5 Things You Must Know Before Getting in the Box | The Hitter’s Pitching Guide

As hitters gain experience, they begin the process of categorizing pitchers into what I call “Buckets of Pitchers”.  The size of the buckets represent the amount of experience a hitter has against the various types of pitchers in each bucket. 

As a private batting coach of primarily high school and younger players, I have noticed that they simply don’t see certain buckets of pitchers very often and usually struggle against them.  I quickly realized that I needed to get them reps so I have adjusted training techniques to help them against lefties and odd balls since they see almost all right handers.  

Here is how I break down the “Buckets of Pitchers” from the largest to smallest buckets.

>>>>>>>After coming to grips with the different types of pitchers you'll see, you will also like our article on why you need more than one bat.

#1 Bucket - Tall & lanky RHP

Darvish throws a hard 95+mph fastball and a slider at 83. He's 6'5".

Pitches:  Four-seam fastball, overhand curveball, overhand slider & change up.

This is the pitcher most batters have faced most often.  This type of pitcher has a tendency to leave their pitches up including hanging curveballs and sliders.  They also can be deceptive with the four seam fastball if they throw hard.  This type of pitcher is often a starter and throws a lot of innings.  This pitcher has a tendency to focus his pitches on the outside corner.  They often live or die by their control and command of the outside corner.

How to approach this pitcher

The approach I used successfully against this type of pitcher was to look away and focus my thinking on right center gap.   Mechanically, this kept my front shoulder in and prepared me for the pitches away.  I had good vision against this pitcher as I could see the ball coming out of the hand better than the other RHP’s.  I remember several pitchers where I could see the ball and knew a fastball was coming.  Then on breaking pitches I could see the hand on the side or top of the ball letting me know a breaking ball was coming.  When I was really seeing the ball well, I could see the fingers raised off of a circle change up.    

My overall success rate:  B+

#2 Bucket - Usually stocky built RHP

Nolan Ryan threw both a two and four seam fastball as well as a circle change and traditional curve.

Pitches:  Hard sinker, hard slider and change up—maybe a split often with a lower arm slot.

This pitcher is the second most faced by batters especially at the college and pro levels.  They are often middle or long relief although some are starters and closers using their nasty sinker as the foundation for their style.  This pitcher uses angles to win.  Many pitch off the extreme first base side of the rubber and hyper-pronate their two seamer to dive hard into the inside corner of the right hand batter and outside corner of the left handed batter.  Their other pitch makes or breaks them—literally—their slider.  When they can snap off a nasty slider away after pounding the batter inside with the sinker, they are as tough as any pitcher type.  But often, their elbow is a time bomb.  It’s just a matter of time before the UCL is stressed beyond it’s limits and blows out. The rehab for the surgery is about a year and half but most come back with the same nastiness.

How to approach this pitcher

This type of pitcher was, by far, the toughest pitcher for me to face.  As I saw more of this type of pitcher, I learned to use my #2 bat which was an inch shorter and an ounce lighter.  I would get off the plate and dive in with my front shoulder trying to hit a line shot to the right center gap.  I had the best success using this approach but this pitcher type was still NASTY!

Overall success rate: D+

#3 Bucket - Tall and lanky LHP

No one personifies the tall lanky left handed fastballer more than Randy Johnson.

Pitches:  Hard four seam fastball with occasional cutter, a slow curve, a tight back knee slider and a change up.

This type of pitcher is the most common starting LHP at the college and pro levels.  This type of pitcher is often throws a ton of innings.  They are highly coveted by college recruiters and pro scouts because they are tough on left AND right-handed batters.  They throw over the top with a fastball that is fairly straight with a slight cut sometimes.  Most throw a slow curve that is tough on right-handers.  They also throw a nasty slider that bears down on the right handed hitters back knee or slides away from the lefties. The change up is sometimes their best pitch and is quite deceptive to the righties.  

How to approach this pitcher

Since this pitcher didn’t have anything that broke away from me as a right handed hitter, this was my favorite pitcher to face.  I hit well over .350 in pro ball against this type of pitcher by being aggressive early in the count and focused on left center field shots.  But the ones with the deceptive change up or the tight slider on the inside corner were very tough.  I hunted fastballs off this guy.

Overall success rate:  A-

#4 Bucket - LHP who couldn't break a pane of glass

Mark Buehrle threw an 85mph fastball.

Pitches:  Consistent slow sinker and occasional cutter, slow curve, spot slider, and good to great change up.  

How to approach this pitcher:

Most teams at the college and pro levels have at least one of these pitchers but they are somewhat rare.  This pitcher is often brought in to face lefties or pitch middle to long relief roles, although some are starters. This pitcher relies on movement and does NOT throw hard—often below average.  The slow sinker is very tough to get in the air and when you go to ambush a fastball, the sink causes deception.  This pitcher is a ground ball & double play specialist so learning to give up all notions of power helped me quite a bit.  

How to approach this pitcher

Whereas I was crushing home runs off the hard throwing LHP in #3 Bucket, facing this type of lefty required big time swing discipline.  Any thoughts of pulling this pitcher would result in a ground out to third or shortstop.  Once I learned to use a bat one inch shorter and one ounce lighter than my regular bat and crowd the plate, I began being much more consistent when I learned to think right field and give up on all thoughts of power.  The only power I had off this pitcher was when they tried to back door a curve or slider and left it up.  I had moderate success off of the ones who left their pitches up but when they owned the lower part of the zone, it was a tough day.

Overall success rate:  B

#5 Bucket - OddBalls

Like most things in life, there are always “Odd Balls” and the pitcher bucket is no exception.  Here is a list of the other types of pitchers that hitters have to deal with:

Side-armer / Knuckle-scraper 

RHP/LHP with sinker, slider, change or split who relies on deception from the unusual release point.

As the name implies, the “side-armer” or the extreme submarine pitcher I call a "Knuckle-scraper" has a much lower arm slot which causes sink and rise on pitches batters are not use to.  For example, a good side-armer has a fastball that sinks and a slider that rises.  We faced a Japanese pitcher on Team USA in 1988 and he struck out like 17 of us using aluminum bats!  He was so deceptive and we had never faced a pitcher with this type of repertoire.  

How to approach this pitcher

I learned a trick in pro ball that helped with seeing the ball better.  As the pitcher was winding up, I would look at his belt, back knee or back foot.  Why?  Depending on the level of the side arm delivery, the release would be at one of those three levels.  The side arm slider was my greatest nemesis of all the pitches I’ve ever faced.  This pitcher was never comfortable for me as a right handed hitter but my lefty buddies LOVED hitting off these guys.  They saw the ball so well and the slider to them was right in their wheel house.

Overall success rate: F  

Knuckleballer

RA Dickey, the most famous knuckle-baller today.

RHP/LHP specialist throwing knuckleballs 85% of all their pitches.

The knuckleball is not easy to throw, catch or hit.  I’ve been on both ends in pro ball but never saw a pure knuckleball pitcher in college or anywhere else so their rarity is half of the challenge as a hitter.  They throw much slower that any other type of pitcher which throws off the batters in mid season form.  The best knuckleball pitchers can move the ball in, out or straight down.  Some start to corkscrew and as a catcher I usually caught that one with my chest protector as I air balled it with the glove.

How to approach this pitcher

I used to work out in the off season with the legendary knuckleball pitcher, Charlie Hough.  His knuckler was so good and he had such great command.  But I quickly learned that when he throw a high knuckler in the bull pen, it was easy to catch—but a low knuckler danced all over the place.  That was because of the release.  High release and the ball floated—so that was the basis of my approach against knuckleballers.  I had GREAT success off them because I changed everything in my stance and mentality.  Simply put--I used a slow pitch softball stance with the lightest bat I had looking for high knuckleballs. The ideas was to be short/quick/compact and hunt high floaters. I hit a home runs off Tim Wakefield and others using this style.  It was like soft toss when they floated one.  This mentality also kept me from swinging at bad pitches low in the zone.  That’s falling right into their trap.

Overall success rate:  A

Pitchers with TWO+ unhittable pitches

RHP/LHP League Ace throwing an unhittable curve/slider and blazing fastball.

This pitcher can be first put into one of the pitcher buckets described earlier but this individual pitcher is special—he can throw TWO or more nearly unhittable pitches.  This pitcher is the one who racks up tons of strike outs especially looking.  The only thing, even pro hitters can do, is guess.  I hate to even write this because I never, ever “guessed” what was coming.  It was always fastball away and adjusted to speed then to spin then to location.  But when a guy is throwing a 90+ mph sinker in and a wicked slider on the outside corner it’s nearly impossible to hit both at the same time.

How to approach this pitcher

For me, I would sit on the sinker until two strikes.  The mentality was to hit the sinker back up the middle in the air.  There was no thought of pulling the ball and thinking right field made the bat angle dip too much for a positive result.

Overall success rate: C

Closers

Mariano Rivera recorded 652 saves, and MLB record.

RHP/LHP hot shot throwing absolute gas on good days and an unhittalbe change on bad.

The MLB closers these days are so nasty, they seem unhittable at times.  Most are throwing 95+ with another nasty pitch.  Some have a wicked cutter that works equally effective against right and left handed hitters.  When dealing with a pitcher with electric stuff, the batter has two options—make it happen or watch it happen.  You HAVE to be aggressive early in count hunting zones or you're an easy out.  If batters allow this type of pitcher to get two strikes, their chances of getting a hit are extremely low.  Like around .100.  Not the odds you want as a hitter.  

How to approach this pitcher

When you watch top hitters in MLB facing the top relievers, you may notice they take a lot of pitches.  What they are doing is shrinking the strike zone and carving out a zone to attack.  Mike Trout is the best at this.  He hunts location and hits any pitch in that location.  The closers don’t want to walk hitters so they go right after the hitters.  That’s the only advantage the hitter has so looking for ANY pitch in a specific zone is a great strategy against a closer.

Overall success rate: C 

Great Hitters Understand Every Pitcher

Understanding the type of pitcher you are facing is a major step towards more consistent quality at bats.  Knowing the type of pitcher allows you have the right bat size/weight chosen, the proper mental approach and a better chance of getting your timing set.  

In a typical pro ball game, I'd see pitcher #1 for two AB's, then pitcher #2 or #4 for one AB and finally face their closer for the final AB.  That's three different mental approaches and two different bats in one game.  

Even the best hitters have certain types of pitchers that give them trouble. Is it any wonder that hitting a baseball consistently is the toughest thing to do in all of sports?

About the Author

Campanis Bio


Jim Campanis, Jr. is the son of former Major Leaguer Jimmy Campanis, and grandson of long-time Dodgers’ General Manager, Al Campanis. Jim Jr. is a third generation professional baseball player, whose on-the-field career included All-American honors at USC, selections to the 1985 USA Junior National Team & Team USA in 1988, plus six seasons as a catcher in the minor leagues with one year on the major league 40-man roster. See his full bio for information on his book.

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Posted by Jim

Jim Campanis, Jr. is the son of former Major Leaguer Jimmy Campanis, and grandson of long-time Dodgers’ General Manager, Al Campanis. Jim Jr. is a third generation professional baseball player, whose on-the-field career included All-American honors at USC, selections to the 1985 USA Junior National Team & Team USA in 1988, plus six seasons as a catcher in the minor leagues with one year on the major league 40-man roster. His book, "Born Into Baseball" was an Amazon #1 Best Seller. Check out BornIntoBaseball.com for details.

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