Last month, I asked 10 big-league players if hitting is more of an art or more of a science. I posed the same question to Luke Scott. Not surprisingly, his answer was both thoughtful and interesting. Love him or hate him — the Tampa Bay Rays outfielder is outspoken, charismatic and controversial — Scott understands his craft. He also describes it in way that only Luke Scott can.
Luke Scott on hitting: “Hitting is more of an art than a science, but they’re not far off. I’d say it’s about a 60-40 split. There is a science to hitting. There’s a way I can look at a swing and scientifically break it down. I can see why a guy is successful, and why a certain guy matches up well against a certain pitcher because of things like swing path. You can try to mimic that. A player can try to have a flatter bat on a ball that’s elevated. Or you need a slight angle drop — as the pitch lowers, your bat angle lowers.
“Think of a hula hoop. If your swing was to come through the hitting zone and then continue on that same path around that axis, which is your body, it would form a circle, or a hula hoop. Well, that hula hoop, based on the position of the pitch — the angle it comes in, or breaks away — you just angle that accordingly. That’s the science of hitting. You’re breaking down the mechanics of bat path. There’s also how your lower half works with the upper half.
“As for the art of hitting, there are those who don’t understand hitting but are great hitters. They’ve mastered the art. I played with Vladimir Guerrero and he’s one of the best examples I’ve seen. Another good example is Nick Markakis. Nick Markakis doesn’t go into slumps. Why? Because he’s mastered the art of hitting for what his swing path is, and what his body is. He can go out there and hit anybody, lefty or righty, and it doesn’t matter what the pitch is. He can put a good swing on it.
“Vladimir Guerrero is the same way. The only weakness… the only cold spot in Vladimir Guerrero’s swing is about [the size of a softball] and it’s right down the middle. Anywhere else, you’re in trouble. If you throw a batting practice fastball, four-seam, and center-cut it nice and easy, he’ll pop it up. If you go up and in, he can shoot it the other way or tomahawk it. If you go up and away, he can blast it that way. Down and away, he can hook it, go the other way, or drive it to center. Down and in, he wears out left field. You wouldn’t believe… I’ve seen him get base hits on pitches that bounced.
“He’s a freak. He’s mastered the art of hitting, yet he doesn’t know anything about hitting. Vladimir could not go in front of a video screen, with a toggle switch, and frame by frame break down the mechanics of a swing. He couldn’t tell you what’s going on, or what you need to do. He couldn’t do it.
“When I played with Vlad, I’d ask him a question, like, ’What are you working on?’ He’d say, ’I just hit the ball.’ I’d ask, ‘How did you angle your bat path to hit that ball the other way?’ He’d say, ‘I just saw the ball and hit it over there.’ He’s mastered the art of doing it the way he does it.
“I study the science of hitting, but sometimes I also just have a feel. When I have that feel, I’m very good. I can manipulate the ball; I can do all these things. I think that’s more important than knowing how to hit. I know how to hit, and I can practice all the drills I want. I know how to break down my swing and do drills to line things up and create a certain alignment with my body. But when I step in the box, it’s all about a feel. The rest of the stuff goes out the window. I could have the best swing in the world, but if I don’t have a feel for it… the feel is the art. The art of hitting is timing and feel. When you have that — when timing and feel come together — the round bat hits the round ball.”