Adjusting to Off-Speed

Adjusting to Off-Speed

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Warren Spahn was quoted as saying “Hitting is timing and pitching is upsetting timing.”  One of the ways that pitchers try to upset a hitter’s timing is by changing speeds.  So how do hitters adjust to the changes in speed?  That’s what we’re going to analyze in this post.

Before we do that though, it’s best to know how much a pitcher can change speeds, and therefore time to the plate, to alter our timing.  Let’s break it down.  On average the pitcher releases the ball about 55 feet from home plate.  If the pitcher has a 100 mph fastball it takes about .395 seconds to get to the back of home plate.  Now let’s say he has an off-speed pitch at 80 mph, which takes .493 seconds.  (Note: These numbers are based on 5’ extension from the pitcher.  They were checked by Casey Fisk and include air drag thanks to Dr. Alan Nathan.  Both are great follows on Twitter.  Dr. Alan Nathan is @pobguy and Casey Fisk is @FiskPT.)  That’s a twenty mph difference in speed but around a .1 second difference in time.  To put the amount of time we’re talking about into perspective, the average blink of an eye takes about .4 seconds.  So we’re not talking about a lot of time to begin with and the amount of time we have to adjust to is even smaller.  That’s certainly not to say it’s easy but I wanted to put it into perspective.

One of the ways that hitters make adjustments to off-speed pitches is to land and sink into their front leg.  Normally, a hitter lands their stride and immediately continue their swing.  This sinking into the front leg allows the hitter to store their energy and keep their hands back just long enough to account for the difference in speed.

Let’s take a look at Mike Trout.  In the video on the left, he is hitting a fastball on the inner part of the plate for a home run to left.  In the video on the right, he’s sinking into the front leg in order to hit an off-speed pitch for another home run to left.

Here’s another example, this time with Kris Bryant.  This time I’ve added pauses to help show the difference.

Here’s a test: I used this Matt Carpenter clip in another post.  The adjustment in this clip is smaller and harder to see but see if you can spot it.

To take this post full circle, I want to circle back back to a blog I wrote earlier about coaching cues.  (Click here if you want to check it out.)  The most common cue for hitting off-speed pitches is to “stay back.”  I hope you can see how that cue can be confusing for players.  Give them better information and we’ll get better results!