Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Timing is everything: The Ted Williams approach to hitting

by: Mason Kibler
Staff Writer

Ted Williams had a great swing, there's no doubt about it. But, his philosophies are what made him one of the best hitters of all time--the best, in my opinion.

Williams had a rule for himself that he almost always followed--never swing at a pitch you haven't seen. That means taking the first pitch of the day every time. He felt that even if he got a fastball down the middle, there was a chance of his eyes fooling him because he had not yet grasped the timing of the pitch. Sure, on a few occasions a pitch was so fat that he went after it, anyway. He once hit a first pitch breaking ball deep over the wall in right, and as he was trotting to first the opposing pitcher shouted, "what the hell are you doing?!" But, that was a rarity for the great slugger.

Hitting is timing, and the Reds have been helping out pitchers all season. Being aggressive is seemingly important to Dusty Baker, but in reality, the club fares better when they take pitches. All clubs do. It isn't just for wearing down the pitcher, or trying to draw a walk. It's because they are swinging at pitches they haven't seen.

Let's look at a few numbers so far this season:

Brandon Phillips is off to a rough start, and it is likely because of being told to "be aggressive" that he isn't performing better. Phillips swings at 57% of the pitches he sees--first on the team. The problem with that, is that Phillips is a naturally talented hitter, and he makes contact 75% of the time. This is the definition of being aggressive, however, it results in a low average because he is not timing his swing efficiently (hitting .250 on balls-in-play). The other telling stat is that only 17% of Brandon's strikes are looking--well below the league average of 28%. For Brandon, the key to getting back on track is to take pitches. Plain and simple.

To further this theory, here is the breakdown on Zack Cozart--who is off to a very hot start:

Zack looks at 41% of his strikes--the highest on the team and significantly above the league average of 28%. He swings at the first pitch only 11% of the time--least on the team, and a mile from the league average of 27%. He also swings at less total pitches than anyone else on the team. So, why is Zack hitting so well? Because he leads the team in contact percentage at 83%. He also has a batting average on balls-in-play of .419. That is Ted Williams hitting. If he mimics this philosophy for the rest of his young career, he's going to be something really special.

Other notable players:
Stubbs is on pace for another 200+
strikeout season.

- Ryan Ludwick has the worst contact percentage on the team so far, at 68%. He is also second on the team in swing percentage; 54%. That means--you guessed it--he swings and misses a lot.

- Drew Stubbs has, surprisingly, been taking a lot of pitches (except the first one). The problem is, when Drew swings, it's usually at balls. In fact, only 64% of his swings are at strikes. That would be fine, except his two-strike approach is by far the worst on the team--if not the league. Nearly 50% of his strike-outs are looking; a far cry from the league average of 24%. Essentially, Drew swings at balls early, and watches strikes late. That's the opposite of protection, or as Ted liked to call it, "conceding to the pitcher." 

You can give Mason a follow on Twitter (@RedlegsMason).

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