The true value of foul balls and protracted hitter battles
Envision this, your teams starts off the 1st inning of the game with the following sequence:
Leadoff hitter - 1st pitch 92 mph exit velo line out to short. (1 pitch)
2nd Batter – takes a ball low then smokes an 88 mph gap shot liner that gets snagged by the RF (2 pitches)
3rd battier – takes a strike outside desired zone and then hits a 93 mph line out directly at cf. (2 pitches)
In the 1st inning, according to the quality at bat charts of many teams, the offense would have had “3 QABs" but absolutely nothing to show for it. Sure the hitters may feel good because they hit the ball hard, but the pitcher only had to utilize 5 pitches to record 3 outs. Is that really success?
What if that inning looked like this?
Leadoff hitter – takes strike down middle, lays off curveball in dirt, fouls off FB, takes FB high, fouls off 2 more pitches then hits a weak 6-3 ground out. (7 pitches)
#2 batter – Fouls off FB. Takes FB for K, fouls off 2 pitches, fly out to CF (5 pitches)
#3 batter – takes ball 1, fouls off 2nd pitch, lays off garbage in dirt, takes FB high, fouls off 2 more, lines out weakly to 2b. (7 pitches)
According to many QAB charts, none of those at bats qualify as “quality" at bats, but which inning gets a team closer to victory? Are the innings viewed the same because they were both 3 up 3 down innings or is the value of a 19 pitch inning greater than a 5 pitch inning?
Obviously hitting coaches emphasize hard contact because transferring max energy to the ball and creating max exit velocity increases the chances of getting a hit because it gives the defense less reaction time to field the ball, but hitting the ball hard is not the ONLY way to increase the chances of getting a hit, it's just the most obvious.
The harder the pitcher has to work to get outs and the more laborious an inning is ALSO increases the chances of a hitter getting a hit or reaching base safely. Tough outs and long at bats mentally & physically fatigue the pitcher and cause the defense to lose focus. Pitchers not only begin to tire, but as pitch counts rise, pitchers more importantly begin to lose sharpness of command.
So what is the point, are hitting coaches not supposed to teach hard contact?
Of course hitting coaches should preach hard contact but that should not be the ONLY thing hitting coaches are teaching and it definitely should not be the only thing (besides hits or successful situational execution) hitting coaches are celebrating. The ONLY advantage scenario 1 above (5 pitch scenario) would hold over the 2nd scenario (19 pitch scenario) is that the hitter would “feel" better than he would after scenario 2. However if hitting coaches celebrated the heck out of the part the hitter played in the 19 pitch inning and ingrained the importance of tough outs into hitting programs, than maybe the hitter would see value in their prolonged battle.
If we hitting coaches are not teaching hitters how to be tough outs than every tool possible to win the game is not being used. All outs ARE NOT EQUAL! If a team wants to win a game, the culmination of a teams concerted efforts should work in concert to wear a pitcher down and help raise pitch counts. By being a tough out, 1 hitters battle makes it more likely that themselves or their teammates will get a hit in later at bats.
In HS baseball for example, pitch counts are now a major part of the game especially with the PitcKount system governing the game. Every foul ball that is hit gets a team 1 pitch closer to being in the bullpen. SPOILING pitches, although unnoticed by the casual fan, pays dividends in the long run of the game. In this regard even outs become weapons in winning the game if the out is hard to secure.
This post is absolutely NOT saying that hitters should not be coached to go out and smoke DOUBLES off the wall, but perhaps hitting coaches should be finding better ways to track, chart and celebrate the small things in a game that go unnoticed on offense but play a huge role in ultimately winning the game.
The book “The Pack" by Matt Deggs discusses in detail how Coach Deggs utilizes this concept with his team to help their "wolfpack" with the “take down" of the opposing pitcher. Ultimately Coach Deggs teaches his players how to take ownership of their role in the "take down" and Coach Deggs discusses how he values things that may not appear on a QAB chart and how he gets his players to embrace this Pack mindset.
https://www.coachdeggs.com/pack/ - Link to Coach Deggs' products
In summary, hitters can't always hit the ball hard, so if hitting coaches CELEBRATE other things that contribute to wins, even tough outs, those actions will become more common and teammates will embrace and support one another's efforts, as they will begin to realize that 1 hitters Tough Out makes the next hitters success more likely.
About the author: Coach Turco is a 6 time state champion hitting coach who coaches a nationally recognized high school program in Marietta, Ga. Coach Turco publishes the blog Championshiphitting.com and posts work samples on twitter @championhitter