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

Come up to the Pope baseball field on any given practice day in the spring and you’re sure to hear someone from the enclosed batting cage yell out the phrase: “GIVE THAT MAN A DOUBLE”! GTMAD (for short) has become a sort of rallying cry for the Pope offense over the past 3 or 4 years as 0K and 1K batting practices have become hard hit ball extravaganzas of exit velo and proper launch angles.


Truth be told, usually the guy yelling GTMAD is me but that’s only because we want to absolutely CRUSH balls all over the ballpark and metaphorically destroy our opposition by mashing doubles and bombs. And quite frankly, we don’t really care how our guys do it. Outside pitch to righty pulled down left field line? Who cares, it’s a double. Center cut FB blasted over the CF head for 1st pitch of the AB? Great, it’s a double. Lefty lines an outside pitch oppo just inside LF foul line? SWEET…. It’s a double!


Attacking pitches early in the count and mashing doubles is something we practice everyday because as a wise coach knows, the best 2k approach is to SMOKE A DOUBLE on 0 or 1 strikes and stay out of a 2K count. We preach to our hitters that 0K and 1K counts are counts where you are looking to do damage to the baseball and create extra bases.


We also tell our hitters that “their at bat belongs to their team”. In essence, any player on the team can be given that particular at bat and the AB should be treated as a sacred gift. Players will gain fame, glory, and potentially scholarship money or MLB draft money from crushing gappers on 0 and 1 strikes and that everything they earn through their successful performance during the AB is theirs to keep, but the price they must pay for the spoils of their success is that if they get to 2 strikes, they must execute our 2 strike approach for the good of the program, team, and teammates!


If a hitter gets into a 2 strike count, doubles and bombs are no longer the central focus of the at bat. The central focus of a 2k at becomes grinding out an AB and helping the team by seeing multiple pitches, fighting off a pitchers best stuff, and mentally and physically executing an approach that increases our chances to reach base when we are forced to hit in a count that where we must consider all variables of the incoming pitch (speed, location, movement).


IT ALL STARTED WITH TRYING TO HAVE MORE BB + HP THAN K’s


When we 1st set out to execute our 2K approach we were simply attempting to have more BB + HP than strikeouts. I didn’t really have a great reason for wanting to achieve this goal other than I had always heard this was a mark of a good hitting team.


So by year 2 we accomplished this goal, but we also lost in the 1st round of the playoffs! Our K rate had gone down but so did our BB + HP rate and our OBP had astoundingly dropped 56 points! I began to question if more BB + HP actually mattered as a data point…….. (it does and I’ll explain why in a bit, I just didn’t know it at that moment)


Here are some of the numbers of the years we have employed a 2K approach



EVOLUTION OF A PLAN

Let me explain how this whole thing evolved so you can better understand the trial and error that led us to where we currently are now.

IN 2013 I knew we could win state before the year started. We were coming off back to back Elite 8 appearances and we returned many hitters with tons of natural skills and lots of POP. I now refer to the 2013 team as the original #RAKECITY and superstar hitter (and current Tampa Bay Ray) Nathaniel Lowe was our MAYOR! To say we could hit is an understatement as we mashed our way to the state championship with a .361 batting average, 91 doubles and 33 HR’s. (Check out Lowe’s walkoff GRAND SLAM to win in the state championship series, that’s pretty much how our season went) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tpryd_lRXTw&list=PLYavBGHGVdQhK1sg2pdfgZY-SxhA5nlgb&index=4)


Lots of our #Rakecity hitters had massive leg kicks and “long” / powerful swings that were subject to a bit of swing and miss at times. I knew that if I could simply help the offense generate RBI opportunities than we would have a really good chance to win state so we needed to figure out a way to cut down on the K rate and increase our balls in play in hopes of getting more runners on base.


Our 2k approach that season (the 1st that we truly employed a 2k approach and the 1st year of implementing the state championship hitting plan) was fixated around the concept of putting the ball in play and running hard down the line in an effort to generate errors by the defense. We attempted a “foot down early” approach and shortening up the swing to get the ball on the ground.


That year we still K’ed 198 times and only walked/ HBP 187 times and although we won state, I really wanted to get that BB + HP number higher than our K number.


ACHIEVING A NUBMER does not = SUCCESS


In year 2 (2014) we really stressed contact on 2k counts regardless of how weak the contact was. We viewed balls in play as a win and in turn we cut down our strikeout numbers per game to a program record 3.92 per game and our HBP / BB exceeded our K number! I was happy that we had achieved a positive ratio of BB + HP to K’s but we were knocked out in the 1st round of the playoffs and our OBP was less than .400.


After some soul searching I began to think that stressing and celebrating weak contact negatively impacted our OBP and I didn’t have the data to quantify OBPE because our stat program did not track that stat and in turn the stat did not even enter my consciousness.

Truth be told, our guys didn’t like our 2k approach in the early years so in year 3, 2015, I experimented with going away from the foot down early approach and allowed more freedom in the leg kick of the hitters to have better 2K rhythm.


The results of this proved devastating…..our K’s exceeded our BB and 75% of our K’s were swinging strikeouts either out on our front foot or late swings! Although we had a decent year making it to the Final 4 where we lost to eventual national champion Parkview High in a close series, I was determined to find a better answer to the 2k conundrum.


OUR CURRENT 2 STRIKE APPROACH


After making notes to myself in the offseason, some OBSERVATIONS had become apparent:


1. If we can defend against the pitch that gives our hitters the least amount of reaction time, than we can essentially hit ANYTHING! This is when I learned that this observation had a name….”Effective velocity” – check out Perry Husband – the father of EV @EVPerryHusband


2. 0K swing kinetics and 1K swing kinetics need to be essentially identical to our 2k swings.


3. Although we need identical kinetics, on 2K we cannot afford to get out on our front foot on changeups and we cannot be caught with foot in air rushing to get it down in time mid pitch because a strike that we take is an out!


4. We cannot just give up “free” outs to the defense because we don’t want those outs to come in the form of K’s.


5. 2k hits are DEVESTATING for the opposing pitcher and pitching coach calling the pitches


6. Players MUST BE COMFORTABLE with the 2k approach we are asking them to do.

7. Foul balls in 2k counts are effective weapons in winning the baseball game.


8. An HBP is the ONLY guaranteed way to reach base and somehow we must incorporate that into our plan.


In an attempt to work within the boundaries of the observations I made, I retooled our 2k approach into the one we use to this day.


1st: Our hitters must allow the ball to travel as deep as possible prior to swinging to defend against multiple speeds.

2nd Our hitters will sacrifice out front contact and in turn power for increased exit velocity and a lower launch angle. (our ultimate goal is sharp singles over the infield between the LCF and RCF gaps)

3rd: Our hitters will gear down swing intensity to 80 – 90% to help guarantee proper mechanics which allows for maximal energy transfer while also gaining an estimated thousandth(s) of a second(s) of the bat being in the hitting zone. (the gaining time in the hitting zone is something I theorize as I can’t find any studies done on it anywhere but believe it to be true)


I remember watching the 2015 WS and vividly remember David Wright hitting his homerun in game 3. Wright used the Foot Down early approach I wanted my hitters to use but he did it while still generating enough power to get the ball out of the ball park. Coming into the 2016 season, I utilized Wrights video clip to be the model of our 2k swing setup. Clip found here: David Wright 2015 WS HR

(We also utilize video of Curtis Granderson because he frequently uses this same swing setup)


Once our guys saw it modeled successfully on video, it was like almost immediate buy in or perhaps better understanding of how to execute the setup.


When watching this video, here are the important “Points of emphasis” I am always certain to point out.


1. Wright’s foot gets down prior to ball leaving pitchers hand

2. Wright’s weight is still loaded on rear leg with front heel in air but toe is on ground ready to trigger swing with heel drop.

3. Wright utilizes the same weight transfer through pelvis after front heel drop that would be used during his normal stride swing

4. Wright utilizes the same bat path with upper ½ he would utilize with a normal stride swing


The Wright setup is the foundation that allows us to execute the 2K plan


Because we are already in our launch position prior to the pitch being thrown we are afforded TIME! Time is of the essence in our 2K approach.


Since we no longer have to worry about striding and synchronizing our stride to the pitcher, we can focus on pitch identification and allowing the pitch to gain maximal depth.

We have our player learn their maximal depth by cueing in on a cone that we place in front of them during 2K batting practice each day at the 10 FT mark. This is part of our timing window BP described in the blog post (https://championhitter.wixsite.com/coachturco/post/great-bp-pitcher-give-him-a-raise)


Because our hitter knows that the swing will begin on front heel drop, we instruct the hitter to not begin heel drop until the ball gets between the 20 and 10 foot window. It is tough to quantify when our hitters actually drop the heel in relation to where the ball is in reference to them, but by consistently cueing that they let the ball get to “10 feet”, our hitters allow the pitch to travel to them gaining vital pitch information the entire time. By the time a hitter realizes he must begin his swing, many times they have already identified the pitch as an off speed pitch that will finish out of the strike zone and they take the pitch as a ball. Taking these off speed pitches that most teams swing at is frustrating for the pitcher and the pitch caller and many times when the opposition knows we will not swing at balls, the pitcher serves up a more hittable 2K offering.

Also, by taking these pitches, it not only runs up the pitch count getting the starting pitcher closer to being pulled from the game, but it also is one of the reasons why our BB + HP % skyrocketed in the years we employed this strategy!


Lastly, by allowing the pitch to gain depth, we arguably gain exit velocity and increased exit velo which = hard hit balls. I believe this is a partial explanation for the increase in our OBPE as well as simple hustle. An article by fan graphs explains the exit velo phenomenon: https://blogs.fangraphs.com/power-hitters-should-make-contact-out-in-front/

We also sacrifice a bit of intensity in our swing but we are still getting close to maximal exit velocity just at a lower launch angle off the bat. By creating a lower launch angle with good exit velo, we are no longer just putting weak balls in play for the sake of not striking out. Now, we are able to shoot sharp line drives over the infielders heads! If we slightly mishit the ball sometimes the sharp single becomes a soft single, and our hitters have proven time and time again that “SOFT SINGLES WIN”!


What does a 2K practice look like?

WE practice 2k hitting EVERY DAY off live arms by giving rounds of 5-6 pitches and mixing in every conceivable pitch we can throw them. Hitters learn that the swing is exactly the same swing kinetically as their regular stride swing and by repping it daily the hitters gain a comfort level with the proper foot down approach.


One of the unique aspects of this practice is the fact that we have to throw speed equivalent to 95+ on the inner black to force our hitters to be able to react to this pitch and at worst foul it off. We typically do this from 40 feet without the player knowing what we are going to throw. Early in the year, we absolutely master our guys and they have no prayer of catching up to this FB on the inner black. Although players are experiencing insane failure, we continue to do it. The hitter will eventually figure out how to organize his heel drop timing in order to hit this pitch successfully, or at worst, foul it off. Against pitchers that have this type of insane velocity, it helps to incorporate the Front Leg Adjustment discussed in the blog post: https://championhitter.wixsite.com/coachturco/post/elite-stuff-no-problem

By the end of the season you will be ABSOLUTELY AMAZED at what your players are able to get a bat on. I am astounded every single season at the development of our hitters from day 1 to day 130.


Once our batter knows he can react to 90+ on inner black, the hitter has no fear of a slower speed out over the plate or even outside because he has more reaction time to hit that pitch. We also work on picking the ball up early out of the pitchers hands and we do a variety of pitch identification drills to help maximize the amount of time to read the pitch.


Back to BB + HP and does it matter

In closing I will say that I have learned a good 2 strike approach is a tool to help calm the hitter during a stress heightened 2k at bat. Because the hitter has confidence he will not strike out, he is far less likely to anxiously swing at garbage pitches thus decreasing his K rate.

Simultaneously, since the hitter is taking balls, it increases his BB rate. I have seen the largest increase in this area of the 2K approach and I can say that if done properly, the BB + HP ratio will increase in proportion to K’s because you will walk more so the number does matter because it will raise your OBP and OBP gives you chances to score.


Lastly, the only guaranteed way to reach base on any given pitch is an HBP! We give out costume armor for any of our players willing to get hit by a pitch. As part of the glory they can gain during their at bat we prominently display the picture of the hitter in his armor on social media. We have been hit by pitches over 50 times the past 3 years. These 50+ HBP’s have assuredly helped us in reaching the state championship game each of the past 3 seasons. And yes you guessed it, when we get nailed by a pitch our entire dugout erupts with “GIVE THAT MAN THE ARMOR”




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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