Hitting is hard. Hitting with two strikes is really hard. Based on data from the 2017 MLB season, MLB hitters batted .177 in two strike counts (0-2: 0.152, 1-2: 0.159, 2-2: .181, 3-2: .216). If we remove the 3-2 neutral count, hitters batted .164 with two strikes.
To put this into perspective, let’s look at batting averages from the top five offensive WAR leaders from the 2017 MLB season and their splits with two strikes.
- Jose Altuve: 0-2: .255, 1-2: .235, 2-2: .151
- Mike Trout: 0-2: .172, 1-2: .188, 2-2: .183
- Aaron Judge: 0-2: .184, 1-2: 172, 2-2: .165
- Giancarlo Stanton: 0-2: .100, 1-2: .132, 2-2: .147
- Charlie Blackmon: 0-2: .259, 1-2: 218, 2-2: .248
While Blackmon’s splits were the best by far, it is worth noting that both the AL and NL MVP (Altuve and Stanton) combined for a .170 batting average with two strikes (Altuve: .214, Stanton: .126). Even Mike Trout, baseball’s current $400 million man, couldn’t muster a batting average over .200 in 0-2, 1-2, or 2-2 counts.
There are several reasons why it’s hard to hit with two strikes. For one, hitters don’t have the ability to be as selective because of the strikeout. Hitters can take tough pitches early in the count for called strikes, but can’t afford to strike out looking on borderline pitches deep in the count. Strikeouts are the most unproductive out in baseball. Good teams strike out less. In 2017, the World Series champion Houston Astros finished with the least amount of strikeouts in the MLB with 1,087.
Since hitters can’t be as selective with two strikes, they are more susceptible to pitches that look like strikes and end up finishing outside the strike zone. Instead of seeing fastballs, hitters now have to defend against cutters/sliders, curveballs, and changeups. In 2018, the MLB batting average on cutters/sliders was .267, changeups was .279, and curveballs was .267. Against four seam and two seam fastballs, hitters batted .348.
Given what we know about hitting with two strikes, we are faced with a few options. One of the most effective ways to get good at hitting with two strikes is to never get to two strikes. A large majority of the best hitters in baseball attack good pitches early in the count – and have a lot of success. Since we know pitchers want to throw 2 of their first 3 pitches for strikes (0-2 BA: 0.125, OBP: .160, 1-2 BA: .159, OBP: .166), hitters have a great opportunity early in the count to hunt pitches over the plate. Below are the batting averages of the five hitters from above on 0-0 counts:
- Altuve: .449
- Trout: .447
- Judge: .400
- Stanton: .475
- Blackmon: .441
While avoiding two strikes seems like a pretty good plan, 48% of your at-bats are going to ultimately get to two strikes. We also know that batting average on balls in play (BABIP) with two strikes in 2017 was .295. The worst BABIP in any count in 2017 was .294. That shows us a large part of our battle with two strikes is simply putting the ball in play. Considering this, it is worth coming up with a different approach for two strikes that will help you put the ball in play and avoid striking out. Below are some tips on how you can improve how you hit with two strikes:
- Hitting with two strikes is tough, but it’s not a death sentence. Remain confident when battling with two strikes. If you’re having confidence issues at the plate, revisit your pre-pitch process (see previous blog posts on this).
- Pay attention to what pitchers are throwing in two strike counts. Pitchers are creatures of habit. Anticipating certain pitches/pitch sequences can help you avoid the unpredictability of hitting with two strikes.
- If anticipating the breaking ball/changeup, see the pitch up. If the pitch starts off looking like a fastball, it’s going to finish outside of the strike zone.
- Expand in a specific part of the strike zone, not the entire strike zone. Hitting is hard enough with the zone you have. Expand where you think the pitcher will be coming (a few baseballs outside, inside, etc.).
- Widen your stance, choke up on the bat, move closer to the plate, use a different timing mechanism. If pitchers have to learn a windup and the stretch, it’s not a bad idea for hitters to learn two different swings.
- Take bad pitches, work yourself back into the count (3-2 BA: .216, OBP: 462). Most pitchers are going to shrink the zone with two strikes because they don’t want to give up a base hit. Use this to your advantage.
- Practice with two strikes. Learn what borderline pitches look like. Understand which ones you need to fight off/take. Drive mistakes.
- Practice adjustability. Sometimes you’re going to have to barrel speeds you weren’t looking for originally.
- Keep things simple. Don’t get caught over analyzing every possible pitch/situation in the box. You’re at your best when you’re thinking the least.
- Be the best competitor on the field. Compete one pitch at a time. You can’t worry about the two that just went by you. Be great at being where your feet are.
- Remember times when you succeeded with two strikes, forget times where the pitcher got the best of you. We tend to hang on to negative experiences the longest. If you’re constantly thinking about how bad you are with two strikes, there’s a really good chance you’ll see more two strike counts in the future – and you’ll see similar results.
Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns.
Keep learning and growing.