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Apr, 2018

Why do we use the 2-pitch format

As a player, coach, and now as an agent, it became evident to me that most hitters are taught to try and hit every pitch in every count. It starts at a very young age when parents expect their son or daughter to hit .500 or .600 in age group games. The reality is to be a great hitter you need to hit mistakes well and when you get good pitches, do not miss them. To become an even more complete hitter, you need to learn how to hit with 2 strikes and become a tough out.

To win championships you have to beat the best at every level. In Major League Baseball history there are no better examples of that winning dominance then by a lefty and a righty, two great pitchers who had fantastic multi-year runs. From 1961 to 1966, Sandy Koufax won 129 games and only lost 47. Koufax posted a 2.19 ERA over 1632 2/3 innings. 30 years later, Greg Maddux went 120-49 with an ERA of 2.05 over 1630 innings. Both pitchers would tell you during their prime they only made 12-15 mistakes in a game. Even more revealing is Maddux, in an article in Sports Illustrated when his career was winding down, stated the key to his struggles was the fact that he was making 20-25 mistakes in a game. His ERA ballooned to over 4.00 and he had a losing record. What Koufax and Maddux did in their primes tells you how difficult it is to hit at the highest level against a championship quality pitcher. But the fact Maddux’s struggles late in his career can be linked to 10-15 more bad pitches per game pinpoint how important it is to hunt and handle mistakes to win title games. Big league hitters do it and 8 on 8 will teach you do it too!

As a guy who tried to play fastpitch softball, I can only imagine how difficult it was to hit Lisa Fernandez or Jennie Finch. Fernandez in her career at UCLA won 93 games, threw 74 shutouts, and posted a career ERA of 0.22. Finch won 119 games in her career at Arizona with an ERA of 1.09. The hunt to find mistakes when you're facing the world's best softball pitchers is even more challenging.

Beating a championship-caliber pitcher, someone who can throw their fastball where they want it located 80% of the time, is a monumental task. Preparing yourself as a hitter to beat someone like that takes discipline and practice. That is why during an 8 on 8 game in our 2-pitch format, the first pitch you are looking for is a gut shot right down the middle. We set up the machine to throw it right down the middle, simulating a mistake that the pitcher makes in an age group, high school or college game. The hitter is hunting a mistake. Our goal in college was to get one pitch per at-bat we were looking for before we got to a 2-strike count. It will happen a lot for your team if you are disciplined and take balls and borderline strikes. When you walk from the on-deck circle to home plate in an 8 on 8 game, your mindset is to look for a pitch right down the middle and when you get it, hammer it! Anticipate it, drive it with your best swing, and don't miss it! That's the goal of the first pitch in an 8 on 8 game. Punish mistakes before you get to 2 strikes.

In an 8 on 8 game, hitters ask what's good about hitting off a pitching machine from a full distance release point? The biggest benefit is you get the practice reading the first 20 feet from the release point unlike any time when you take batting practice from 40 feet. Is it a strike or ball, a mistake, or a tough pitch? There's movement to read and timing issues that come in to play every pitch from 56 feet, 6 inches. The swing or take decision is practiced. It allows a hitter to define their power zone, practice strike zone recognition, taking borderline strikes and balls out of the zone. This minimizes the tools that pitchers like Koufax, Maddux, Fernandez, and Finch use to get hitters out.

Strikeout rates in Major League Baseball have increased over the years. That's happened even as the pitches that are actually thrown through the strike zone have decreased. In the years 2002 to 2008, 51% to 55% of the pitches thrown were actually in the strike zone and would have been called strikes. In recent years, that percentage has dropped to 45% or less. Major league pitchers are throwing fewer pitches that actually pass through the strike zone. Hitters nowadays swing at 30% of the pitches that are thrown out of the strike zone. What's even more amazing to me is hitters make contact with nearly 65% of those pitches out of the strike zone. In reality, a pitcher like Greg Maddux or Zack Greinke and others that have great command on any level can pitch with a 23-inch wide plate because free-swinging hitters chase border line strikes and balls completely out of the strike zone.

What we want you to do with the 1st pitch in the 8 on 8 2-pitch format is to zero in on getting a good pitch to hit, being aggressive, and putting your best swing on it. We want you to learn how to hammer mistakes in the middle of the strike zone when they occur and don't miss your chance to impact the game. If the first pitch is a ball, you repeat the same mindset, looking for that first mistake to pound. If it's a borderline strike, take it so you don't get yourself out swinging at a borderline pitcher’s pitch.

The goal is to make you one of those hitters that always seems to get a good pitch to hit and when you get it, you drive it hard with your best swing.

The second pitch in our 8 on 8 2-pitch format is one thrown with 2 strikes. During 2017 in Major League Baseball, 52% of all counts got to 2 strikes. Historically, nearly 50% of all pitches thrown in a major league game are thrown with 2 strikes. Coaches at all levels often ask their hitters to make huge adjustments with a 2-strike count. Some professional organizations forced hitters to choke up, college coaches may demand hitters move closer to the plate and widen out their stance, and we've all heard parents yell for their kid to just “put the ball in play.” In doing so, coaches are asking hitters to have two distinct strokes, one with less than 2 strikes that's full grip and in their unique natural stance, and the second that may require them to spread out and choke-up, promoting they put the ball in play to avoid striking out. This 2-strike approach makes players hit with two different swings around 50% of the time and minimize their chance to drive the ball with 2 strikes.

The fear of striking out while hitting with 2 strikes is a mental obstacle. Our goal is to eliminate that handicap and teach you to understand there's really only two things that are different if you use your best swing. Obviously, the biggest difference is that with 2 strikes the, at-bat will end with a called strike. The second difference and the one that is most overlooked is while hitting with 2 strikes. It is the only time during an at-bat where you truly have to swing at a fastball, a curveball, or an off-speed pitch in the strike zone. Our goal for you as a hitter is to understand that a pitcher can still make a huge mistake with a 2-strike count and when they do, your job is to hammer it. Extending at-bats by fouling off tough pitches give you a chance to hunt down one of those 25-30 mistakes an amateur pitcher will make in a game. And rather than being spread out and using a choked-up grip on the bat to tap the ball in play, when you get that bad pitch, we want you to drive that mistake and impact the game with power.

So that's the mindset we want for our hitters every day and in our 8 on 8 games, the 2-pitch format allows you to develop that approach.

The 1st-pitch approach-anticipate what you're looking for and drive it with your best swing.

The 2nd-pitch approach (if you didn't handle the 1st pitch)- make a good adjustment and handle the 2-strike count like any other, taking borderline pitches out of the zone, fighting to get a mistake and hammering it when you get it.

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