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How a great 2 strike approach just may win you a CHAMPIONSHIP (PART 1)

Updated: Aug 27, 2019

Imagine being down by 1 run, state championship is on the line, your freshman hitter who is a combined 0-7 on the day faces an 0-2 count with 2 outs in the top of the 7th with bases loaded. The stadium is absolutely rocking, the other team is on the top step of the dugout, ½ their guys are straddling the dugout rail ready to race out to the field for the celebratory dog pile and I could only imagine the pressure my guy must have been feeling in the batters box as he was our only chance to keep our repeat bid for a state championship alive.


This was a reality for my team in 2017 when we faced elimination in a best of 3 state championship series. We had dropped the 1st game, suffered a massive rain delay during the night and there we were at 12:30 AM with the season on the line and a guy who had never experienced a situation quite like this giving us our only chance.


Well the kid came through, he hit a soft single over SS and plated 2 runs to spark a rally that would see us go on to win by 4. A month later, after everything died down, I asked my guy: “At 0-7 on the night what In the world was going through your head in that moment, how did you come through?” And he said (I’m paraphrasing): “Coach I have dreamt of that situation before and I knew I could get it done. I just did what we practice everyday with 2 strike counts”.


What is a 2 strike approach and why are 2 strike counts special?


A 2 strike approach is a mindset shift that allows for a player to contend with all weapons in a pitchers arsenal when swinging and missing or taking a strike is not an option. A 2 strike approach helps a hitter “grind out” at bats and help the team win when the count is in the pitchers favor.


I always teach my hitters that an at bat is a simple equation or experiment with every pitch acting as an independent variable.

In this case, the variables are listed below:

INDEPENDENT VARIABLES AFFECTING REACHING BASE SAFELY

A. Pitch Speed

B. Pitch Location

C. Pitch Movement


CONTROL VARIABLES – need to remain constant

D. Synchronization of swing to pitch (i.e. being on time)

E. Body Mechanics / Kinetic movement

F. Batter Psyche


SIMPLY PUT: Prior to a 2 strike count, we can choose what speed, what location, or what movement to “hunt” and which to take allowing us to better synchronize our timing with the incoming pitch, but in a 2 strike count, we have to be ready for EVERY speed, EVERY strike location, and EVERY type of movement the pitcher has if we hope to not strike out.

IN our program we have a saying on 2 strikes, “BE READY FOR 104 OR 64”! Conversely, we are absolutely okay with taking a 0 strike or 1 strike pitch that we are not prepared to hit because we do not want our hitter to be ready for 104 or 64 on 0 or 1 strikes because we do not want their timing to get “caught between speeds!”


A more technical explanation of our dependent and independent variable example: (skip RED part if you are not interested in a technical explanation)

Our goal for each individual pitch is: To reach base safely gaining the maximum possible bases available to us on the current pitch while simultaneously limiting the factors that can cause outs.

To reach our goal, a hitter must understand 3 things:

1. Each pitch = independent variable(s) whose dependent variable has the equal amount of chance of occurrence each pitch. (DEPENDENT VARIABLE = RESULT OF AT BAT)


2. To limit a negative result and maximize a positive result, a hitter must focus on certain elements of the independent variable(s) and eliminate some other elements of the independent variable(s).


3. The more consistent the control variables are, the more likely a positive result in the at bat will be.


IN (PART 2) of my 2 strike hitting post I will discuss how to teach the 2 strike approach and how to be ready for 104 or 64.

WHAT CAN I EXPECT A 2 STRIKE APPROACH TO DO FOR MY TEAM?


1. A 2 strike approach will help your hitters lose their fear of striking out because you have ARMED THEM TO NOT STRIKE OUT! When you challenge your hitters with the nastiest stuff they will see all year everyday in practice, your hitters will feel invincible in 2k counts during the game. Now THIS DOES NOT MEAN THEY WILL NOT STRIKE OUT, but it does have them controlling their psyche better (one of the control variables) when hitting in 2k counts. Although hard to gauge, I have come to find that our hitters report having a much more positive self dialogue and inner talk in 2 strike counts as the year progresses due to an increased comfort level.


2. Your teams 0 and 1 strike hard hit rates should increase! Because your hitters are not afraid to hit in a 2 strike count, they are more likely to take pitches they do not want to hit in a 0 or 1 strike count, or better put, more likely to take pitches they are not in rhythm with or are not timed up to hit when in a 0 or 1 strike count. If your hitters understand that pitchers can use speed, location or movement to get them out, your hitters can really hone in on getting in sync with a certain pitch early in the count and when they get that pitch, they are better equipped to hammer it.


Also, what you will probably notice in a hurry is that by honing in on “their” pitch, a hitter will swing at less bad pitches and increase the amount of balls that they are seeing during an AB thus placing themselves in hitters counts more frequently and increasing a pitcher’s pitch count.


Coach Jerry Weinstein said it best in a tweet: “H'S consider developing UR 2K approach B4 U develop UR less than 2k approach. Having confidence U can hit w/2K'S makes 4 a better more disciplined hitter w/less than 2K'S.Many of the elements that make U a + 2K hitter translate back into making U a better hitter w/less than 2K'S.” - @JWonCATCHING


And coach Steve Springer is famous for talking about hunting pitches, here he says in a tweet: “I promise you're cheating yourself if you dont hunt pitches/speeds as Clint hurdle always says-its really hard to hit 94 and 79 at same time” - @qualityatbats


3. Your team will be battling the opposing team’s bullpens late in the game rather than a starting pitcher who is in a groove. If your hitter is executing his 2K approach properly, he will wind up taking those 0-2 breaking pitches in the dirt and laying off the neck high FB while simultaneously “spoiling” the opposing pitchers nastiest stuff.


Anthony Rizzo, who is one of the few MLB’ers using a 2k approach, elaborates on spoiling opposing pitchers nastiest stuff in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKOLf2hiYm0 – Anthony Rizzo on 2 - Strikes


Due to the guidelines of the PitchSmart initiative, pitch counts in high school are very important. Implementing a 2k approach makes 6-8 pitch at bats more the norm than the exception, and these extra pitches through borderline takes and foul balls. We always say “We don’t have to beat an opposing teams ace, we just have to outlast him”.


Coach Jim Scwanke wrote an amazing article about this concept in Collegiate Baseball: http://baseballnews.com/instruction/hitter-discipline-can-beat-elite-pitchers/

4. Your OBP and OBPE will significantly increase if you use more plate discipline and conversely can put more balls in play. I always say, I coach HS baseball not MLB baseball. Although I am preaching sharp gappers with our 2k approach, sometimes an intended sharp gapper simply turns into a ball in play. This past season our team OBP was .417, but our OBPE was .457! We reached base on 59 errors after reaching base on 66 the season before posting an OBP of .419 and an OBPE of .466. Essentially by utilizing a great 2k approach, almost every other batter on our team reaches base over the course of a season. We have really been placing an emphasis on influencing the OBPE # by hustling out of the box on every play! I realized that the OBPE is a stat we can potentially manipulate in HS baseball whereas in MLB baseball or even college there are not as many errors to go around. I picked up on this stat because in 2016 our team posted OBP of .439 and OBPE .478. In 2017 our team did not get out of the box and down the line as hard as I felt we could and we posted OBP .445 and OBPE .468. In 2018 we made a pact to try to capture points on the OBPE by simply sprinting down the line no matter what and although inconclusive at the moment, you can see a trend over the past 2 years.


Why is it rare to see in MLB games?

Truth be told, with the worlds greatest hitters a 2k approach would probably work far better than it does at the HS or college level. Analytics favor the possibility of a homerun or double on each pitch and I understand why MLB teams employ the strategies they do because these are the stats they believe win games. The interesting thing would be to see leverage stats and how often a strikeout leverages the outcome of a game whereas a simple single would have changed the course of the game. I do not have access to the leverage stats at that level but I would think that if a hitter cost himself 5 homeruns, had 50 less K’s and 25 points higher on his batting average, he would be more valuable, but of course the Leverage Index may tell a different story. Perhaps, 2 strike approach should be employed in certain leverage situations and not employed in others in MLB baseball. This would be so interesting to see. Right now MLB seems to be all about HR or K and no in between, but perhaps there are situations where increasing a K percentage by not respecting all independent variables of an AB matter.


In short, many HS hitters do not have the potential for a HR at the same rate MLB hitters do and thus the reason it makes far more sense to employ this strategy at the HS level and not emulate the MLB strategy as they are the best of the best.

In our next blog post we will explain a few of the techniques used to accomplish generating a great 2k approach.


About the author: Coach Turco is a 5 time state champion hitting coach who coaches a nationally recognized high school program in Marietta, Ga. Coach Turco publishes the blog “State Championship Hitting” and posts work samples on twitter @championhitter





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