Class Warfare Blog

November 20, 2016

A Follow-up to Baseball Season: Ted Williams’ Balls

Ted Williams was one of the finest hitters to ever play professional baseball in the USA. When he retired he wrote a book (“The Science of Hitting”) on hitting that included a famous photo: it was of the “Splendid Splinter” at the plate and the current strike zone was filled with baseballs, each ball labeled with William’s estimate of the percentage of these locations that he would get hits at. The balls were color coded in that if he would hit for a high average, they would be “red” hot, and for a very low average they would be grey, with various colors in between. Note that pitches “low and away” were mostly grey. But realize that ‘Teddy Ballgame” (whatever happened to splendid nicknames?) played in what was then a “high ball league.” In the American League, umpires set up right above the catcher’s head, making it easier to see high strikes and harder to see low strikes, so you might get the benefit of the doubt on a low pitch but not on a high one. The National League’s umpires set up over the catcher’s shoulder on the inside of the plate making the National League a “low ball league” because the umpires had a better view of the low part of the plate. If you couldn’t hit the high fast ball, you couldn’t play in the American league and if you look at Williams’ color code, he feasted on high pitches.ted-williams-balls-2

The only time these two umpire’s perspectives came into play was in the World Series, but when baseball decided upon more “interleague play” one of the things that had to be sorted out before that could be done was this difference between the strike zones in the two leagues. This has been done and both leagues are now “low ball leagues” as MLB standardized on the NL style of umpiring.

The yellow box I have superimposed on Williams’ box of balls is what his current strike zone would be. I wonder what he would have hit had this been the zone in his day. Williams is the last major leaguer to end a full season with a batting average over 0.400 (he hit 0.401 in 1941 if memory serves). Now the pitching has gotten a great deal better but I wonder what Ted Williams would have hit with such a small strike zone. His 20/15 vision and wonderful hand-eye coordination plus his fierce competitiveness would certainly have allowed him to adapt to the new zone and being much smaller that he had to contend with, how high do you think he could have gone?

As an aside, this year’s NL MVP, Kris Bryant of the Cubs, was taught to hit by his father … using the principles described in Teddy Ballgame’s book.



  1. Wow! His .290 and up covered a lot of territory. I can’t imagine hitting a ball chest high with any regularity.


    Comment by shelldigger — November 21, 2016 @ 12:17 pm | Reply

    • You could if you trained to do so. As I mentioned, basically no one is a high ball hitter any more because they are never called strikes. If they were a great many hitters would learn how to hit those. The admonition to pitchers of “the day” was to pitch “high and tight or low and away.” A high pitch inside might get hit but because the batter couldn’t extend his arms wouldn’t be hit very far. A low and away pitch a batter could extend his arms on but in general would only hit to the opposite field again with little power. If you want to pitch “inside” now it is eaither inside at the belt (the new “high”) or at the knees. If either of those wanders over the plate they end up in the “bye, bay baby” zone. This is why so many pitchers emphasize the outside corner of the plate. (Tom Glavine got to the Hall of Fame and he practically lived out there.)


      Comment by Steve Ruis — November 21, 2016 @ 12:28 pm | Reply

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