Situational Hitting 101
By Darren Fenster
The ability to handle the bat, moving runners along and later driving them in, many times, will be the difference between winning and losing a game. To be a productive situational hitting team, hitters must take a team-first attitude into the box and have an approach. Approach is where it’s known exactly what the job is, and, just as important, what is needed to be done in order to get that job done. Just like with everything else in the game, the mental side of the game must be practiced right along with its physical execution.
HIT & RUN
Why we do it: To create action that moves the defense around and opens up holes on the infield. It’s also an effective way to stay out of the double-play and/or to advance a runner.
The job at hand:
1. Know that you will be swinging at everything except the ball in the dirt.
2. Mentally get into a “read” approach in order to identify the pitch early.
3. Hit the ball where it is pitched- pull the inside pitch, go the other way on the outside pitch.
4. Must get the ball on the ground AND out of the middle.
The hitter’s goal is to get a hard-base hit on the ground, with the worst-case scenario being that the runner has advanced with a ground ball out.
MAN ON 2ND, 0 OUT- ADVANCE THE RUNNER
Why we do it: To get the base-runner to 3rd with 1 out so the next hitter can drive him in with a productive out.
The job at hand:
1. Get a pitch to hit a ball on the ground back up the middle to shortstop’s left or to the right side of the field.
2. Handle the bat head to get the ball back up the middle or to the right side, staying on top.
BUNTING IS ALWAYS AN OPTION IN THIS SITUATION. The hitter does not need a sign. It is far more beneficial to successfully advance the runner with a bunt, then fail with a swing. The job is to move the runner, any way it can be done.
The hitter’s goal is to get a hard-base hit through the middle or right side of the infield, with the worst-case scenario being that the runner has advanced to third with a ground ball out.
MAN ON 3RD, < 2 OUTS- DRIVE THE RUNNER IN
Why we do it: To score a run with, at worst, a productive out.
The job at hand:
1. Know where the infield is playing and adjust your approach accordingly.
2. Put the ball in play in line with where the infield is playing, and drive the runner in.
If the Infield is Back- The opponent is giving a run. Take it every time! A ground ball to SS or 2B is a guaranteed run and the easiest RBI in all of baseball.
• Get a pitch to hit a ground ball to SS or 2B
• Handle the bat head and hit the ball where it’s pitched, staying on top, using the middle of the field.
If the Infield is In- The opponent doesn’t want to give up a run, so the hitter must look to drive the ball hard through the drawn in infield.
• Get a pitch to hit hard- remember with the infield in something hard has a chance to get through, even if it’s on the ground.
• Do not change the swing to try to hit a fly ball; rather change what pitch to look for, and seek something up in the zone, because that’s the easiest ball to get into the outfield because it’s already elevated.
In both situations, the hitter’s intention should still be to get a hard-base hit somewhere, with the worst case being that he drives in that runner with a productive out. Every run scored is one more that the opponent needs to win the game, so be sure to take advantage of every opportunity to score runs regardless of the inning or the score.
Teams that execute situational hitting well are the teams that get the most productivity out of each one of their 27 outs. It’s a skill that can and should be developed every single day during batting practice, and it’s a skill that can and will result in winning games.
Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.