When it comes to hitting a baseball, results matter. So if a batter finds a stance or a load movement to provide the best opportunity to perform, all is well in the baseball universe. The same can be said for drills or even approaches to situations players face in the box.
Often sound fundamentals will provide very similar insight to the task, with the main instructional differences being found in the point of emphasis or the style of delivery. It really becomes about what can offer that player an ability to gain confidence to barrell the ball in the zone.
Having confidence is important because hitting a baseball when the pitcher is intending either weak or no contact can be very hard. Velocity, movement and location all play a role in minimizing the batter’s best efforts. Thus, a hitter should look for advantages in the small things that occur in preparation or in execution.
In today’s installment of Instructional Friday, the Dirtbags are looking for ways to enhance plate performance by looking at the set up, considering a drill variation, and even how to attach the ever troublesome breaking ball. The panel of coaches is well versed in providing tips to young hitters in these areas. And those coaches are:
- John Eberle … 17u
- Ben Cassillo … 15u
- Joe Lebeda … 14u
How important are details in a hitter’s set up (grip, plate coverage, etc.) to him being successful?
JOHN EBERLE – For me I’m all about the hitter being as comfortable as possible, the more tense the body/hands are the more chance there is for the bat speed to slow down and the fluidity of the swing to be impeded. Hands should be relaxed (no “white knuckling”), bat should not be jammed into the had but held more in the pads of the hands and fingers, which allows for the bat to “whip” the bat through the zone.
With plate coverage the hitter should get as close to the plate that allows them to reach at least the outside corner (if not a little further) with the bat. In advanced levels/higher velocity the hitter should also set up as far back in the batter’s box as possible to give themselves a little extra time to react.
Hitters should have some sort of rhythm with their hands (objects in motion stay in motion). This will help increase reaction time and bat speed. If the hands are dead stopped it is more difficult to “be on time” especially with higher velocity pitchers.
BEN CASSILLO – A hitter should do whatever feels comfortable pre-pitch (stance, bat movement, grip), as long as they consistently are able to get their hands and weight back and loaded. If you watch enough big leaguers, they all have different stances, some wiggle their bat or move their fingers to keep their hands and wrist loose, but when the pitcher goes to break their hands, they all have shifted their weight to their back foot, and gotten their hands back in a position from which they can immediately come through the zone. Often times, when players don’t load their hands, they will be late and just miss a lot of hittable fastballs. Long story short, your pre-pitch set-up can vary dramatically from player to player, but as long as you’re consistent in what you do, and consistent in getting loaded when the pitcher breaks his hands, you’ll be in good shape.
JOE LEBEDA – The details in a hitters set up is very important to success. First having an approach, knowing the situation, timing the pitcher while on deck. Setting up means knowing your bat covers plate. You should set up in the back of the box to allow more time to see the pitch. Pitchers with less velocity may require you to move up in the box. Staying balanced and loading quickly keeping lower body from pulling out. Most importantly you got to stay relaxed because nobody hits the ball if they are tense.
What is a solid variation on the soft toss drill that hitters can use to enhance performance?
JOHN EBERLE – Here are a few different variations I’ve found helpful and players find useful.
- While feeding soft toss, every few tosses or so throw one a little higher to simulate an off-speed pitch which will help in the player keeping their hands back and getting a good feel for off-speed timing through the natural rhythm of the swing.
2. The feeder will have a ball in each hand and rotate them in a circular motion (hands towards the body) varying which hand they release the ball from. This makes the hitter focus a little differently which is a nice mental variation.
3. The feeder will release the ball at a more rapid rate forcing the hitter to reset quickly and react to different locations quickly. Again, a nice variation that causes the hitter and the mind/body to process a little differently and breaks up the monotony of standard soft-toss.
BEN CASSILLO – Many people don’t maximize the value of taking soft toss. For starters, hitters need to make sure they start by looking at where a pitcher would actually be, and not to the side where the person tossing is. You never start an AB looking to the side, so make sure you’re not doing that during soft toss. When the person tossing brings their arm back, then you can pick up the ball and look towards them.
Additionally, you can practice hitting change-ups & breaking balls during soft toss. For breaking balls, they should be tossed with spin and the batter should look to hit the ball on the way back down. This will force the hitter to: 1) recognize spin out of the hand, and 2) see the ball twice. For change-ups, have the person tossing bounce the ball off the ground, and the hitter should be focused on hitting the ball at its highest point as opposed to letting it come down. Change-ups are incredibly hard to hit once they break, so practicing hitting them at their highest point will pay dividends.
Besides these, front toss is an incredibly effective way to work both sides of the plate and get live reps without putting strain on anyone throwing.
JOE LEBEDA – I think a good variance with the soft toss would be a front toss focusing going on backside hitting. You focus on keeping your hands inside and drive the ball up the middle. This will work on the movements to take the ball where it is pitched.
Do you have any tips to help hitters to make solid contact with the breaking ball?
JOHN EBERLE – Hands back, weight back and stay balanced. The approach/mentality based on the match-up should be as follows (though there are always exceptions):
- RHH v RHP/LHH v LHP – When the ball is started in the middle of the plate breaking away from them, hitters should try to hit it up the middle or to the opposite field. If it starts more at the hitter, hit it up the middle or to the pull side.
- RHH v LHP/LHH v RHP – The ball will obviously be breaking into the hitter in these match-ups, so balls on the outer half should be hit to the opposite field and breaking middle-in can be hit up the middle or to the pull side.
As always hitters should try to gain an advantage by watching the pitcher warm up to get a feel for the timing and depth of a pitchers breaking ball and during the game get a sense of when/what counts the pitcher is using it.
BEN CASSILLO – If possible, stand in the box and watch as many breaking balls as possible. Ask to stand in while any of your teammates through bullpen sessions. If the only time you’re seeing a breaking ball, is 1 or 2 in-game, you can’t possibly make meaningful improvements in picking it up out of the hand & making solid contact. When you stand-in, try watching the ball all the way to the back of the catcher’s glove. This will help you start to recognize different spin of seams & start to become better at recognizing the trajectory of the ball.
Some will use the phrase “see the ball twice.” Essentially, what is being taught is to see the spin out of the hand, and then to see the ball at contact again. We all know that it’s hard enough to hit a fastball when we pull our head out, but ensuring that you keep your head down looking down the barrel at contact will make for more consistent contact.
Lastly, aim to hit the inner half of the ball. If you hold a baseball so that you see both seams running vertically, you should be aiming to hit the seam that is closest to you. This focus keeps you from rolling over on pitches and allows for more hard contact. It will allow you to also hit the ball where it’s pitched and not try to pull an outside pitch, but rather shoot a line drive the opposite way. Practice putting the ball vertically while hitting off a tee, and aim to make contact on the inner half of the ball, and you’ll notice your ability to consistently barrel balls will go up.
JOE LEBEDA – Hitting the curve ball can be a challenge but by first paying attention to what the pitcher has been throwing and recognizing his sequences. Also very important is you knowing the count. Once the pitch is thrown you can pick up the spin and keep hands back so to drive the ball up the middle. Again with you hands back keeping your lower half balanced you then can explode through the ball.
What a session by a fine group of hitting instructors. Surely, hitters looking for answers will find something within those responses to offer an advantage when making adjustments and improvements to the swing. Be sure to check-in next week when the column asks some questions relating to defense.