Baseball Magazine

How to Hit a 100mph Fastball

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard
Justin Verlander is a no-brainer for this year's AL Cy Young award.  His stats for the regular season were ridiculous.  Hwon 24 games, threw 251 innings, and had 250 strikeouts with only 57 walks.  Batters hit a measly .192 against him as well.  But did you know he gave up 24 homeruns this year?
Verlander, along with a couple other major league pitchers, can bring it up to the plate at over 100 mph.  Obvious questions arise.  How in the world do you hit a 100mph fastball?  Beyond that, how do you not just make contact but crush it for a homerun?  And in some cases, how does a batter pull a 100+ fastball for a homerun?  When you stop and think of the timing and the eye-hand coordination involved, it really is quite astonishing.  
How to hit a 100mph fastballHave you ever seen a grown man step into a batting cage to take a few swings at a pitching machine set to the “fast” setting?  Usually the first pitch blows by without even a swing.  Something like “Oh, wow” is often heard afterwards followed by some feeble swings at the remaining pitches.  He’s lucky if he even fouls some off.  Now think of a pitch about 20 mph faster with some movement to it.   Then mix in a nasty curve ball or change-up every couple of pitches.  It doesn’t seem fair.  But major league hittershit that stuff.  Some seem to do it with ease.  So how do they do it?
Obviously, you can’t overlook the fact that these are incredibly gifted athletes that we are talking about.  They wouldn’t have gotten to that level if they weren’t.  But much of the answer to all these questions involve the approach that major league hitters take when they enter the batters box.  It starts with accepting the fact that major league pitchers have nasty stuff.  Most throw hard and add a ton of movement and/or changes of speeds to all their pitches.  Batters are fully aware of this and therefore plan accordingly.
When players grow up in the game, they often hear the phrase “swing at strikes, take the balls.”  Generally speaking, this is good advice.  However, as a player gets older, this phrase becomes too general.  A more specific rule needs to be adopted in order for the hitter to have continued success.  The rule that usually emerges as the pitching gets better is along the lines of “wait for a pitch you can handle and if you are lucky to get one, don’t miss it.”
Here’s an example of how this works.  A major league hitter about to face Justin Verlander walks into the box knowing that he cannot possibly cover the entire strike zone on every pitch.  If he swings at a first pitch strike on a fastball at the knees and on the outside corner, he knows his chances of hitting it well are slim to none.  Therefore, he takes it for a strike and hopes to get a better pitch to hit later.  If he doesn’t, he just goes back to the dugout and hopes to get one the next time he’s up.  It’s similar to playing cards.  If the card player has a horrible hand, he just folds and waits until the next game.  He doesn’t get upset.  He knows it’s just part of the game.  When he gets a usable hand, now it’s “game on.”

How to hit a 100mph fastball

Covering the entire green area is next to
impossible on some pitchers.  Some just
gear up for a pitch in the red zone and
hope they get one.

Good hitters approach an at-bat the same way.  Essentially, hitters develop a game plan that probably suits their strengths or makes a prediction on how he thinks the pitcher is going to pitch him .  He may say something like “My best shot against this guy is a pitch thigh-high to belt high on the outside half of the plate.  Any pitch that goes into that area, whether it’s a fastball, curveball, or change-up, I’m hacking.  If not, I’m taking it unless there are two strikes.”   He might also say "With runners on base, this guy always comes inside on right handed batters.  Look inner half."
As hitters get farther ahead in the count (1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 3-1) they typically narrow that thinking even more.  Instead of waiting for any pitch in a general zone, they think “one pitch in one area.”  If the pitch he was looking for enters that window, it’s “game on.”  If it doesn’t, he “folds” and waits for the next pitch.
A high school kid may get the exact pitch in the location he wanted and foul it off.  If a major leaguer gets it, he’ll deposit it in the upper deck no matter who is pitching.   Even Justin Verlander and his 100+ fastball.

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