Your first time through the lineup, should you plan to take the first pitch? Or be ready to swing at it? There are many different philosophies on this matter. I will examine some pros and cons to help you answer the question “should you swing at the first pitch”.
Keeping in mind that the situation may dictate your offensive approach, let’s look at some of the reasons to take and some to swing away.
Reasons to take first pitch
If you hit in the first inning all the other players are getting a good look at the pitcher. Even though you may have faced him in the past, he may be different than you remember. He may not have the command you remember from his last outing. When he gets deeper into a count he may start showing his off speed pitches, which will help you and the rest of the team see if they are sharp or flat.
Getting the pitch count up is another reason to make the pitcher work a little bit. Usually your better pitchers are starters (exceptions may be the closer and sometimes the 8th inning guy). So the more pitches he makes, the higher probability he will exit the game sooner than he originally hoped. When that happens you get a few innings to hit off a pitcher that may lack the velocity or overall pitching ability of the starter.
See his release point and see what his pitches are doing. Even though you have seen what a fastball looks like, maybe his has some run, sink, cut or is just difficult to pick up for some reason. Getting a chance to look at the first pitch may help you see his release point and what his pitches look like.
Reasons to be ready to swing first pitch
Most times the first pitch you are going to see is a fastball. The pitcher wants to get ahead in the count and his first pitch will usually be a strike that is nice to hit. He doesn’t want to be overly aggressive trying to nibble and hit the corner and be 1-0.
It sets the tone for the rest of your at bat. I feel when I am ready to swing first pitch and I’m aggressive, I feel more locked into the at bat. This can set the tone for an at bat or even the game. Its easier to back off an aggressive mind set than to have to adjust up a passive approach.
I would rather hit in a fastball count than in a 2 strike count, especially if a pitcher is throwing first pitch strikes to the first few hitters. Don’t get me wrong I am not afraid to hit with 2 strikes but it is a lot better to be in a hitters count, where you, not the pitcher, are in control.
Swinging at a first pitch will keep the pitchers honest. If the pitcher knows you take first pitch a lot, he may groove one.
I don’t believe there is one way to do things and one is not more right than the other. It is more important to know the game and be a team player. There are times it is necessary to take a pitch (after a first pitch out, after a long inning on defense). Where you are in the lineup and your approach, will dictate whether or not to take a first pitch or to be ready to swing at the first pitch your first time through the lineup.
For example Derek Jeter swings first pitch of the game quite a bit if the pitcher wants to throw a first pitch cookie. The opposite is true of Brett Gardner, who takes first pitch almost every at bat. The approach of taking a pitch or being ready to swing were talked about quite a bit by our team this year. There were times in my opinion we were too passive then there were times we were way to aggressive. Its interesting how one at bat can have an impact on the person behind you in the lineup. Even though its something that is not talked about a lot, it can very much set a tone to a game.