Batter plate discipline

Home plate.

Plate discipline is an interesting concept I came across recently, learning more about baseball. Scouts and managers use metrics that measure plate discipline to assess batters and pitchers.

A batter with plate discipline swings at strikes and takes all else. A strike is a pitch that passes through the strike zone. A ball is a pitch outside the strike zone—but only if the batter does not swing.

Swinging at pitches outside the zone (aka chasing) usually results in weak contact or no contact at all. Additionally, when a batter accumulates four balls, they get to walk. This means that the batter and all preceding runners on base can advance one base without the risk of an out. Former San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds holds the record for most walks drawn in MLB history.

Plate discipline allows a batter to 1) strike out less, 2) see more pitches (increasing the chance of seeing a good pitch), and 3) get on base more consistently (due to walks and better contact with strikes). In 2021, Chicago White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal achieved the highest on-base percentage ever in a five-game span, without a single hit.

This binary decision at bat—along with the many constraints for which a batter must account—presents a good analogy for many real-life decision making scenarios. Plate discipline is about having a good idea of what you need, and ignoring all other distractions.

Plate discipline doesn’t necessarily improve with age or experience. Additionally, studies show that burnout can lead to worse plate discipline. You don’t automatically become less desperate as you age. You don’t become more patient when you’re exhausted. Yet, no matter how desperately you need that hit, the job, or the deal, you should still resist the urge to swing at every pitch, answer every call, or accept every meeting.

Plate discipline is not about being egotistical or proud. It’s not about slowing down or leaving the bat on your shoulders. It’s about skipping superficial work to afford the opportunity to hit.

It takes discipline to take a pitch or decline an investment opportunity when you really need a win. The internal battle is warranted. Because you don’t get infinite time. You don’t get infinite budget. You only get three strikes.

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