Observers of sport have suggested that hitting a baseball is one of the single most difficult athletic feats to accomplish. Thus, it makes sense that the formula to develop a swing will have many components. Batters must search for the right blend of physical and mental attributes allowing them to achieve a harmony of movement and power to produce performance at the plate.
Strength and speed to deliver the bat head to the contact zone tops the list of physical tools needed. The mental aspects of the skill must consider situations, in addition to ways in which to counter the pitcher’s deceit as he attempts to disrupt a hitter’s timing with velocity and movement.
As hitters look for ways to find relaxation and focus to this endeavor the styles and approaches appear countless. The Dirtbags have again assembled a panel of coaches and instructors in the organization to take on 3 questions in an attempt to provide a few nuggets of useful insight for hitters. This piece includes responses from:
- John Eberle … 17u All Blacks
- Wood Myers … 14u Chin Music
- Ryan Falcon … 11u Camo
What are some tips for hitters when it comes to their set-up in the box that can aid or enhance their results (grip, stance, plate coverage, pre-pitch moves, etc.)?
JOHN EBERLE – With the grip you definitely do not want to squeeze “white-knuckle” the bat, hands should be relaxed to increase the ability to “whip” the bat through the swing. You don’t want the “hand knuckles” to be lined up with each other, rather the “middle” knuckles on the fingers to be more in line with each other.
As far as plate coverage, you need to set up to where you can reach a few inches off the outside of the plate.
You should definitely have some sort of pre-pitch movement or rhythm. This should especially be apparent with the hands, you should use the timing of the pitcher to set the timing the rhythm in your hands. If your hands are dead/stopped you will struggle to get your bat through the zone, things in motion stay in motion and enhance the ability to increase bat speed and make you more successful.
Set up in the box can vary depending on what level/age you are at. The more advanced/higher velo situations you want to get deeper in the box to give you as much time as possible to react to a pitch. When velo is down being further up in the box can be beneficial so you don’t get too far out in front of pitches.
WOOD MYERS – The biggest thing is starting on time. Too many guys start too late and it leads to bad results. A good rule to follow is when the pitcher starts you too as a hitter should start preparing your body to swing. If you are early you can always adjust but nothing you can do if you’re late.
RYAN FALCON – I tell players to set up in the back of the box consistently. This allows for maximum time and distance to see the ball and react. Another important part of a hitters’ set up is how they hold the bat. Most of us have heard the tip, line your door knocking knuckles up. I like to tell hitters to have bent, loose wrists in the box. I see lots of guys with stiff, flat wrists. This makes it hard to whip the barrel through the zone and leads to “pulling off” the ball through the swing. You want to be comfortable in the box and put yourself in the best position to see the baseball out of the pitcher’s hand.
Do you have any do’s or don’ts for the stride?
JOHN EBERLE – The stride is all part of the timing mechanism of the swing. A lot of it can come down to comfort, if a big leg kick is the preference then the front foot has to be down “on time” to ensure the swing is not late. You can also just lift the foot a couple of inches or just the heel keeping the toes down again comes down to comfort and being “on-time”. The biggest “don’t” is over-striding, the foot should come up and down in the same spot, over-striding results in lack of balance and can cause the hitter to be late on the swing.
On the stride you should stride to the pitcher, if you’re open you should end up at the pitcher, no matter how you start you cannot stride across your body and cut your swing off.
WOOD MYERS – This is unique for everyone. Just look in the big leagues and you will see strides in every direction. Find out what works for you as an individual and perfect it.
RYAN FALCON – I think everyone needs to incorporate some weight transfer and stride in their swing. I see lots of kids, from little league to high school, that never get in a good position to hit because they don’t load early enough and don’t transfer weight into their swing with a stride. Loading and striding is the best way to get more power and consistency in your swing. Although a stride is imperative, it’s important not to over stride. Taking too big a stride, crashing all your weight on your front foot limits the ability to properly transfer weight into the ball. This causes your shoulders and head to become too involved and leads to “pulling off” the pitch.
How can hitters be more successful in dealing with the off-speed pitch?
JOHN EBERLE – Biggest thing is trusting your hands, knowing ideally, that the fastball won’t beat you. If you do get fooled and get out on your front foot you must keep your hands back to still complete a swing that maximizes bat speed. Watching the pitcher warm up and in-game is imperative to see the timing between their fastball/off-speed pitches and also understanding when pitchers are using their off-speed as far as what counts and situations.
WOOD MYERS – Biggest thing is to actually swing at them. I see so many young hitters take them even if they are a strike. They aren’t scary and they aren’t going to bite you. Start swinging at them and get an idea of what’s going to be a strike and what’s not. If you see spin and it starts out above the zone it will likely end up a strike.
RYAN FALCON – Being prepared when stepping in the box is the best way to deal with off speed pitches. This means watching every pitch the pitcher throws in warm ups and in your teammates at bats. See the depth and velocity of the pitcher’s breaking ball. Watch to see if he throws it consistently in a certain part of the strike zone or falls into a pattern. Every piece of information you can get before you step in the box makes it easier to have a good at bat. The calmer and quieter you keep your head and movements in your swing, the easier it is to see and react to changes in velocity and movement.
Thanks to the Dirtbag gurus for these wise words on finding more success at the plate with the bat. Be sure to check-in next week when Instructional Friday will consider questions on infield play.