Chad Pinder learned how to turn on inside fastballs this season. Doing so didn’t turn the 26-year-old infielder/outfielder into a slugger, but it did make him a more well-rounded hitter. That’s bad news for opposing pitchers. Pinder had already been well on his way to establishing himself as an asset to the Oakland lineup.
A quest for higher launch angles wasn’t the impetus behind the “biggest adjustment” he’s made since the A’s took him in the second round of the 2013 draft out of Virginia Tech. While Pinder possesses pop, his 37% fly-ball percentage this year wasn’t exactly Khris Davis-esque. As much as anything, the former Hokie is now no longer quite so susceptible to being beaten by inside heat — even though his hands remain on the noisy side.
Pinder — coming off a season where he slashed .258/.332/.436 with 13 home runs in 333 plate appearances — discussed that adjustment, and his overall continued development as a hitter, earlier this month.
Chad Pinder on hitting: “I’ve never actually gone through that phase of, ‘Hey, I’m going to hit the ball in the air.’ For me, it’s all about contact point. Contact point is everything. That’s what Jed Lowrie harps on. He’s all about where he’s meeting the baseball. Nothing else matters to him other than being in a position to get to the baseball, and he knows what move he has to make for every single pitch in the zone. That’s why Jed is such an incredible hitter.
“I’m still not there. I don’t have that deep of an understanding, like Jed does — or a JD Martinez or a Mookie Betts. Those guys are All-Stars for a reason. I’m still progressing. I’m still learning my swing.
“I do know that if you hit the ball further back, if you catch the ball deeper in the zone … you can’t really elevate a ball that has beat you. Maybe JD Martinez can, but that guy is a different breed.
“Last year was the first year that I was consistently turning on fastballs. I was pulling fastballs in the air because of my contact point. I knew what move I had to make to beat that 94-MPH fastball on the inner half. I do still get beat on the inner half, but I’ve learned how to anticipate, and handle, that pitch a lot better. That’s been my biggest adjustment.
“I’ve always been able to take the inner-half fastball and shoot it up the middle, or to right center. I’ve always been able to hit for power that way, too. That’s just how my swing is; it’s how I was taught to hit.
“I can vividly remember turning on a 98-mph fastball on the inner half for a homer to left center. He was challenging me. He’d thrown me a heater on the previous pitch, which I took on purpose to get my timing down. I knew I had to be ready for that fastball in, and I was. I timed up perfectly. That was the first time I’d done serious damage on something of that velocity on the inner half.
“A lot of it is anticipation and learning to pick my spots. I’ve conscientiously been thinking, ‘Ok, this is a good time for him to try to run one in on me; be ready but know where the corner is and don’t expand.’ I‘ve started doing that a lot more.
“I look for pitches in a certain zone. You’re going to find different opinions on that. You’re going to find people that say, ‘Hey, you want to be on the fastball; you want to stay on the heater the entire time.’ But some people don’t. Some people sit on pitches. It’s just different thoughts. At the same time, everybody has to get ready. Everybody has to put themselves in a position to hit.
“Some guys have a leg kick. I don’t — I’m a toe-tap guy — and my [timing mechanism] is my hands. I have the hands to turn on inside pitches, but also a hitch — kind of a violent load — with my hands. That gets me in trouble sometimes. It’s one reason I strike out a lot. Sometimes my bat gets in and out of the zone too quickly. Because I load like I do, I have a tendency to rotate my front shoulder a little bit, and it’s easy for me to rush and cut myself off on the inner half. It’s kind of, ‘Ok, that’s in, I’ve gotta go; I’ve gotta go now; I’ve go quick.’ I rush every move, and that results in a lot of rolling over, or getting jammed. This year I learned to manage that better.
“The elevated fastball is another pitch I’ve had to make an adjustment to. It’s easier to react down than it is up. If you’re looking down and the pitcher elevates, you’re beat. You just are. You can drop the barrel of the bat down in the zone much easier than you can adjust up.
“Charlie Morton…. his four-seam is ridiculous. He’s got the sinker from hell, but his four-seam was just as good this year. Facing him, I literally had to stop moving my hands. I was like, ‘All right, I have to be ready and just put the barrel on the ball here.’
“Sometimes less is more, especially against higher velo. Unless you’ve got a guy perfectly timed up… maybe you’ve seen the pitcher a ton. That’s a huge thing, too. The more you see somebody, the more comfortable you’re likely to be. You’re going to be more relaxed in the box, because you know what his pitches do, what his arm action is. So again, sometimes less is more. Sometimes you want to just play pepper, just put the bat on the ball.
“You’re constantly making little adjustments to get better. There are things I’m thinking about now in the offseason. I messaged my hitting coach about something just the other day. Because my shoulder tends to turn in a little bit, I asked him if slightly opening up my stance will square me up better wth my load, His answer was, ‘I love an open stance, but solely for the fact that you get both eyes on the ball. It has nothing to do with squaring yourself off; it has everything to do with seeing the ball better.’ I’m going to toil with that a little bit this offseason and see how I like it. Like I said earlier, I’m still progressing. Learning yourself as a hitter is something that takes time.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.