A good pitch recognition test can start by asking yourself the right set of questions related to how well you're seeing the ball.
Often times, a symptom of not having good pitch recognition comes in the form of hitters who:
- freeze up on strikes (No Swing Trigger™)
- feel the fastball looks too fast
- aren't recognizing the "spin speed"
- are unable to recall previous pitch sequences (pitch sequence recall)
- Don't understand count leverage (Hitter's I.Q.™)
- Swinging at balls in the dirt
- Weak ground balls on the off-speed
A great way to test your pitch recognition is to actually write down how often these outcomes happen in your at-bats.
Some of these hitting principles are non-negotiable. For example, there is no excuse for knowing understanding count leverage and how that will change your approach to hitting. More on this later.
Let's dive in.
Freezing Up On Strikes (No Swing Trigger™)
The hitter digs into the batter's box. The pitcher delivers the pitch...BOOM.
It's a strike and not only that, it was a good pitch to hit. A belt-high fastball or a curveball left up in the zone.
If you're taking pitches you should be driving chances are, you're not ready to hit. In other words, your brain and nervous system aren't prepared to fire based on the visual cues.
If you're not assuming that the next pitch is a pitch you're going to drive hard (unless you have the take sign), then you will not be ready to attack the ball.
Often times, our pitch recognition takes a hit because we don't have our finger on the Swing Trigger™.
So we get locked up on the inside fastball, we freeze on the outside fastball, or we get surprised by the hanging breaking ball or off-speed.
Pitch recognition test # 1 is asking this question...
"Are you ready to attack the baseball?".
If the answer is no, then superior pitch recognition is hard to achieve.
The Fastball Looks Too Fast
One of the biggest challenges hitters face, especially when making the transition to the next level in baseball is slowing the game down.
Another way to test your pitch recognition is by measuring your ability to slow pitches down to see them as well as possible.
Here's the thing and I've said it countless times.
"You can have the sweetest swing on the planet and all the confidence in the world with the most expensive bat on the market...
...if you're not seeing the ball as well as you possibly can, your swing will fall apart, your confidence will shrink, and that $300 bat is worthless."
Often times, we make the fastball look faster when there is too much head movement. The more the head moves, the more the eyes move. The more the eyes move, the harder it will be to pick up spin, speed, and location.
The head is directly connected to our feet.
In other words, how much of a stride we have, and whether or not we're lunging.
Sometimes, this happens because of a leg-kick. Other times it's because we're leaking or shifting to much weight onto our front foot after we make contact.
Pitch recognition test #2 is asking this question.
"How much is your head moving?".
If it's a lot, slow your feet down, cut down your stride and minimize head movement.
The less your head moves, the better your eyes work.
The better your eyes work, the slower the game will be.
Not Recognizing Spin Speed
As a hitter, if you don't have what different pitches look like organized in your mind, your ability to swing where the pitch will be when it arrives in the zone will underachieve.
As hitters, we don't swing at where the pitch is out of the pitcher's hand or when traveling through the pitch plan. Rather, we swing at where we anticipate where the pitch will be based on the earliest point we pick up the pitch.
The sooner, the better.
However, all of this means nothing if haven't learned to recognize the difference in spin types and speed with various pitches.
Fastball have quicker spins so a darker shade.
Offspeed pitches have a slow spin so a lighter shade.
I've broken down the difference between various pitch types, speed, and movement in a previous article.
Pitch recognition test #3 is asking this question.
"Are you able to tell the difference between spin shade on the different types of pitches?"
The quicker you can recognize the difference, the sooner you can adjust and attack pitches that are good pitches to hit. This also optimizes your Hitter's I.Q.
Unable To Recall Previous Pitch Sequences
Some of the qualities of an elite hitter is the ability to:
- produce positive expectancy
- rehearse success
- make quick adjustments based on past performance
In other words, being able to look forward towards your next chance to perform and execute, visualizing yourself perform well while using past at-bats as data to dictate your future at-bats.
As a hitter, if you're unable to mentally recall what the pitcher through you in your previous at-bat, how do you expect to compete with 100% confidence while making key adjustments at the plate?
More importantly, if the pitcher has a specific strategy on you, and you can't recall what it was, how do you expect to have a counter-strategy?
For example, a soft throwing lefty threw you two inside fastballs. One of them you pulled foul and the other one you took for a strike. Then he struck you out on a changeup away.
Do you think he's going to throw a fastball away? NO! He's going to challenge you on what you struggled with in your last at-bat.
If you can't recall the previous pitch sequence, how do you expect to make the adjustment?
Pitch recognition test #4 is asking this question.
"What was the pitch sequence in your last-bat?"
Your pitch recognition recall is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes.
Not Understanding Count Leverage (Hitter's I.Q.™)
Want a real advantage as a youth hitter? Truly understand count leverage and let it dictate your approach at the plate.
1-0, 2-0, 3-1 are all good hitter's counts to be geared up to be ready to hit while letting your pitch recognition do the work.
Why are these call count leverage? Because it's really hard for the defense to defend against walks.
When we're unaware of the various hitter's counts, we're unable to anticipate pitches because we don't know the situation.
A big part of this is watching the pitcher in every step he takes.
Pitch recognition test #5 is asking this question.
"Do you know when you have count leverage?"
If you don't, the pitcher will always be one step ahead, and your ability to visually anticipate pitches will fall short.
Swinging At Balls In The Dirt
I once spoke to a well-known college baseball recruiter, and here is what he told me about his approach to recruiting hitters.
First, he could care less whether or not you get a hit or not during the game.
He wants to see two things.
How you deal with adversity and your plate discipline.
Often times, swinging at balls in the dirt means you're not picking up the pitch early because your approach is off.
Want to know a quick and easy way to show a recruiter that you have good instincts and a Hitter's I.Q.™?
Avoid reaching for balls out of the zone, especially when you're behind in the count.
How do you do this? You master posting & zoning up in the zone.
In other words, you're aggressive on pitches up in the zone. A curveball or changeup that starts low will end up in the dirt. A curveball or changeup that starts up in the zone will end up as a strike when it crosses home plate.
Pitch recognition test #6 is asking this question.
"How good are you at laying off on pitches in the dirt while attacking pitches up in the zone?"
Zone up, load late, use the entire field. The better you do this, the more time you have to see the ball and make the proper adjustment.
Weak Ground Balls On The Off Speed
Pete Alonso, Aaron Judge, Mike Trout...these guys are freakishly strong and can hit a ball over the fence with as much effort as you flicking your wrist.
But even they don't crush every ball they swing. Why is that?
Sometimes it's because the made contact with the wrong side of the ball.
The pitcher did a good job of keeping them off balance, so they hit the ball a tick too far out front instead of letting the ball travel while attacking the inner-half of the ball.
When you let the ball travel deeper in the zone, you see the ball longer and you increase your chances of making hard solid contact which is what we want at the end of the day.
Most of our thrown away at-bats are from pulling pitches we have no business pulling.
It's really hard to have superior pitch recognition when we're not using all the time we're given to recognize the pitch.
Let the ball travel, see the ball better, period.
Pitch recognition test #7 is asking this question.
"How good are you at letting the ball travel while attacking the inner-half of the ball?"
Use the big part of the field and attacking the inner half of the ball will optimize your pitch recognition.
Pitch Recognition Test: 7 Key Questions
If you want to test your Pitch Recognition abilities a good place to start is by asking these seven questions.
- Are you ready to attack the baseball?
- How much is your head moving?
- Are you able to tell the difference between spin shade on the different types of pitches?
- What was the pitch sequence in your last-bat?
- Do you know when you have count leverage?
- How good are you at laying off on pitches in the dirt while attacking pitches up in the zone?
- How good are you at letting the ball travel while attacking the inner-half of the ball?"
Get these right. If they're weaknesses, work on them until they become strengths.
Superior pitch recognition allows for your natural abilities to shine through.