Before we start, you can find this training resource and more on the Baseball IQ app. When it comes to making the leap from high school to college baseball, preparation and planning are key. The easiest way to gain an advantage over hitters is understanding what pitches they like and dislike as well as their tendencies at the plate. Many college players are exposed to scouting reports at a basic level, but few realize that scouting reports that are generated by a coaching staff are designed to be generic summaries of hitters. In this article we will look at creating your own personalized scouting reports to help you gain a further edge and begin to internalize your identity on the mound.
Over the course of my pro career I have developed a scouting system that has drastically improved my ability to navigate lineups at a high level. My sheet is a combination of a few different systems I have been a part of, but the net result is a very comprehensive and complete way to gather all the relevant information on a lineup.
Before we get going let me make this point clear: scouting reports written by the pitchers are way more effective than reports written by coaches. The reason being, that when it is your own work you internalize the information at a higher rate. Getting in the routine of making your starting pitcher for the next day, or game, sit behind home plate, with a pen and paper, and take notes on the lineup they will face is insanely beneficial for their development as a cerebral player. Too often starting pitchers sit on the bench and take the day off when they are not pitching that day. So keeping your staff engaged and in the action via scouting report creation is not just good for them but good for the team.
Step 1: Stance Analysis
Most hitters favor either starting with an open stance or a closed stance. As the pitch is delivered hitters will land this front foot in 1 of 3 positions: open, even or closed. This transition is important to note on your sheet. For instance: “Batter 1 has a stance of Open to Closed”. We note their stance for the simple reason that strides often expose a part of the plate that the hitter is trying to cover.
If we take Stanton for instance, he strides Closed to Closed and he stands off the plate a fair amount. His goal with this stance is to cover the outer half of the plate and force the pitcher to throw him inside. He is looking to crush your best fastball away, because inside fastballs are the hardest to execute to big power hitters. Pitchers often get intimidated by power and miss away from their intended target. If we take the opposite approach, with Bryce Harper, we see a guy who strides open to open. He is attempting to cover the inside part of the plate so he can pull the ball for power. In both gifs above the pitchers missed in the area that these power hitters want the ball and the results were both mammoth home runs.
In the two gifs above, I was able to execute an inside fastball to a hitter striding closed and an outside fastball to a hitter striding open, both of which resulted in a favorable outcome. With the inside fastball, the hitter is frozen and unable to swing because his stride simply does not allow him to get his hips turned and a barrel to that location. With the outside fastball, the hitter is opening up to drive a ball to left for power. When faced with a ball out of his comfort zone the most he can do is throw his hands and hit a weak ground ball to second. Reading strides and interpreting this information gives us a clear roadmap for how to handle each individual hitter in a way that makes them the most uncomfortable. For as we know, one of the golden rules of pitching will always be: Make the batter hit what makes them uncomfortable.
Step 2: First Pitch Aggression
The first pitch of any at-bat is always important. “Get ahead, Stay ahead”, is a great baseball cliche, but for good reason. The first time through an order it is very important to attack with fastballs on the first pitch, because it will tell us which batter’s auto-swing or auto-take. Most of the time a hitter will be one or the other. Either they swing at the first pitch no matter what, or they take it. Very few hitters are 50/50. So as a scout we have to pay close attention to swings and takes on pitch 1. When I fill out on my sheet I usually designate swings with a , takes with an X, and a ball as a ⎯. At the end of each game, or series, I then count up the number of first pitch swings, divide it by the number of at-bats where a strike was thrown on the first pitch, and that gives me the hitter’s first pitch swing percentage. Any number over 65% we can designate as first pitch aggressive, and any number below 35% as first pitch passive. Once we know if the hitter is going to take or swing it basically decides what pitch we will throw them, everytime, on pitch 1 of an at-bat. If a hitter is below that 35% number we challenge with fastballs. Missing middle is never ideal, but if the hitter hasn’t shown any desire to swing then feed them a fastball down the middle. Conversely, if a hitter is swinging at every first pitch we have options. Fastballs on the corner, or off the plate to the pitcher’s more comfortable side is the preferred method, but a center cut changeup or curveball more often than not will get you a weak contact out. If you can flip in a breaking pitch and locate it you will get a free strike or even an out with ultra aggressive hitters. First pitch swingers, as selling out for fastballs, so a changeup is my favorite pitch to these hitters for it yields an economical result. The point with monitoring this stat is again, to make the hitter do something they don’t want to do. Force a passive hitter to swing at the first pitch and force an aggressive hitter to take it, by either throwing a breaking ball 0-0 or a fastball on the corner. Pitching is simplified so much when we stick to the thought process of making someone beat you in an uncomfortable way. But, unless we track first pitch action we are not giving ourselves access to easy strikes and outs. It is my favorite stat in the book because it gives me the ability to dictate the direction of the at-bat from the start.
Step 3: Result Pitch Location
Next on our sheet is tracking the location of every pitch that yields a result. This is done with the aid of green and red pens, in my case. For every pitch where a hit is made we mark the location with a green dot and a number that corresponds to which at-bat the hit occurred at. The same is also done for outs and strikeouts. We mark the location of the pitch with a red dot and number. Our goal with result pitch tracking is namely to see what hitters like and dislike. In my experience half of every lineup will show a significant taste for a certain location. Big power hitting lefties generally don’t like the ball inside so you tend to see more red dots show up on this half of the plate. Charting this stat over 10 or more at-bats will give you another valuable piece to the puzzle and provide the “when-in-dout” pitch/location. Meaning, when a hitter comes up in a big moment, or your pitcher falls behind in a count, you always know their least favorite pitch to hit and can feel relative confidence in going back to that pitch time and again. Take careful note of my filled out sheet, when charting this stat be sure to be very clear about the result (1B, F-6, K, ect.) as well as the type of pitch that was thrown (FB, CB, CH, ect.). The more information we gather the easier it is to exploit a weakness, and find the fall back pitch/location we need to beat a hitter in a high leverage moment.
Step 4: Contact Location (Spray Chart)
This stat is the most fun and challenging one to keep, because it requires a basic level of artistic ability and attention to detail. On every batted ball that yields a result we draw a line to the spot the ball ended up. If the ball was hit in the air to right field and caught, we draw a line from the plate to right with an arc to signify it was a flyball. If the ball was hit hard on a line at the second baseman for an out we draw a straight line to second to signify a line-drive. Ground ball outs/hits are noted as dashed lines. And, for the sake of clarity, we do not record bunts on this section of the chart. Keep in mind, our goal is to find trends by tracking this data. The main trend in this case is do they pull or push? I can all but guarantee the majority of a lineup is either pull happy, or oppo hitters. Meaning, that regardless of where I throw a pitch that hitter is trying to hit the ball the same way. The best hitters can obviously do both depending on the pitch, but hitting is hard and guys trend towards one side of the field despite their best efforts.
This example was taken from a chart I made over the course of a 3 game series. Take a moment to study this example and try to find some trends that might help you get this hitter out.
(Note, that with each dot a number points me to the specific at-bat and location of the batted ball. Writing down which pitch was thrown can be difficult at times, so only write the pitch if you are positive you identified it correctly.)
So what can we summarize from the data above? Well, most obvious is that this hitter loves to pull the baseball. All four of his hits were pulled to left. When we challenged him inside he had two extra base hits, but most importantly he even got a pull side hit on an outside pitch. The 1 is very telling of this hitter’s mind set and gives us an easy way to get him out: make him hit the ball to right. If our goal is to make every hitter beat us in an uncomfortable way then we must force this hitter to hit pitches on the outside half. When we committed to this strategy in at-bats 9 & 10 the hitter was retired both times with weak contacted outs.
Step 5: Summarizing the Data
In the last section of our sheet we turn our attention to jotting down a few notes on the hitters. These notes are pitcher specific, meaning the guy charting is writing notes on how they would approach each hitter based off of the data they collected and the swings they saw. So, as a lefty pitcher, I would comment on the example above “make him go oppo”, “change-ups will be effective”, “hitter ambushes fastballs when he is ahead in a count”. Observations can be just as powerful a tool as interpreting data, so encourage your pitchers to watch swings and see how hitters react to different locations and pitch selections. Which brings me to my final point:
Scouting is a very personal activity. Coaches that attempt to shoulder the responsibility totally by themselves will constantly find their staff being inattentive and forgetful of the data you painstakingly collected. Teaching your staff to scout properly on their own is not only beneficial for the team, but to each pitcher’s growth as a player. If you are truly in the business of creating college or even pro prospects it is imperative that you leave the scouting up to the players. For if you let them watch the game and attempt to solve the puzzles on their own, the end results will be:
- Better engagement and appreciation for the game (respect)
- Ownership over their success and failure (fewer excuses)
- Increased levels of communication between players and coaches (baseball IQ)
- A more confident staff who throw pitches with conviction (better on-field results)
- Players finding their identity as pitchers (prospect development)