Watching the World Series this past week begs a single question? Why can’t pitchers hit? Before you say because of their builds, think about those outfielders who are built like pitchers, and can hit.
Use it or lose it. They simply don’t take much batting practice, and have even fewer plate appearances. There’s obviously some truth here. But I’d argue that you’d never be able to train most of these pitchers to hit over .200. With infinite resources in an environment that rewards nothing but performance, couldn’t we figure this out?
Pitching is about control. It doesn’t matter if you can throw 105 if you can’t throw strikes. And not just strikes. You need to be able to pick small portions from around the plate. It takes a very specific mindset to throw 95 mph and hit spots. Especially 100 times in a row. And the mindset to hit such a pitch is completely different. Think about most of those pitching motions. They’re typically long and loose. It’s the baseball equivalent to a distance runner. Relaxed, predictable, endurance athletes.
Batting is about reaction. It’s the opposite of control. There’s not much time to react to a major league pitch. Most people can’t even see it. To hit a fastball, you need to be able to change your mind after the ball has been pitched. The movements are shorter, faster, and less predictable. A good hitter hits .300. Any pitcher that threw strikes 30% of the time would’ve stopped playing baseball in high school, or found another position.
Why are most professional pitchers so tall?
The longer levers help them throw harder while relaxed. Meaning more pitches on target, for a longer period of time. Your third baseman may be able to touch 94 on the gun, but chances are great that with his build he couldn’t throw many pitches consistently on target at that speed. It’s exactly this difference that allows the third baseman to outhit the pitcher every single game. The shorter levers and bigger muscles allow for more changes and more acceleration.
What does John Isner have to do with this?
He has one of the best serves in the history of the tennis. But also one of the worst return games of anyone inside the top 100. It’s just like baseball. These big athletes do very well when they control the action. When they are reacting, they are just slower. More importantly, John Isner is a great example that you can’t teach a 6’7″ pitcher to hit. Why? Because he has the serving game figured out. If he could just return average for a touring pro, he’d make deep runs in majors, so don’t tell me he doesn’t practice returning. He probably spends at least as much time returning as he does on his serve.
What if the same mindset that makes him such a great server is what made him so tall and not vice versa? If that sounds crazy, you may want to read my post about height.
What about the exceptions?
Turns out most of the pitchers that were good hitters, couldn’t pitch all that well. I’d argue that the mindset that made them bad pitchers in the first place, gives them a better chance behind the plate.
Babe Ruth is the most interesting exception. He was a great pitcher, and one of the best batters in the history of the game. The problem with viewing him as the missing link, is that he only pitched professionally 10+ innings per year until 1919, and these were some of the worst hitting stretches of his career. After that, he focused almost exclusively on hitting.
What conclusions are there here?
Baseball is about thinking fast and slow. And those that think fast, bat well. Those that think slow, pitch. A reactive mind is faster, but has much less endurance. The controlled delivery of the best pitchers helps them maintain their velocity and accuracy inning after inning. So your most consistent pitchers are going to have the worst batting averages. And if you find a way to change their minds and time perception, you may can turn them into hitters, but it will come at a price.