The Ole Ball Game

Should 12U kids be taking pitches?

by Jeannine
(Mooresville, NC)

Altuve wins bating title 2014

Altuve wins bating title 2014

Jeannine asked: We have 2 boys (10 and 11) on the same team with a rec league and the coach gives them signals prior to every swing when they are at bat.

He almost always has them take the first pitch.

We were told this is how it is at their age and basically to get used to it.

We have noticed a severe decline in getting on base (other than a potential walk) and often starting behind in the count.

Our philosophy has always been to swing the bat if it's close. We are really concerned about the psychological impact that appears to be developing as their swings now seem to be slow.

We finally connected that to hesitance since their batting is not of their own mindset but from the coach. They were told that if they disregarded the take sign (regardless of whether this resulted in a hit that ended them on base or advanced a runner) three times they would be benched.

So on top of everything, add some fear. When the main coach told our oldest to take and he did the first base coach yelled at him for not swinging.

Needless to say, both are frustrated and the youngest especially who used to always get on first - now, not very often.

Is this the norm?

Rick answered: Jeannine, thank you for your question.

I don't know if this is the norm or not; but if it is, it shouldn't be.

Hitting a round ball, with a round bat and squaring it up is considered one of the most difficult feats in all of sports to accomplish.

To accomplish it occasionally is not enough to be considered good at it, a player needs to do it consistently, thus added difficulty.

There is nothing less dangerous on a baseball field than a hitter who doesn't swing the bat, whether it is his decision, the coaches or those inevitable hitting demons which dwell in all our heads.

The world of baseball is filled with statistics. You can win trivia contests with them, game shows and bar bets, all while having fun with the myriad of statistics that are, and have been kept since baseball's inception.

In 1988, MLB began tracking players hitting splits, in all 12 of the possible counts that hitter's and pitchers deal with day to day.

This particular set of statistics provide the two groups above, as well as coaches, valuable information in developing your own personal hitting philosophy, or your teams.

These splits are available for both leagues, all teams and individual players that have played in those 26 years.

In the 8 positive counts a hitter can find himself in, 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 0-1, 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, there were only 3 times in the 26 years seasonal batting averages were below .300; In 1988 @ 3-0 it was .290 and 1-1 it was .299.

In 1991 @ 0-1 it was .295.

The 3 negative counts, 0-2, 1-2, and 2-2 have never produced an average over .197.

The one even count, 3-2, the highest was .242 in 1994, with all other years averaging between .218 to .238.

What does this mean for a youth baseball player, a hitter or a pitcher?

1. Hitting with 2 strikes is hard to do, even for MLB players.

2. Find a way to stay out of 2 strike counts as much as possible.

3. The best way to accomplish that is to hit one of the fastball strikes early in the count.

4. To do that, the hitter needs to step in the box with a plan, looking to hit the first fastball strike they see. The pressure to decide if they are going to swing is eliminated, the focus is on seeing the ball out of the pitcher's hand, making it be a fastball strike, and putting a good swing on it.

5. When you take that first pitch fastball strike, you start to put the pitcher in control of your at bat.

6. There is nothing less dangerous on a baseball field than a hitter who doesn't swing the bat.

Reasons why this approach is successful.

1. Pitchers at all levels are taught to get ahead of the hitter, for the same reasons you as a hitter do not want to get behind in the count.

2. Pitchers are pitchers generally because they have a good arm.

3. To get ahead, they will mostly throw their best pitch, which with a good arm, will be their fastball.

4. Fastball is the best pitch for most batters to hit because the vast majority of batting practice time is spent on fastballs.

5. Very few pitchers are consistently hard to hit on their first pitch, they become difficult when ahead in the count.

6. The batting process is simplified, as the batters have a clear cut plan from the time they leave the on deck circle.

Looking to hit that first fastball strike will help you eliminate swinging at that first pitch curveball in the dirt, which gets into your head.

That curveball strike is most always followed by a fastball, which hitters freeze on, as their head is still spinning from looking bad on the first pitch. It happens at all levels, to include MLB.

Kids at all levels should be learning what it takes to create a plan for themselves in the batter's box. Teach them in practice, turn them loose to play the game.

The game of baseball is simple to play; but hard to master. Practice is to breakdown the skills and situations so players understand "why" you do something a certain way, games are where they have an opportunity to showcase what they have learned.

Will they make mistakes, lose games? We all did and will, it is a part of the game and life.

Players become free flowing and confident athletes when they are able to think for themselves, on their feet, on the move, in the batter's box, on the mound.

In my time in little league, high school, jr. college, university and 38 years of coaching, our only takes were an automatic 3-0, even the MLB turns very few loose in that count. The second is if we are behind and are needing to play "catch up", we sometimes take until we get a strike; but not always.

I will email you copies of the MLB hitting splits from 1980 to 2013. The 2014's will come out soon; but I would expect little or no change. Those stats are a by product of the game, those that are the most successful adapt to the reality and find ways to make it work.

Some links on the site you may find helpful:

batting average analysis

hitting team approach

hitting vision

hitter development

hitting the situation

Good luck as you move forward. You and your boys are in a tough spot. Possible to play for someone else with a different philosophy, or is it wait till next year?

Yours in baseball,


Comments for Should 12U kids be taking pitches?

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Aug 27, 2016
Yes, at times take the first pitch
by: Kevin

It's kind of confusing to me, while the data analysis you provided is thorough and kind of interesting,it seems like that none of you understand the purpose of taking the first pitch, Scott McKirahan you were close, sort of. Now taking the first pitch is not something that should always be done by any means, but there are many scenarios when you should. Also taking a pitch doesn't mean you just stand there, the player should load/stride as normal up until the point the front heel touches the ground. Otherwise you just gave the pitcher a free pitch and that is silly. Furthermore, here are a few of the many scenarios where taking 1st pitch is recommended, but not an absolute: 1. The pitcher is struggling to find the zone. 2. Your the lead off batter of the game (generally the lead off guy's job is to find a way on base and if possible to work the count deep, 3. This is the most important reason and it is to track the ball to the mitt; the player should be looking at the catchers mitt post pitch. Why? to time the pitch and match your rhythm with the pitcher's rhythm to the plate. Timing is why this game is unparalleled to any other game in terms of difficulty. Tracking is especially helpful for kids who are in a slump. These are facts. If I were you, I wouldn't put much value in the opinions of anyone who doesn't have the baseball resume to back it up. If you only played high school ball, watch it alot, or coach youth, chances are you don't know as much as you think and your admirable, but extremely flawed instructions are ruining youth baseball. Baseball is life for me it is all ive cared about since I was 4 years old. Jeannine you can email me if you want to really help your child get better, or if you like reading I have a few good articles I refer back to from time to time.

Apr 12, 2016
Have fun first
by: Mark leiterAnonymous

Jeannine, one of the good things about having every town in the country flooded with travel teams is, there are different levels of competition. You can find a team for your boys where the coach is more laid back and let's the kids play more with less signs. See how they like that and then they'll decide what level of play they enjoy more. The more u move up, the more coaching and signals they'll get

Oct 23, 2014
We're only talking about the first pitch
by: Scott McKirahan

While your analysis of pitch counts is interesting, we are only talking about the first pitch here, not ALL pitch counts. In Craig Burley's 2004 study in The Hardball Times, he found that with MLB players, an 0-1 count led to a .261 batting average and a 1-0 count produced a .280 batting average. While that is significant, it is not an earth shattering difference. I think the coach's decision to always take the first strike may be right or may be wrong, depending on the percentage of time that particular pitcher gets the ball over the plate on the first pitch.

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