Better Late Than Ugly: Two-Strike Hitting
Last month my business partner of 19 years, our CFO/COO, Amy Marsh and I were invited to New York City for the East Coast premiere of director Frank Chen’s highly acclaimed documentary, Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story. The movie chronicles the inspirational journey of Taiwanese superstar Chien-Ming Wang’s resurgence and returns to the big leagues. The Texas and Florida Baseball Ranches are featured in the film. Wang’s credits his work with at the Ranch as playing a pivotal role in helping him make it back.
When Frank picked us up at the airport and dropped us at the hotel, Amy and I agreed to meet downstairs at 4:00 pm. The premiere was scheduled to air at a Chinese movie theater approximately a 40-minute cab ride or Uber from our hotel.
At around 3:00 pm, I showered, dressed and headed to the lobby. I arrived at 3:45 pm, but Amy was nowhere to be found. At 4:00 pm I texted her and asked for a status check. She responded with a text: “Working on makeup and hair. Be there in 5 minutes. If not, read this text again.”
I ordered an Uber and waited … looked at my watch … and waited some more.
By 4:20 I was getting progressively more impatient. This is not the kind of event we wanted to be late to. Finally, at 4:25, the elevator doors opened and Amy walked out. She was wearing a classy black dress and heels and she looked great. I gave her a frustrated, sideways look, fearful that we would miss the red carpet walk or the pre-movie director’s/producer’s comments.
“What took you so long?” I asked.
Turns out it was a dumb question.
Amy sauntered by and headed toward the front door. As she passed me, she grinned slightly shrugged her shoulders and uttered, “Better late than ugly.” Without another word, she got into the car, and we were off.
As I thought about her comment, it occurred to me that it was an excellent description of our “2-strike approach” to hitting here at The Florida Baseball Ranch®
You see, in our system, there are only two possible hitting counts:
two strikes and … not two strikes
When we are in “not two strikes” counts, we take daddy hacks, swinging hard in case we hit it. We use a constraints-led approach to training the swing while incrementally increasing variability to improve perception-action coupling. For more on that, see the two blogs a wrote a while ago called:
Our goal is a ball hit 100 mph at a launch angle of 18-32 degrees. Statcast data indicates that for balls in play with those metrics a hitter’s batting average would be .592 with 97% of those hits being doubles, triples, and homers.
That’s good, right?
Even if we have a younger player who can’t yet reach 100 mph exit velocities, we train him as if he will be able to do it someday. There’s not much I hate more than to hear a coach tell a kid, “Don’t try to do too much. You’re not a big guy. You’re not going to be able to hit home runs.”
Thank goodness no one told Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve, Francisco Lindor, Khris Davis, and Jose Ramirez anything like that.
Coaches and instructors who pigeonhole players by encouraging them to “stay within themselves” often create a self-fulfilling prophecy that stifles development. Forecasting a player’s potential based his current status probably plays a necessary (albeit highly inaccurate) role in recruiting and scouting, but if your job is to develop a player’s ability, I implore you to remember the biggest little word in the English language – “Yet.”
Can all of our guys hit balls 100 mph? Not yet. But with our SAVAGE strength and coordination program, we think every Ranch Guy has a chance to achieve that mark.
For many coaches and programs, a “two-strike approach” is one that calls for the hitter to “choke up, move up, spread your legs apart, get on the plate and try to put the ball in play.” Intent to do damage is removed, and the goal becomes not striking out – even if it means hitting a weak dribbler back to the pitcher or rolling into a double play.
That is not our approach.
When Ranch Guys get to two strikes, the swing doesn’t change.
The intent to do damage doesn’t change.
The only thing that changes is the goal for ball flight.
Initially, our right-handed hitters, when they got to 2 Strike counts were directed to try to pull only the #1 and #2 fastballs (#6 and #7 for lefties). We asked them to try to hit all other fastballs to the opposite field. The thought was that it would allow us to be more on time with off-speed pitches. However, after talking with several of our high-level hitters, we realized this was a flawed approach too. Our hitters relayed that when they tried to “go oppo,” they often lost barrel control and ended up pushing the ball toward the opposite field. Instead, they preferred to be intentionally late on fastballs when hitting with two strikes.
To me, that is a brilliant concept. If your swing is good. If your bat path has a slight cycloid loop that puts the barrel in the hitting zone early with lots of juice, you can afford to be late. The timing will be less of an issue for you. However, if your swing is level or down and you’re a “knob to the ball” guy, you’ll have to cheat to get to the fastball. This will leave you vulnerable to the dreaded 55-foot dirt curve or the changeup. You’ll end up out on your front foot waving feebly at off-speed pitches. That is ugly.
As a matter of Ranch Guy pride, Ranch Guys don’t strike out on dirt curves!
Because they have good swings and aren’t afraid to be late.
Recently, I was watching one of our college hitters on a live-stream feed of a collegiate summer league game. Two tough calls ran the count quickly to 0-2. Undaunted, our guy went to work. On consecutive fastballs he hit 3 rocket foul balls into the first base dugout, scattering his teammates and causing quite a ruckus. The announcer for the game said something like, “He’s hanging in there, but it looks like he’s having trouble catching up to the fastball here.”
I started screaming at the computer screen. “No dude! He’s doing that on purpose! Just wait! He’s on this dude because he not afraid to be late!”
On the next pitch, a slider, he doubled off the left-center field wall.
So … our message to hitters with two strikes is this:
If you cheat, you’re beat. If you’re cheating to get to the fastball, when you see a decent secondary pitch, your swing will get ugly fast.
Develop your swing to the point of confidence in knowing that even if you’re late, you can still get the barrel to the ball with authority. Practice being late on fastballs. When you get to 2 strikes, try to be late.
Once in a while you might overshoot, get a little too late, and appear to get blown away. That’s ok. A strikeout is better than an ugly rollover grounder into a double play.
In essence, two strike hitting is what Amy described as we left for the movie premiere.
Better late than ugly.
See you at The Ranch
Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS
Florida Baseball Ranch