A wheelhouse is the part of the strike zone where a hitter loves to see a pitch thrown. The ball doesn’t look any better, and the hitter swings for the fences when a pitch is thrown in his wheelhouse.
This is generally an inside pitch, as hitters have a tendency to pull the ball. However, a wheelhouse pitch could be high and inside, down and in, or somewhere outside. The majority of players are able to pull an inside pitch better than they are able to hit an outside pitch to the opposite field. Derek Jeter might be one of the exceptions since he has made a career out of hitting balls to right field with his inside out swing.
The term wheelhouse was not born on the baseball field. A wheelhouse refers to a place on a boat where its steering wheel is kept. A captain is able to have full control of the boat from this room. The same is true of a wheelhouse in baseball: a hitter is in the most control. He will more likely than not hit the sweet spot of the bat and make the best contact possible.
Some hitters, like Barry Bonds, seem to have a wheelhouse no matter where the pitch is thrown. Most of the time though, players have a set part of the zone that they are the most successful with. Some TV broadcast may even show a hot/cold zone chart displaying where a player has the highest and lowest batting average, based on the pitch location.
These charts are excellent visuals of a hitter’s success, or lack there of, in each part in and out of the strike zone. After all, not every ball put in play is a strike and not every pitch in the strike zone is swung at. Many teams use charts like these to establish scouting reports on opposing players. Managers and pitching coaches want to make sure the pitching staff knows where each hitter’s wheelhouse is and to avoid it.
Just because a hitter has a red zone on a hitting chart does not mean you can’t pitch him there. Hitting a fastball is one of the hardest things to do in sports. So is hitting a curveball. Or a change-up. Or a knuckleball from R.A. Dickey. The point is that a hitter’s wheelhouse is where he is looking for a pitch and most likely to get a hit. It doesn’t mean a pitcher can’t throw it there, but he better watch out if he does. Enter a hitter’s wheelhouse at your own risk.