is 2-0, 3-1, or 2-1 and you will start to recognize the pattern.
Most Important Pitch of an At Bat
Clearly the most important pitch of any at bat is the first pitch. If the first pitch is a strike, the hitter is in a hole. Hitters don't want to strike out or "fall behind" in the count, so if the count is 0-1, you'll see a lot of batters swing at the second pitch. When facing an 0-1 count, most batters will hit .100 points below their typical average unless they are an amazing hitter. For example, if Alex Rodriguez gets behind in the count he usually ends up being a .200 hitter for the game instead of .300 which is his normal season average. When you are a player, that makes a big difference. Being behind in the count also forces the hitter into a more defensive at bat. In an attempt to not strike out, many hitters will simply try to make contact with the ball rather than trying to drive the ball. Again, that is typical of most hitters.
Advanced scouting can be an amazing tool for baseball teams because it helps identify a player's strengths and weaknesses so they can be exploited in a game. Recently, Rick Ankiel of the St Louis Cardinals has burst onto the scene hitting home run after home run. As a result, other teams have issued scouting reports aimed directly at stopping the home run spurt. Teams have discovered how to pitch to Ankiel and it is working. They've learned to throw him hard fastballs inside so he can't extend his arms for home runs. Knowing a player's weakness isn't rocket science, but exploiting the weakness can prove quite tricky. I might know Barry Bonds' weakness, but just one slight mistake on my part and the ball is on its way out of the park. That's what I love about baseball! It's a dual out there and the best players are "the best" because they take advantage of mistakes when they happen.
Brian Schofield is the Sr. writer and editor for a baseball training website called BigLeagueSkills.com. Check out the site for more baseball tips and instruction.
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