Knowing situational hitting as a batter can make the difference when it comes to winning or losing in baseball. Situational hitters must be selfless. They often make key offensive plays at the right time to score big, sometimes sacrificing themselves in order to bat a run in.
But knowing the right play to make at the right time is only one part of situational hitting, players must also think on their toes and be able to read the play as it develops. The ability to make split-second decisions is key to becoming a better player and hitter.
Situational hitting is essential when it comes to building a solid team. But becoming a situational hitter isn’t just about knowing the correct plays to make, it also takes skill to make it happen.
Hitting is as much of a mental game as it is a physical one. Each play requires a read of the offensive players, the defensive players, and the pitch. Additionally, the batter needs to keep in mind the number of outs and strikes. Knowing the correct play for each read will help score runs or, at the least, take productive outs.
Mental Tips for Situational Hitting
Play the Game one Pitch at a Time
One important thing to keep in mind while learning or teaching situational hitting is to always play the game one pitch at a time. No matter how routine you think a situation or pitch will be, treat each one as a new opportunity. Creating and executing an effective offense that plays with the current pitch in mind will lead to more scoring runs and keep the defense on their toes.
Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Know what you’re capable of as a hitter. Every hitter has their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Are you really good at bunting? Do you have gap-to-gap power? Play to your strengths and weaknesses when you step up to the plate. Not only will this increase your effectiveness at-bat, but it will also help raise your teammates’ effectiveness as well.
Learn to Read the Pitcher
Every pitcher is different, and you need to pay attention to learn how to read them. Understanding the pitcher is the first step to being able to read pitches as they are delivered. Some things you should take note of when you are trying to read a pitcher: deception queues, release point, locations, and changes speed.
Visualize Every Aspect of The Hit
Visualize the game situation, the type of pitch, and how it will be delivered. Spend some time imagining exactly how you want your swing to look and feel. Mentally, you need to see yourself succeeding in order to. Successfully imagining a game situation, will prepare you to put it to use in an actual game.
Create a Routine
Being an excellent hitter is about being consistent. You should take the same approach every time you step up to the plate. The greatest hitters in baseball all had their own unique ticks that made their at-bats so fascinating to watch. You too will develop your own batting routine. The way that you approach each at-bat should be about feeling calm and collected. Mentally, you should be in the proper headspace to read the defense, the pitch, and make plays. Physically, you should be ready to knock one out of the park. Once you have a routine that works, be consistent about it.
The best thing you can do mentally to prepare for situational hitting is to expect success. No matter the game situation, the pitcher, or the inning always expect success.
Once prepared for the mental aspects of situational hitting, it’s time to discuss some of the actual hitting situations that might happen when you step up to bat. Remember, we are playing the game one pitch at a time. Every pitch is going to land differently, and you need to play to your own strengths and weakness to be a good situational hitter.
There are a lot of different hitting situations you might encounter as a batter. Depending on the number of strikes, outs, and runners, you will have to adjust your play accordingly. Some plays will require more finesse than others. Some require the batter to take a more aggressive approach. Each one will require you to make a decision as to which play you are going to attempt based on your read of the defense, the pitch, possible runners on base, and the number of outs.
The goal as a hitter with nobody on is always to get on base. It doesn’t matter if you are a professional at hitting dingers, always approach the plate with a goal of getting base. In some situations, especially when there are no strikes, it may be a better decision to go for a base hit rather than risk an out.
Runner on 1st and less than Two Outs
With a runner on 1st and less than two outs, the goal is to advance the runner while avoiding a double play. Advancing the runner can be done in a number of ways but the easiest way is usually hitting or bunting the ball to the right.
With a runner on 1st and less than 2 outs, a potential bunt should be hit towards first base.
Slash and Run
A well-executed slash and run is geared at drawing the infielders. The batter will fake a bunt and the infielders will usually move to cover. After the infielders are drawn, the batter should pull the bat back and hit a grounder to the gap, usually between SS and 2B. This play usually results in the runner from first advancing and the batter safely landing on first.
Hit and Run
On a hit-and-run play, the runner is going to go. The batter wants to create action among the fielders and open space in the infield.
The goal of a hit and run is to make contact with the ball. It does not matter where the ball is thrown, swing at everything. The only exception is if the ball is going to hit the dirt in front of the plate. If the ball is going to bounce in front of the plate, it is unlikely that the catcher will be able to move to pick it up and throw out the advancing runner that is trying to steal.
Try to hit ground balls. When the runner goes for a steal, he needs protection, and anything other than a ground ball leads to a potential double-play situation. Try to aim for the middle fielder at your opposite (2B for righties and SS for lefties). A successful hit-and-run play will be a hard base hit that is on the ground.
During a hit-behind play, 2B is preparing for a potential double-play so he is probably closer to the bag thus leaving a big hole on the right side of the infield. A hit-behind play is usually easier for lefties to execute but can still be done by other hitters in the right situation. It may not be considered situational hitting in some circumstances, but it is taking what the defense gives you and running with it.
Runner on 1st and Two Outs
When a runner is on first base but there are two outs, the batter needs to take an aggressive approach. The best play is usually one where the batter attempts to drive the ball through the infield.
Runner on 2nd and less than Two Outs
For situations with a runner on second base, the goal is always to advance the runner on second. Remember that anyone on second base is in scoring position. They are generally one hit away from a score.
With a runner on 2nd and less than 2 outs, a potential bunt should be hit towards third base.
A properly executed slash bunt will usually fake on the third baseman drawing him off the bag. The infielders may also make a move towards the infield. To do a slash bunt, the hitter shows bunt at release but then pulls back and swings before the ball crosses the plate. The batter should aim for the gaps created by the fake bunt, usually between SS and 2B. The runner should easily be able to advance if the play goes as planned and the slash bunt is performed correctly.
In a hit-behind situation, go for a grounder to the right side of the runner. The SS may field the ball, but his momentum will most likely lead him to make the throw to 1B instead of 3B allowing the runner to advance.
With a deep fly ball, the runner can advance by tagging up and may even be able to score. In order to increase your chances of a successful deep fly ball and tag up by the runner, hit the ball to deep center or right field. The outfielders have to throw much farther which will increase the likelihood of success.
Runner on 3rd and less than Two Outs
Whenever there is a runner on 3rd, the goal is always going to drive the runner in. A successful hit will either end with a scored run or a productive out. The job requires reading the infielders and making a play accordingly. No matter what play you go with, try to get a hard base hit. Worst case scenario, you end up with an RBI and a productive out. Baseball isn’t won without runs so always go for the score.
With a runner on 3rd and less than 2 outs, we want to take the out at 1st in order to score a run. A bunt in this situation is sometimes called a squeeze or a suicide squeeze. It is often done when the pitcher is throwing a lot of strikes and the hitter is a good bunter. This one takes some skill by both the hitter and the runner to pull off correctly. It may require some training and practice.
The hitter should square just as the pitcher is at the point of release. This keeps them from changing the pitch. The batter is going for a ground ball that should be bunted just in fair territory. Do not be concerned with the location of the bunt. In this situation, it is fine if the ball goes back towards the pitcher. As long as the ball is bunted to the ground in fair territory, the runner should score easily.
The runner on 3B needs to watch the ball and the pitcher’s front foot. If the ball is correctly bunted to the ground, they should break as soon as the pitcher’s front foot hits the ground.
If you notice that the infielders are hanging back, they are giving you a free run, take it. Go for a ground ball right up the middle towards 2B or SS and you are almost always certain to score an RBI.
When the infield is in, the defense doesn’t want you to score. The ball needs to be driven through the infield, hard. Aim for the outfield with a fly ball or line drive with the latter being the preferred hit. A grounder can work if it is hit hard and right through the infield.
Bases Loaded Less than Two Outs
The dream situation for any at-bat. A possible grand slam scenario, and almost a sure RBI. When bases are loaded, always walk up to the plate with the intention of getting an RBI. Remember that every RBI is one more point than the opposing team must also score. With the bases loaded you want to be aggressive, but you should still wait for your pitch. Keep in mind that the pressure in this situation is all on the pitcher, not the hitter. Try to drive the ball hard and deep. The hope is to score multiple runs but even in the worst-case scenario, a deep fly ball will score at least one run and advance other runners.
Knowing these hitting situations and practicing drills to place the ball exactly where you want it will lead to more team success, even if it comes as an expense to your batting average. Winning is more important than personal statistics and you should always put the team above yourself.
If you’d like to learn more about how to hit like the pros, read our post on hitting mechanics or visit our FAQ page for drills, practice plans, guides and more..