Sunday, April 23, 2006

Situational Hitting

Wrapping up some college games this weekend in south Florida, Carson (a.k.a. PC geek) and I had a frank discussion over something that can differentiate one player from another: an instinctual awareness for situational hitting and being able to execute accordingly. To me, I've seen a declining emphasis on situational hitting over the last 10 to 15 years. And it really extends from the highest level down to the youth leagues. Just look at the high salary premiums paid for home runs and slugging percentage.

Situational hitting is such a rich part of the game. Apart from pitching (I'm biased), it has to be one of the main attractions to the game. Carson didn't have a clue of what I was talking about. He kept reminding me that there was a reason for the high salary premiums paid for HRs, slugging percentage, and of course, he threw in on-base percentage. Although Carson has made great strides in scouting the tools, he still has difficulty putting value on certain aspects of a player's game that aren't always measured by the statistical world of production.

To help him focus (or so I thought I was helping), I gave him several basic examples. With the bases empty and no outs, the at bat is different from the same situation with two outs. With two outs, the batter who finds himself in a 2-0 or 3-1 count should be looking to drive the ball in order to get himself into scoring position rather than taking a walk. If he takes the walk, his team will most likely need a couple two-out hits to score him. If he gets into scoring position, then only one two-out hit should be necessary to score him. [Of course, Carson argued with me on the philosophy of not taking a walk in that circumstance. Any tactic that could hurt a player's OBP had to be faulty. He was certain that he could find some statistical data that would prove more runs were scored with two outs from a 3-1 count which resulted in a walk than a situation where the ball was put into the field of play from a 3-1 count (ie. the team would be better off taking a walk instead of swinging for a double).]

Another example would be a man on third with less than two outs. The hitter needs to get the runner in from third. It doesn't really matter whether the infield is in or deep. I'm looking for a hitter that stays on top of the ball, controls his swing (no overswinging), and puts the ball in play. A simple grounder directed to the gap between third and second or first and second. No pop-ups or short fly balls. And for crying out loud, never get caught taking a third strike in this situation! [Of course, Carson was screaming for the deep fly ball that might have a chance to go yard. To him, if a player is going to put himself in a position to be thrown out on a ground ball, why not swing for the fences for a chance to score two runs. If he comes up short, then the team scores a run on a deep fly ball. For anyone who's played, it's much more difficult to consistently hit a deep fly ball. There's too much opportunity to hit it short or simply pop-up. Most MLB outfielders can throw out a tagging runner on a shallow fly ball. Just get it on the ground and the chances are that something good is going to happen. The batter might even get it through the gap and improve his precious OBP]

Now, I realize that a manager should dictate the situational hitting tactics used during the game but the player needs to be able to execute them. Generally, a team gets to the playoffs because they have good pitchers who can beat the other teams' good hitters more often than not. But a way for hitters to overcome dominating pitchers is to use situational hitting to their advantage. Once in the playoffs, it's my opinion that the team who executes situational hitting is more likely to win. I want players who are comfortable with the concepts and can execute them willingly and without hesitation.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tend to believe that the "stat" group of baseball fan overlooks these subtleties in the game of baseball.

Have you suggested to Carson and the other stat gurus you meet to do work in this area? It would make it seem like you actually value their research, and it would keep them out of your hair for a while.

Plus, anything positive you do with the stat guys should keep the boss off your back.

8:56 PM  
Anonymous southwest brewer said...

Any chance of more posts on game situations and what you expect players to do? Those are always interesting.

Defense, batting, pitching....everything. Tell what you're seeing. It's interesting stuff.

12:05 AM  
Blogger Cutter said...

Dear Anonymous,

Maybe I should be more concerned about keeping my boss off my back but I've seen Carson twice since my last post and both times he's failed to cough up any stats to support his position. Doesn't anybody out there have a convoluted, long-winded statistical report to support Carson's belief that more runs are scored with two outs/nobody on, from a 3-1 count which resulted in a walk than a situation where the ball was put into the field of play from a 3-1 count (ie. the team would score more runs after taking a walk instead of swinging for a double)? Or maybe, just maybe, Carson is completely off his rocker (my humble opinion)? Where are all the stat jockeys and performance scouting people? Batter up--

If I had a nickel...

ps: perhaps you could use an alias when you post a comment so everyone can get a better flavor from where you are coming from on future posts...just a suggestion.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Cutter said...

southwest brewer,

It would be good for me to communicate certain situational tactics more often. I take it for granted that others (ie. the bird dogs in my life) know this stuff, but from what I can tell-- they really don't. But if I can't put these situations to words so they can really understand what's going on, how can I hold them accountable to find me players who can execute on these tactics as if they were second nature. I'd like them to be looking for players who have such an awareness of the situation that they already have a good idea what needs to be done before they even get the signal from the coach. The player simply executes without giving it a second thought. Of course, it's the execution that matters most. But when instincts are at the helm, more often than not the execution is flawless.

If I had a nickel...

10:45 PM  
Anonymous notyourdoc said...

Situational hitting sounds more like a learned skill based on observing, thinking about and understanding the game than an "instinctual" or innate ability. Doesn't that take a combination of good coaching, study, thought, practice and execution, rather than raw instinct? In other words, the mental tool needs to be developed, just like the physical tools.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

let's be real.. No scout ever gives a shit about situational hitting.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous bmc said...

Hey Cutter,

Do you have any thoughts or scout insights you'd like to share on Delmon Young and his public 6th tool break down?

Keep on keepin on,


3:01 PM  
Blogger Cutter said...


There's a saying in baseball (Yogi I believe) that says you can't think and hit at the same time. All I was saying is that if a player can execute without having to think about the situation, the more likely that his execution will be flawless. I did not mean to imply it was a skill possessed at birth. This particular mental tool (there are many others), however developed, creates a situation where impulse or reaction drive the execution (that is what I meant by instinct). Physical tools then carry it out. To me, a hitter will only be ready physically if he is ready mentally.

If I had a nickel...

10:06 PM  
Blogger Cutter said...

Dear Anonymous,

Profanity aside, your comment is a true statement. What really matters to me, however, is the underlying mental approach and execution. There are other examples of breakdowns in mental approach and execution that I could've used but I chose to use situational hitting because I see more and more young players wasting their at bats at critical points in the game. And it's not like they don't have the physical tools either. They're just not prepared mentally or worse-- selfish. That's losing baseball.

And when I'm comparing guys to recommend between the 30-50 rounds, I'm looking for anything that separates them. Those guys aren't your five-toolers, maybe two or three at best. So if I see a guy taking a third strike when there's less than two outs with a man on third, I'm gonna take note of it.

Now is it going to drive my decision making process? Heavens no. But when comparing two players who have very similar abilities--- it becomes more important.

If I had a nickel...

ps: perhaps you could use an alias when you post a comment so everyone can get a better flavor from where you are coming from on future posts...

11:09 PM  
Blogger Cutter said...

For the benefit of those who haven't seen what BMC is talking about, cut and paste this into your browser.

It's truly sick. Before I go any further, I want to talk with a buddy of mine who scouted him at Camarillo High School in California. Unfortunately the writing was on the wall for some sort of meltdown (ie. his vent for not being a September add-on, demanding money for interviews, stating he can't wait to start his 6 years so he can leave the club, and his obvious frustration for not not making the opening day roster after he was outplayed in spring training). Of course, Elijah Dukes hit two home runs during the same game against Pawtucket.

I also can't help but think of Josh Hamilton.

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Flip Master............writes

excuse the profanity on the last post 4 seem cutter. what's ur take on Micheal Youngs at bat in the wbc. If your into situational hitting you should know exactly what i'm talking about.

p.s. Mike Gallo in the bigs? cmon..

12:18 PM  
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11:10 PM  

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