I recently posed a question to 10 players. It was a question that doesn’t have an easy answer. Given the subjectivity involved, it doesn’t even have a right answer.
Is hitting more of an art or more of a science?
The question was phrased exactly that way. It was up to the players responding to interpret the meaning of “art or science” and to elaborate accordingly. Their responses are listed below in alphabetical order.
Chris Denorfia, San Diego Padres outfielder: “Hitting is both an art and a science. With the science part of it, we definitely put our homework in. There are also some physical capabilities that are different for every guy. Mechanically — how your body works — you’ll see different types of hitters. There are home run hitters, line drive hitters, softer hitters and guys who hit the ball harder. Art-form wise, everybody kind of has their own personality with the way they hit and how they go about the game.
“At a certain level, it’s hard to differentiate between the art and the science. The two blend into each other, so I don’t think it’s possible to say it’s one more than the other.”
Stephen Drew, Boston Red Sox infielder; “It’s both. When you look at everybody in the big leagues, when they get through the hitting zone — when the pitch is coming in — everybody is pretty much the same. That’s science. But it’s also an art, because it doesn’t matter how you start or how you finish. It just matters that you get to that contact point.
“When you look at where guys are when they hit the ball, they’re pretty much identical. But like I said, it doesn’t matter where you start. People hit different; it’s just their natural stance and what feels comfortable. Getting to that same position is science, and how they get there is art, so I can‘t say it‘s one or the other.”
Sam Fuld, Tampa Bay Rays outfielder: “I think it’s more of a science, because the nature of science is figuring something out. That’s what hitting is all about. You’re constantly figuring things out, not just with your own swing, but also what the pitcher is throwing, your mechanics, and what you’re swinging at.
“If you ask guys who are more just see-the-ball-hit-the-ball, and don’t think too much, it’s more of a feel for them, and they would probably answer that it’s more of an art. But to me, it’s a science.”
Brett Gardner, New York Yankees outfielder: “I’ve never thought of it like that, but I guess I would say it’s more of a science. You’re looking into the way different pitchers you’re facing are throwing. You’re looking at the percentage of fastballs they throw versus what percentage of changeups, and in what counts. Like I said, I’ve never thought about it, but I’d go science.”
Travis Hafner, New York Yankees designated hitter: “It’s a little bit of both. I mean… I would say a lot of hitting is having a feel at the plate. You’re always kind of looking for a certain feel. But it’s also a science. There’s everything that’s involved with mechanics, and studying your swing, studying pitchers, and all that stuff. It’s a combination of both, but I guess I’d say it’s more science than art.”
Kelly Johnson, Tampa Bay Rays infielder/outfielder: “It’s more of an art. It’s an athletic thing; it’s hand-eye and being an athlete. It still kind of comes down to being an eight-year-old kid in a cul-de-sac, and being the best one out there. You don’t know anything other than see-it-and-hit-it, and that’s how you got to where you’re at. Other stuff comes into play at some point down the road, but it’s basically an art.”
Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays infielder: “For me, it’s probably 50/50. I think the art form part of it comes with time — understanding pitchers, understanding how you‘re going to be approached, and understanding yourself. The scientific part is all the information we have on the computer and in the reports we get on paper. A lot of that is stuff that wasn’t there 30 years ago.
“I try to rely on both. I’m gifted naturally, but I also work toward becoming a better hitter and understanding the game better. I want to use all of the information that’s out there to my advantage. If it was 30 years ago, and we didn’t have that, I’d say hitting was more of an art form, but we do have that information. It’s not a question that can be answered one way or the other.”
Daniel Nava, Boston Red Sox outfielder: “It’s a bit of both. The science part is that you have to be mechanically sound, for the most part. The art part is that everybody expresses that mechanical side in a different way. But for the most part, things are pretty similar for everyone at a certain point. How they go about it from that starting point is everyone’s interpretation of what feels natural.
“I don’t think about hitting from that perspective — I’ve never had that thought go through my head — but maybe I’d say that on given days it’s more of an art, and on given days it’s more mechanical. It’s split pretty even, but if I had to say one or the other, it would be art by just a hair.”
Shane Victorino, Boston Red Sox outfielder: “Both. It’s an art, and it’s a science. I’m not a big science guy, but they say the hardest thing to do is hit a round ball with a round object. As far as art, if you look at a guy like Robinson Cano, it seems like whatever he does makes it look so easy. Miguel Cabrera, Dustin Pedroia, Big Papi — some of the great hitters in the game — make you see it as an art. They’re all different in the way they do it. Sometimes I try to hit like Ichiro. I’m not mechanically like him, but I try to do the way he twists and gets his body going. So it’s a definitely an art, but I also can’t say it’s more of an art than it is a science.”
Vernon Wells, New York Yankees outfielder: “It’s more of an art. I think the science part of it is somewhat difficult, especially in this day and age. There are so many different sabermetrics, and things like that — that side of it has changed. But the art of it, from a pitcher’s standpoint, is that they’re trying to make a ball move and be as efficient as possible. It’s a skill that very few people have. Combating that pitching, and trying to figure out what he’s trying to do — what pitch is he trying to get me out with? — and trying to be one step ahead of him, isn’t easy.
“I think the science part of hitting is what takes place beforehand. You’re watching video and trying to be mentally ready for what to expect once you get out there. But once you’re out there, it’s all just natural ability. At that point it becomes art.”
More of an Art: three votes (Johnson, Nava, Wells)
More of a Science — three votes (Fuld, Gardner, Hafner)
Neutral — four votes (Denorfia, Drew, Longoria, Victorino)