Ted Williams and the Science of Hitting

Originally posted March 19, 2014

Ted Williams was arguably the greatest hitter who ever lived. This is one of the few times you'll hear me say "arguably" because it is a word that baseball writers beat to death. In this case, I have to say "arguably" because I never actually saw him play. I have to take the word of his impressive stats and the millions of words written about Teddy Ballgame over the years.

What I do know is that Ted was an amazing author. I first read "The Science of Hitting" when I was 16 years old. I read it cover to cover about twelve times, then again about three times when I was in my twenties. It was a complete and bewildering departure from the type of hitting that was being taught by amateur coaches as the time, who were fixated on the "high-percentage" swings where the hitter was taught to swing down on the ball. To literally hit the ball on the top half, ensuring topspin and encouraging hard ground balls.

I'm not going to disparage the Walt Hriniak / Charlie Lau methods of hitting as Lau's book, "The Art of Hitting.300", was equally meaningful to me as a young hitter. Lau's "10 Absolutes of Good Hitting" are as good of a "hitting checklist" as have ever been penned. Who's to doubt the success of Lau disciples George Brett and 2013 HOF inductee-Frank Thomas?

What sets apart Williams' book is that the author - widely regarded as the greatest hitter who ever lived - spoke about hitting a baseball with such elegance...such beauty. But, why did Ted need to write a book? He's the last living member of the .400 club (1941). He hit 521 home runs, including a bomb in the final at bat of his career.

Regressing's Reuben Fischer-Baum recently posted an article on "The Beautiful Infographics of Ted Williams's The Science of Hitting", where he gracefully covered exactly how Ted demonstrated is commitment to his craft. Fischer-Baum described it perfectly when he said, "Few great athletes have ever been so articulate about the mechanics of their greatness, which is one reason the book holds up even today, well into the analytics era."

It's true. "The Science of Hitting" includes many superb infographics (by Robert E. Cupp) that stand the test of time, and truly help illustrate Ted's principles of hitting. Included are: a heatmap of how Ted calculated his batting average based on pitches in different areas of the strike zone, an illustration of how 'the slight upswing is the best', and the famous comparison of chopping a tree down to hitting a baseball.

If you're looking to develop as a hitter, I highly suggest you find a copy of Ted's book. You'll learn things that you'll regret forgetting. If your playing career is over but you're still a seamhead, you should read it - again if necessary - and lament on all the things you should have done differently at the dish.