The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams

Summary

  1. I think you will find as we go along that much of what I have to say about hitting is self-education – thinking it out, learning the situations, knowing your opponent, and most important, knowing yourself. Lefty O’Doul was a great hitter, one of the prettiest I ever saw, and he always said that most hitting faults came from a lack of knowledge, uncertainty and fear – and that boils down to knowing yourself. You, the hitter, are the greatest variable in this game, because to know yourself takes dedication.

Key Takeaways

  1. Boudreau said, “That is not the way to pitch that guy.” The point, of course, is that you can’t beat a good hitter with the same pitch every time
  2. In my 22 years of professional baseball, I went to the bat almost 8,000 times, and every trip to the plate was an adventure, one that I could remember and store up as information. I honestly believe I can recall everything there was to know about my first 300 home runs – who the pitcher was, the count, the pitch itself, where the ball landed. I didn’t have to keep a written book on pitchers – I lived a book on pitchers.
  3. There were, as far as I’m concerned, two great pieces of advice given me early in my career. One was from Rogers Hornsby, when I was with Minneapolis the year before I went to the big leagues. He told me the single most important thing for a hitter was “to get a good ball to hit.” The other was given me when I needed it most, as a kid starting out at San Diego in the Pacific Coast League, cocky as they come but not really sure of myself, and it came from Lefty O’Doul, to my mind one of the great hitters of all time. He said, “Son, whatever you do, don’t let anybody change you.” Your style is your own.
    1. My first rule of hitting was to get a good ball to hit. I learned down to percentage points where those good balls were. The box shows my particular preferences, from what I considered my “happy zone” – where I could hit .400 or better – to the low outside corner – where the most I could hope to bat was .230. Only when the situation demands it should a hitter go for the low-percentage pitch. Since some players are better high-ball than low-ball hitters, or better outside than in; each batter should work out his won set of percentages. But more important, each should learn the strike zone, because once pitchers find a batter is going to swing at bad pitches, he will get nothing else. the strike zone is approximately seven balls wide (allowing for pitches on the corners). When a batter starts swinging at pitches just two inches out of that zone (shaded area), he has increased the pitcher’s target from approximately 4.2 sq ft. to about 5.8 sq. ft. – an increase of 37%. Allow a pitcher that much of an advantage and you will be a .250 hitter.
  1. What they all were saying was that there was no accurate “book” on me, and that’s what a batter strives for, but the fact is that the low-outside pitch was tough on me after I hurt the elbow. I was 25% weaker in that arm, and you need your outside arm for that pitch.
  2. The first rule of thumb is this: don’t’ hit at anything you haven’t seen
  3. I didn’t dread facing any of them [who he considered the best pitchers of all time], but when I went into a game knowing the pitcher was tough, it was better for me. Invariably, when I’d say, “Boy, I’m going to bust this guy,” it wouldn’t happen.
  4. I’m not sure it was intentional, but I have to think they could see no percentage in it. Newhouser knocked me down and struck me out that time, and I hit a home run next time up. Trout knocked me down, and I hit a home run on the next pitch. Same thing happened with Wynn.

What I got out of it

  1. Most people in baseball and investing know of Williams’ “strike zone” and how disciplined he was about only hitting the highest percentage pitches. What I got out of the book, more than that, was how quickly your odds deteriorate as you go for pitches outside your sweet spot. As the strike zone is a rectangle, if you add just 2″ to each side by not being disciplined, your odds of being struck out increase 37%. Knowing your “happy zone” and being disciplined about it is key.