What Is a Pull Hitter in Baseball?

The Power and Pitfalls of Pull Hitting: Understanding the Baseball Strategy Behind Batters Who Favor One Side of the Field
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

A pull hitter in baseball specializes in hitting the ball hard to the side of the field that corresponds with their dominant hand, often leading to powerful line drives and home runs.

KEY
POINTS
  • A pull hitter is a player who consistently bats the ball to the same side of the field, either right- or left-handed.
  • To be a pull hitter, the barrell of the bat must make contact with the pitch at the front of home plate.
  • Benefits for pull hitters include increased power and the ability to beat shifts, but there are risks, such as increased strikeouts and predictability.
  • Famous pull hitters include Jose Ramirez, DJ LeMahieu, Babe Ruth, and Barry Bonds.
  • To effectively pitch to a pull hitter keep pitches low and away, while avoiding inside pitches that can backfire drastically.

Definition of a pull hitter

The definition of a pull hitter in baseball is a player who consistently bats the ball to the same side of the field from which they bat. If a right-handed hitter consistently hits the ball to the shortstop, third baseman, or left fielder, then they are a pull hitter. If they do this almost every single time they come to bat, they are known as “dead pull hitters,” meaning defenses will shift to defend against them. 

To get a better understanding of how opposing teams scout pull hitters and know what to expect, see the graphic below. Data like this is kept on all major league hitters, and any team can access it. The example below is of outfielder Tyrone Taylor of the Milwaukee Brewers. Last season, teams played a defensive shift to the left side of the field against him because Taylor’s statistics showed that he pulled the ball 63% of the time, which was in the top 10 for MLB last season:

Diagram

Description automatically generated

The mechanics of a pull hitter

To be a pull hitter, or just to pull a baseball, the barrel of the bat must make contact with the pitch at the front of home plate. When a baseball bat contacts the ball toward the front of the plate, it is already at a point in the swing where it faces the “pull” side of the field, which is why the ball travels in that direction. 

The beginning of a pull swing is no different than a regular baseball swing. The first step should still be towards the pitcher and not outside and away from the pitcher. Once a hitter opens their feet during a swing, their upper body will not have the reach or power it needs to make solid contact.

Below, former 2x All-Star Gregg Jefferies explains how he teaches young players to pull the ball the proper way:

The advantages and disadvantages of being a pull hitter

Like most things in sports, there are upsides and downsides to everything. In hitting, being a pull hitter has benefits but also comes with risks. 

Benefits: 

  • More power: By striking the ball at the front of the plate with a fast, full swing, hitters can generate more power. This is true for hitters on either side of the plate. Also, the way some stadiums are constructed benefits power pull hitters.
  • Beating defensive shifts: With the new 2023 rules preventing certain defensive shifts, pull hitters will no longer have to face three infielders and two outfielders on one side of the field. Managers can no longer move multiple fielders into the heat maps of opponents’ spray charts, like the one pictured above.

Risks:

  • More strikeouts: To get the barrel of the bat out in front of the plate, a batter must start their swing early. Major league pitches come quickly, and hitters have fractions of a second to decide to swing, so because of that, hitters will guess what pitch is coming and start their swing early. However, this risky move will backfire if the ball is nowhere near the strike zone. This also leads to an increase in ground ball outs.
  • Predictability: When a pull hitter (or dead pull hitter) comes up to bat, teams already have a good idea of where they normally hit the ball. For pull hitters who get the barrel of the bat out in front early, pitchers can place pitches in areas that are difficult to hit and pull. Also, managers still have some defensive shifting options, just not as open and liberal as they were last season.

Below is a great conversation between Alex Rodriguez and Giancarlo Stanton about batting techniques, especially pulling the ball. As you watch, notice how Stanton talks about how his stance and his hands help him pull the ball and why that kind of swing brings him more power and more home runs:

Notable pull hitters in baseball history

In today’s game, there are several notable pull hitters that are having successful careers. They don’t pull the ball every time, but when you see their spray chart below, you will see why they are known as pull hitters:

1. Jose Ramirez (Cleveland)

The 4x All-Star is a celebrated switch hitter, but no matter if he bats right or left-handed, this slugger gets the bat out front and pulls the ball (very hard):

Chart, radar chart

Description automatically generated

2. DJ LeMahieu (NY Yankees)

The 3x All-Star and 2x batting champion is not a dead pull hitter, but when you look at his spray chart for balls hit into the air in Yankee Stadium, then you know why he loves that short right field porch.

A picture containing diagram

Description automatically generated

3. Babe Ruth

The Bambino was classified as a dead pull hitter because of the sheer number of home runs and doubles he hit to right field (he was a left-handed hitter). To get him out, pitchers would try to pitch him low and away, but it never worked. One day after a game in 1921, Babe was taken to researchers at Columbia University to partake in a study to determine why he was such an advanced hitter compared to other players. The findings were groundbreaking at the time, but nothing everyone didn’t know already. News flash, his eye-brain-muscle connection worked faster than anyone else they studied. Here is the cover of Popular Science, who produced the study:

A person playing a violin

Description automatically generated with low confidence

Strategies for pitching to a pull hitter

As a pitcher, you should know that power hitters want the ball pitched to them either over the middle of the plate or slightly inside. This location allows them to throw their hands, bat out quickly, and contact the ball at the front of the plate. Bad ball placement for a pull power hitter can be kind of embarrassing. Just ask former MVP Jose Canseco if he likes inside pitching:

Now that you’ve seen what not to do, understand that keeping pitches low and away from power hitters forces them to extend their arms to contact the ball or miss it completely. With extended arms, hitters have much less power and are normally way ahead of the pitch. There is also the additional chance that, because they don’t like that pitch location, they won’t even swing. Watch when notorious power pitcher Randy Johnson uses pitch location to strikeout the all-time home run king and frightening pull hitter Barry Bonds:

FAQ

Why do hitters pull the ball?

Hitters pull the ball because the mechanics of a pull swing force the hands to have the barrel of the bat out in front of the plate when it hits the ball. Having the barrel of the bat hit the ball at that location forces the ball to the side of the field where the hitter is standing (for example, right-handed hitters pull the ball to left field).

Why are lefties pull hitters?

Left-handed hitters have a longer swing than right-handed hitters because of the extra split second they get when facing a right-handed pitcher. There are significantly more right-handed pitchers than lefties, so this is a common occurrence. With that additional fraction of second, lefty hitters have more time to get the bat around and across the plate and make contact while the bat faces right field.

What is an extreme pull hitter?

An extreme pull hitter is also known as a dead pull hitter. These hitters almost exclusively hit the ball to the side of the field from which they bat. Extreme pull hitters will almost never hit the ball to the opposite field or back up the middle.

Who is the greatest pull hitter in baseball?

There have been many great pull hitters in the history of baseball. Many players that were considered pull or even dead pull hitters have had Hall of Fame careers, such as Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, and many more. Below, see the Splendid Splinter himself in one of his most memorable at-bats:

Conclusion

As you can see, players can have great careers as pull hitters. Conventional baseball wisdom teaches that hitters must master several kinds of swings to be able to compete at the highest level. In fact, most coaches and instructors will tell you that the goal of a swing is to hit hard line drives around the field. While that all sounds great, there is also something to be said about knowing what you’re good at and playing to your strengths. 

It also doesn’t hurt if you have a few people along the way to help too. In 1923, the original Yankee Stadium was opened with only 314 feet down the right field line. That season, Ruth hit 46 home runs, batted .393, and had a slugging percentage of .764. The SF Giants figured this out later, and when they opened PacBell Park in 2000, Barry Bonds (a power pull hitter) was given a right field porch of only 309 ft, and the results were the same: 49 home runs, a.306 average, and a slugging percentage of .688. 

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

We're glad you found this post helpful.

Share it with your friends!

Our apologies if you found this post unhelpful.

How can it be improved? Your feedback is important to us!