Eight Ways to Get a Quality At-Bat
By Todd Guilliams
Originally Published in High-Scoring Baseball - HumanKinetics.com
The bull's-eye graphic in figure 4.1 illustrates the various ways that a hitter can achieve one of the eight quality at-bats. At its center is the hitter's ultimate goal of achieving a quality at-bat. Beginning at the outermost ring and moving inward toward the QAB goal, the actions that result in a quality at-bat increase in difficulty. In ring one, strike-zone discipline, a hitter does not even have to put the ball in play to have a quality at-bat. Simply exercising strike-zone discipline and drawing a walk, being hit by a pitch, or fouling off pitches to force an eight-pitch at-bat is sufficient to reach the goal.
The second ring, bunting, requires some bat-control skill but does not ask a hitter to reach base. Ring three, situational hitting, asks for a higher level of bat control and requires a purposeful approach to move a runner but still does not require a batter to reach base safely. The fourth ring, base hit, asks the batter to reach base and to adjust his mental approach to the at-bat based on the count. Ring five demands that a batter not only put the ball in play but bring a runner home. Hitting a hard line drive with backspin is the most difficult thing for a hitter to do, but it is also the most productive at-bat, which is why 3-to-8 hard contact is closest to the bull's-eye. A hard line drive can result in anything from a home run to a lineout, but odds are that the back-spun line drive will have a positive effect on the offense. In reality, a batter can accomplish several of the target objectives in any given at-bat, such as fouling off pitches to get an eight-pitch at-bat and then hitting a line drive with the bases loaded and recording two RBIs. For purposes of charting, however, the batter is credited with having one quality at-bat.
As stated earlier, the game of baseball is unfair. For instance, a batter may hit a hard line drive right at the shortstop. The ball is caught, and the player is penalized because his batting average goes down. Many productive offensive plays that batters accomplish are not recorded as base hits and, therefore, do not boost their batting averages. Giving batters credit for quality at-bats not only boosts their confidence but also increases their willingness to do what it takes to help the ballclub score runs. Changing a batter's focus from trying to get a base hit to getting a quality at-bat is an important step for players to take as they transition from trying to be a great hitter, of which few are capable, and instead doing what it takes to be a productive offensive player. Every player must understand that probably only two or three batters on the team can hit for a high average. The rest of the lineup needs to have other ways to contribute to the offense besides getting a base hit. If a player is rewarded only when he records a base hit, then he will feel like a failure 70% of the time, which may devastate his confidence level. Seven of the eight quality at-bats do not include producing a base hit.