Welcome to the first episode in our new series, The Show Training 101, where we’ll take an in-depth look at various mechanics and control schemes, analyze how they’re implemented in MLB 15 The Show, and explore the ways in which you can leverage your newfound knowledge to take your game to the next level.

Today, we’ll be taking a look at zone hitting. When using zone hitting, the key to solid contact lies within how well you use the left stick to control your Plate Coverage Indicator, or PCI. The size of each player’s PCI is a product of their contact and vision attributes, and to a lesser degree, power, all of which are then modified by the opposing pitcher’s attributes. A larger PCI coincides with a greater bat coverage radius, which allows for a greater chance at contact, while a smaller PCI works in the opposite fashion. Very simple. This PCI, or zone of contact, can be adjusted as the pitch reaches the plate, right until the moment you press any of the three hit buttons. And it’s this element of the mechanic, the ability to maneuver your PCI with the left stick to match the pitch’s location, that differentiates the good hitters from the poor ones.

Of course, hitting in The Show is no easy task, but now that we have a basic understanding of the mechanic, how do we master it? First, let’s analyze the spatial arrangement of the PCI within the strike zone, which will provide us with insight as how best to physically maneuver the stick as the pitch is being thrown. You’ll notice that when left in resting position, the PCI, regardless of the hitting level or the player at bat, comprises a large percentage of the strike zone, and as such, the PCI does not need to travel large distances to cover much ground. Instead, matching the PCI with the pitch necessitates a more subtle manipulation of the left stick; a manipulation that requires an alteration to the traditional hand and thumb placement on the controller.

When playing a first person shooter, it is essential that your left thumb is given full range of movement to quickly position your reticule on your target. You need to be able to move the reticule over a large distance, and quickly. But in MLB The Show, while you’re attempting to match a reticule (i.e. the PCI) to a target, (i.e. pitch location) your reticule is much larger and the area of possible movement is much smaller, and therefore, we need to limit our range of movement to more precisely steer the left stick without overextension. To do so, we need to change our thumb placement on the controller. Let me show you exactly what I mean.

To restrict our thumb’s range of movement, we will dig the end of our thumb directly on top of the left thumbstick, firmly planted in the middle of stick’s concave top. Our thumb’s first knuckle should be pointing almost straight upward. This will lock our thumb in place, ultimately limiting our range of motion and thereby preventing the overextension that so often plagues many players. By restricting our thumb’s range of movement, we can now subtly maneuver the right stick to correspond to the slight changes in pitch placement on the fly.

I am completely serious when I say that this will increase your bat control tenfold. With a simple readjustment of the way we place our thumb on the controller, we mitigate our natural tendency to overextend the control stick to make contact by regulating our thumb’s natural range of motion. The result is more subtle, more precise 360 degree PCI steering, the likes of which will help you place your bat anywhere in the zone without a second thought.

Now let’s talk a little bit more in-depth about the zone hitting mechanic itself, and further analyze how its components can help us strategize at the plate. The PCI represents a zone of probable contact for the batter, the center of which designates the ideal spot for contact. As you expand outward from the center, the degree of solid contact decreases. But here’s the essential part. If your PCI is slightly above the pitch as you swing, you will be more likely to induce a ground ball, corresponding to a hitter getting on top of a ball in real life. And if your PCI is slightly below the pitch as you swing, you will be more likely to induce a fly ball, again corresponding to a hitter getting under a ball. Now given the situation, we can use this knowledge to our advantage. For example, if there’s a runner on third with less than two outs, and we only need deep fly ball to bring him home, we can place our PCI slightly below its resting position before the pitch is made, simulating a hitter’s desire to lift a ball to the outfield. By lowering our PCI’s initial position, we are more likely to get under a ball and drive it in the outfield. The opposite is true when trying to generate a ground ball. By placing the PCI slightly above its original position, you’ll be more likely to get on top of a ball and hit in on the ground. Whatever it is you’re looking to do at the plate, be smart and put yourself in the best position possible to get your intended result.

There is one more element to zone hitting that is worth understanding. That is, your swing timing also has some influence on your aim. Swinging too early will lift your PCI and influence ground balls, and swinging too late drops your PCI and increases fly balls. This effect is amplified when the batter swings too early on an outside pitch, or rolls over, or too early on an inside pitch, or gets jammed.

Now there are two more things I want to talk about with regard to zone hitting, both of which will give you an additional advantage when you’re up to bat. Firstly, make sure to utilize the “Swing Info Display” multiple times throughout the course of an at bat. After each pitch, by holding the right trigger and pressing left or right on the d-pad, the swing info graphic will show you the timing, contact, pitch speed, and pitch location results. This display is essential towards helping you better analyze and identify your own strengths and weaknesses at the plate.

Finally, go into gameplay options, and when selecting your PCI appearance, choose the “outline” option. While the choice is certainly yours, I find the outline option to be the least invasive and least distracting choice available, and as such, it allows the batter to better track pitch speed, pitch movement, and pitch location.

So that’s all for this week. Remember, when distilling the zone hitting mechanic to its essentials, we can adapt accordingly, and provide ourselves with a better opportunity to increase our hitting potential. With a little bit of scientific analysis to help augment the way we position our thumb on the controller, along with the employment of various strategies formed from our newfound knowledge of the mechanic, you’ll find your batting average climbing fast.

Zone hitting. See the ball. Hit the ball. Simple.