It goes without saying that David Ortiz and Justin Verlander are among the most dominant players of their era. The Red Sox slugger has a career .284/.379/.545 slash line and 391 home runs; the Tigers right-hander has MVP and Cy Young Award trophies on his mantel. Their accomplishments have made them household names to baseball fans throughout the country.
Ortiz and Verlander recently sat down — in separate interviews — to answer the same set of questions about how they approach their respective crafts.
Is hitting/pitching an art or a science?
David Ortiz: “Hitting is an art. It’s also hard. There are so many things against you. First of all, mentally you have to be 120% positive. You can’t feel like the guy pitching is too great — you can’t overrate him. If I’m facing a guy like Verlander, I tell myself that I’m going to take my chances. A lot of guys think, ‘Oh man, I’m facing Verlander.’ He’s the best pitcher in the game — he’s at least in the top three — but he still has to throw the ball over the plate.”
Justin Verlander: “Pitching is more of an art. There are so many different ways to get the job done. There are so many different pitches and so many different things. When an artist wants to paint a painting, they have all those things in their head that they want to portray on a canvas. It’s the same thing when I’m pitching. I have all these thoughts going through my head about how I want to pitch: which pitch I want to throw here, and why do I want to throw it?”
Can a hitter cover all 17 inches of the plate?
David Ortiz: “If you go up there trying to cover both sides of the plate, you have no chance. Where I’m looking depends on the pitcher. I make my adjustments that way. As I get older, I have to stay away from power swinging. I’m looking more for location now. When I was younger, I wanted to hit the ball 500 feet. My reactions were better, so it didn’t really matter to me. Now I’m like, ‘They’re going to pitch me this way, so I’m going do this.’”
Justin Verlander: “Off a guy like me, I think hitters have to look in zones. There are guys who can cover both sides against a guy who doesn’t throw as hard as I do. Hitters adjust, and I do, as well. I’m going to adjust based on what I see and feel out on the mound.”
What goes into preparation and game planning?
David Ortiz: “I want to know how the pitcher is going to approach me. Preparing for games is an everyday thing. If you want to be consistent at this level you have to work at it every day. And you have to maintain yourself physically. It doesn’t matter how tough you are mentally if you’re not prepared to play physically. It doesn’t matter how many messages you send to your body if it can’t react.”
Justin Verlander: “I plan my own way. I go out there with a game plan and if I need to change it on the fly, then I change it. I don’t look at data. I do look at a little bit of film — I look at film of hitters. I don’t look at their [hot zones or tendencies]. I’m basically going to pitch to my strengths.”
What goes into plate discipline and pitch recognition?
David Ortiz: “Pitchers work at hiding the ball, because the longer we see it — as a hitter — the easier it is for us to recognize what’s coming. Rotation is something that you kind of start seeing when the pitch is halfway out. You want to time the velocity of his arm speed, and at one point you recognize the pitch and go from there. But knowing what’s coming doesn’t mean you’ll be successful. Sometimes I know that a guy is going to throw me a breaking ball, but it doesn’t go where I’m expecting it and the next thing you know, boom, I’m grounding out.”
Justin Verlander: “I know as soon the ball leaves my hand if it’s going to be a good pitch or a bad pitch. I can also usually tell what a hitter is trying to do — if he’s trying to go to the opposite field or if he’s trying to pull the ball. I pay attention to whether a guy has seen a certain pitch of mine better, or if he has swung at a pitch that he obviously didn’t see well. I pay attention to that. Everybody will swing at something out of the zone. You just have to set it up the right way.”
What is the biggest adjustment you’ve made in your career?
David Ortiz: “Like I said earlier, I don’t try to hit the ball 500 feet. It looks good when you hit it 500 feet, but as long as it goes over the fence, it‘s a home run. When you swing hard, it takes a little bit of recognition away from you. The power you’re trying to increase — you’re not all the way through it with your vision, like when you’re just trying to contact the ball. That doesn’t mean I’m not swinging hard, but I’m also not going up to the plate with the idea of trying to juice the ball every time I swing. I try to get my hits to the opposite field if I know a guy is going to pitch me away. I’m more of that kind of guy now.”
Justin Verlander: “I’ve learned how to slow down — how to slow my velocity down. I’ve always been able to amp it up when I need to, but the hardest adjustment was to slow it down and locate. It’s a location and pitch-saving thing. As a power pitcher, you get a lot of foul balls and not a lot of contact. Guys don’t put the ball in play all that much. When it’s 90-91 [mph], guys tend to put it in play a little more. If I hit my spot, they put it in play weakly. That‘s the biggest adjustment I‘ve made.”
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.