An All-American Pitcher Shares 3 Traits Of Tough Hitters
Danielle Lawrie faced thousands of batters as an All-American pitcher at the University of Washington, then later as a professional with the USSSA Pride. Her trophy case, which includes two national player of the year awards, can attest to the fact that few of those hitters actually stood a chance; “merciless” has been a word used to describe her competitive style.
But even Lawrie, who at the peak of her softball career was all but unhittable, admits there were certain batters who made her work, who challenged her mentally, and who required her full attention every time they came to the plate.
We asked her recently to think back on some of those encounters, and to identify a few common characteristics of her toughest opponents. We wanted to know what — beyond talent — did those players have that others lacked? And what, if anything, could young players learn or do to emulate the approach?
Lawrie recalled facing the greatest hitters of her day, players like Crystl Bustos, Caitlin Lowe and Jessica Mendoza, and identified three traits all of them shared that, when combined with their skill, made them nearly impossible to get out.
“The No. 1 thing all great hitters have is confidence,” Lawrie said. “Great hitters are confident they’re going to beat you and hit you. As a pitcher, you can sense that. You just know when someone takes the batter’s box if they’re confident or not. They have a certain presence about them. All of those hitters had it and that made them tougher.”
Lawrie said Bustos, a three-time Olympian with legendary power, had a particularly imposing demeanor at the plate.
“My approach with her was I never wanted to get beat throwing the ball over the middle of the plate,” Lawrie said. “And that can be a tough thing to think as a pitcher — that you don’t want to throw the ball over the plate. She could intimidate some pitchers to the point they’d make a mistake and end up throwing it over the plate where she wanted it.”
Great hitters vary their approach and sometimes do the unexpected. Lawrie said Lowe, a speedy left-handed, leadoff hitter on Arizona’s 2006-07 national championship teams, was a master at keeping a pitcher off balance, bunting, slapping and hitting her way to a .446 career average. “Her first at-bat, she might slap to mess with the defense, so the next at-bat she’d be able to get a bunt down,” Lawrie said. “Then, once the defense was on their toes, she’d hit something up the middle with a little bit of power. All those different approaches were in the back of your head when you faced her.”
Lawrie said Mendoza was another unpredictable hitter because the latter had a knack for chasing — and crushing — pitches outside the strike zone. “No count was ever safe with her,” Lawrie said. “If I got ahead of a hitter, 0-2, the ball was not going to be anywhere close where they could make contact. But Mendoza could. Our coach would get mad and say, ‘That’s 0-2. You’ve got to keep it off the plate.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, I just threw it four balls off the plate and she hit it.’ It didn’t matter where you threw it, she could always find a way to put the ball in play.”
Swinging at the first pitch, something many coaches discourage, is another way to be unpredictable, Lawrie said. “If you just look at percentages, pitchers throw a lot of first-pitch strikes,” she said. “In college, I always thought that was an easy strike for me. Very rarely did a hitter come up and swing at the first pitch. I actually think hitters should swing at the first pitch more often.”
Great hitters collect information on pitchers, Lawrie said. Those who do their homework are far more likely to be successful because they’ll know a pitcher’s tendencies. “If you have that mentality as a hitter and you do your research on a pitcher to see what she throws, and when she throws it, you give yourself a better chance to be successful,” Lawrie said. “The best hitters take advantage of all the knowledge that’s available to them in the game today.”
Now, for a light-hearted look at some traits of terrible hitters. Or should we say, terribly overmatched hitters. Check out some Seattle-area media personalities, circa 2009, trying to hit Lawrie in her prime. (Spoiler alert: lots of swings and misses.)
Last, if you’ve followed the Axe Bat for any length of time, you know Lawrie has had a signature fastpitch bat for a couple years now. (Did you know she also was an accomplished hitter, batting .313 as a senior with 15 home runs?) Her signature bat for 2016, the Danielle Lawrie Fastpitch L136C, is again one of the more popular — and more colorful — bats in our lineup.
Lawrie said she’s an Axe Bat believer because of the way the shape of the handle can provide feedback to your swing.
“It’s one of those tools that if you give it a try, it can open your eyes to a whole new perspective on hitting,” Lawrie said of the Axe Bat. “There’s so much benefit for younger players learning how to hit — from helping them understand hand path through the zone to the proper hand position at contact — it just sets them up to be a more successful hitter moving forward.”by