It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago, a shortstop led all of Major League Baseball in home runs.
In 2002, 27-year-old SS Alex Rodriguez smashed 57 long balls as a member of the Texas Rangers. He followed up with 47 homers in 2003, left for New York in 2004, moved to third base, and the rest is history—including the brief golden era of the power-hitting, big-league shortstop.
Sure, there are shortstops who can hit for power. Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies hit 57 home runs—in 2010 and 2011 combined—tops among Major League shortstops.
However, as a March 2012 New York Times article illuminated, the power-hitting shortstop is nearing the brink of extinction:
“For nearly all of baseball history, shortstop has been occupied by little guys with names like Pee Wee, Pesky and Ozzie—quick-footed, sure-handed and not much of a threat with a bat in their hands.
"There had been exceptions...and many thought Rodriguez, [Derek] Jeter, [Miguel] Tejada and [Nomar] Garciaparra represented a sea change, paving the way for bigger, stronger hitters to take over one of the most important spots on the diamond...[but] now it is looking more and more as if that was a special group rather than a revolution."
Nevertheless, the Times concludes, “a shortstop can still be an offensive force without hitting home runs.”
Philadelphia Phillies SS Jimmy Rollins falls into both of the aforementioned categories. He’s listed at 5’8” and 180 pounds, owns four Gold Glove Awards, and won the National League Silver Slugger Award in 2007, a year in which he belted a career-high 30 home runs.
Rollins’ power numbers dropped off following his smash-hit 2007 season, but he brought the power back in 2012, to the tune of 23 home runs.
What was the source of Rollins’ power resurgence? An advanced fitness regimen? A new bat?
Try a keen eye and disciplined approach at the plate.
In 2012, Rollins ranked among the league’s top 10 for working the count in his favor, putting himself in a hitter's count in 69.5 percent of his plate appearances, according to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Info.
Simply put, working a hitter's count allowed Rollins to be more selective at the dish and swing predominantly at pitches in his hitting zone. Nine of his 23 home runs came on counts of 2-0, 3-0 or 3-1, and another six dingers came on a 1-0-count.
Those numbers may not seem staggering at first, but compare them to David Wright, who ranked first at getting into hitter's counts (80 percent of his at-bats). Wright hit zero home runs on 2-0, 3-0 and 3-1 counts. So it’s clear that Rollins capitalized on the advantage.
Says Rollins of his strategy at the plate, “I try to get the pitcher to get his pitch count up early. My first at-bat, I’m focused on who’s on the mound, what are his strengths, what is his velocity, and whether he has control of his pitches. After the first at-bat, I’m focused on what it’s going to take to get things going for my team. Sometimes I go up and decide I’m going to take the first pitch. Other games, I know the team might need me to work the count.”
Working the count is only half the battle of an-bat; as a hitter, you must know what to do with the bat when served with a pitch in your hitting zone. Discover a hitting drill Rollins uses that helps reinforce proper swing mechanics and enables him to drive the ball to the deepest parts of the park.