Monday, December 29, 2014

The Hot Seat: Mental Game VIP Interview, Part 3

Positive Energy: Have to be a giver.

Confidence: Is a choice.

Championship Culture: Can be created, but takes a lot of energy.

Routines: If you don't have routines, you're just grabbing at random stuff and it's very much just luck and fortune.

Process: If you're outcome-oriented, it's going to be a grab bag, an assortment of luck. If you're
process-oriented, you always have something to go back to that gives you trust and self-confidence.

Controllables: Our thoughts are the most controllable things we have. If that's our focal point, the other things usually take care of themselves.

Mind-Body Connection: It has to be practiced. Awareness takes time. Most 22-year-olds
are way more aware than 18-year-olds. We have to help them understand that their thoughts and approach affect their body.

Success: Success is found in the process, not in the result.

Failure: Failure is necessary, no question about that. We're always spending all of this time trying to avoid failure, instead of trying to be relentless in the process. The thing that I've found in my career is that I've had to have failure to learn. I was learning at other times also, but the greatest leaps I've made in self-improvement, which have led me to be better across the board in my life, have stemmed from those failures.

Omaha: Omaha is obviously a pinnacle for Division One baseball. For us in Division Two, it's Cary, North Carolina. You have to have goals, but that's part of the result. You want to put that at the top of the Christmas tree, but you've got to start from the ground up.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How To Implement the Mental Game, Mental Game VIP Interview, Part 2

How do you implement the mental game on a daily basis?

Dedman: Certainly I use the experiences of the coaches of the mental game that I've been able to
learn from, because those are the ones that we believe in.

It starts with Dorfman, Ravizza, Cain, certainly there's some Tom House in there, but those first three are probably the core three that we are teaching—their books, photos, images, verbiage, the way they model things. The system that we actually use on a day-to-day basis, more frequently than anything, is Cain's 4RIP3. 

The 4 R’s are: to have a Routine, to Recognize your current emotional state (probably the most difficult part for a collegiate student athlete), to have a Release (what they really have to practice) and then to be able to Refocus, which is usually some type of visual or verbal cue. The I in 4RIP3 is Imagery, standing for visualization.

The three Ps are: being in the Present moment (not living in the past, not thinking too far into the
future) allows people to stay as a part of the Process, focusing on the things that we can control in the
here and now. The third P is Positive. Bruce Brown is an incredibly positive person and that's someone I've learned a lot about from interactions with books and CDs and seeing him speak live. Mark Brew, our head coach here at Lee, is a very positive leader and leads by example. It's a faith-based institution at Lee, so everything we're trying to do with our guys is centered around being positive role models for them. That certainly is ingrained and starts with the Bible, which is nothing but positive literature there.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

What is the Mental Game? Mental Game VIP Interview, Part 1

The following is part of an interview I recently did with @MentalGameVIP. Check him out on twitter. I will be releasing different parts of our conversation over the course of the next few weeks. 

What is the mental game? How important is the mental game in college baseball?

First of all, the mental game is whatever a player needs to do for himself to put himself in
the most confident place. Tom House, Brian Cain, Ken Ravizza and certainly Harvey Dorfman as well, talk about 'the zone’, what that is and what that means. Everyone wants to be 'in the zone' and it's tough to get into. So a lot of them have created systems or given hitters or athletes nuggets on how to get closer to that zone more frequently. To me, in hitting or in any sport, the mental game is how to get to be consistent enough that you can be in a committed and confident place even when your most recent opportunities have had more failure than success. That's first of all what we seek to teach in the mental game, to get people to believe in themselves even when their most recent opportunity was not successful. That necessitates practice and a lot of trials and tribulations for different people, because it's difficult to put your hands on something that is not so tangible when we're talking about the mind.

It's as important as they want it to be. The easy answer would be that it's extraordinarily important, but every player is going to buy in at their own level. If we're trying to sell everybody at the 10 out of 10 level, we turn some kids off. Some kids just aren't ready for that. I don't think we're doing them a service by making everybody get to a certain level, dismissing their intentions or their attitudes if they're not wanting to get there. Kids are at different places in their lives. They've had different experiences. They've had different opportunities to trust individuals. The way we teach and communicate about the mental game is what you’re trying to build to become a confident athlete. You're trying to trust yourself and your preparation.

Wooden said, “When opportunity comes, it's too late to prepare.” Certainly, we have to work hard before we get those opportunities, but everybody's got a different mind and a different path and learns in a different way. We try to reach them with different energy levels. Some guys may only be ready for a little nugget here and there. Some guys may be ready to dive all in. You give them what they desire.

If you're trying to give everybody everything, you may only catch the elite group that's ready for that, and you may turn some of the others off.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Pro Hitter Advice

I recently caught up with a hitter I was fortunate to coach here at Lee a few years ago. He is a true
professional, a cage rat, and a talented ball player. He's a gem. Here's his advice in a question and
answer session we had.

1.)   How has your mental preparation changed and how has it stayed the same since you got to college?

My mental game has come a long way from being an 18 year old freshman to now be a seasoned vet in the minor leagues. Mental preparation is the biggest reason why am in this position and without it I'd probably be working a 9-5 job. I remember my first time I started reading the Mental Game of Baseball and from that point on I took off!  I still carry that book with me in my backpack as we speak. I never realized that physically, we all have a lot of gifts and, realistically, we are all on that field because we have the physical tools, but we all don't possess a strong mind.

There are many players out there that don't know the game, don't understand how to get themself out of a hole or rebound from a bad call the umpire makes. These things are what separate us from being elite. Control what you can control and most everything will take care of itself. My mental game now consists of understanding that I've put in the work, trusting the process and I talk about the process a lot but the "process" is doing your due diligence in preparing yourself knowingly that you did everything you could to be ready for your next event.

Can you trust yourself enough to say that I put in all I had to be ready to perform on stage? If your answer is yes then the game should be easy because all the hard work is over. You just go out and play with passion and desire to win the game.

2.)   What are the fundamentals of your daily mental routines?

My routine isn't very hard. It consists of a few things.

1.) From the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep, I firmly believe in myself. I believe that any obstacle thrown my way I can handle.

2.) There is nothing and no one that will stop me from getting to my ultimate goal: the big leagues.
As far as when I'm at the field, I'm just reminding myself that I belong and I keep the attitude that I have something to prove every day. I'm never bigger than the game. I have things to learn and to get better at every day. Don't waste a day because you will never get it back!

3.) What adjustments have you made to your hitting approach in the minor leagues?

When I left college I felt like I had a pretty solid hitting approach. Hitting has always been something that I took pride in and I've always spent most of my time practicing it. It firsts starts in the dugout, watching the pitcher, studying his pitches and what he likes to throw. From there I take it to the on deck circle where I get my timing down and prepare myself for a battle. As I walk to the box I tell myself a few things and from there it's on. Drive something in the gaps.

Today a few things have changed: scouting reports are better and we have access to video. Now my approach starts when I show up the field. What pitcher is throwing tonight? What are his tendencies? Does he command the breaking ball? What pitch does he go to when runners are in scoring position? These questions I try and figure out before I even step foot on the field. From there most of my work is done, now I'm just looking for small things. Is he tipping his pitches? What side of the plate is he working on? 

As I make in-game adjustments it makes my job a lot easier. While I'm in the box, I'm focused on driving every pitch, staying up the middle unless the approach needs to change. Sometimes I'm sitting on a fastball on the outer half then I'm spitting on everything else in that at bat. I lock in more now than ever.

These pitchers only get better and when you got a guy commanding two and three pitches that night it makes your job tough. I just try to be disciplined and stick with my plan that AB and if I hit it on the screws or get the job done, I'm happy.

3.)   If you could go back and tell your 18 year old self one thing, what would it be?

If I could go back, I'd say work smarter rather than necessarily harder. Now I understand this could seem a little different, I still and always believe in a hard work ethic. The difference is I always thought that I could just outwork everyone and exhaust all my energy every single day. No days off, just expend everything I had all the time. I didn't understand that there was a process in doing things.

Whether it's physical or mental you gotta add and subtract. Work smarter rather than just harder is how I do work now. I know I'm putting everything into that task that day because it's a process. I don't have to go cram everything in at once. I used to try and lift for hours, run as much as I could and stay in the cages till midnight. Yes I feel like all that helped me and it kept me out of trouble. There were no distractions but as I've gotten older, I know my task and I know how much my body needs. I can structure my lifts and I can take time off hitting, knowingly that it'll come right back to me. I believe in the process and have no problem taking time off if it's going to help benefit me in the long run.

4.)   What does a day in the life of Blake Barber look like mid-season?

A day during my mid-season routine usually consists of sleeping, eating, playing ball and working out. I usually try and get an adequate amount of sleep each night as it varies whether or not we've been traveling or if we have a double header or if we play a day game. As I wake up, I usually go straight to the kitchen and make food; Eggs, turkey bacon, hash browns and coffee.

There will be days where I mix in protein pancakes or eat a bowl of power oatmeal. From then, I usually lie back down and relax for a few hours, watch some TV or talk with my family on the phone. As mid-day approaches, I make a smoothie filled with kale, Greek yogurt, blueberries, cinnamon, blackberries, raspberries, spinach and orange juice topped with a scoop of weight gainer. I'll usually walk to the field after this and go through my daily baseball routine which is looking at video, taking BP, talking with my buddies and getting dressed for the game. After the game, I'll eat take a second to think about how the game went that night and then it's over I'm on to the next day. I'll walk to my apartment, enjoy some time with my roommates and go to sleep.

5.)   What part of your game are you working to improve right now?

This offseason, I have a few things I'm trying to work on: getting a better first step on the bases and out on defense, take better routes in the outfield, strengthen my arm, improve plate discipline, and use the whole field at the plate. I'm ready to take my game the next level which hopefully will be double A. These improvements will need to be part of my game for me to compete at a high level and be an every-day player. I've embraced the utility role. Each night, I never know where I'll be playing. This has been a great role for me because as long as I can play multiple positions, I increase my chances of making it to the big leagues.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Imagery: Mental At-Bats

A mental at-bat is a simulation, a visualization of an actual at-bat, and may include any number of real or imagined stimuli: bat in hand or imagined, uniform on or street clothes, in the dugout during a game or in your living room on a Tuesday night.

Mental ABs use the power of imagery, visualization and the mind's eye, to enhance confidence and emulate the experience gained of having a live at-bat. The power in this practice is in the power of imagery. In relation to confidence from experiences, the mind cannot separate what is real experience from what is imagined.

At Lee University, our lineup card has our game lineup on the left, and our "Mental ABs" lineup on the right. Non-starting hitters practice and go through their in the hole, on deck and pre-AB routines just as they would live in the game.

If a hitter is a part-time player and only gets four at-bats this week, he does not have but four opportunities for focused thought, approach planning and adjustment making. If that same hitter got 16 mental ABs from the four games he in which he did not play, he now has 20 at bats of experience.

Cold outside? Hitting facility closed? Got to the field earlier than anyone else? Tired of studying for your business finance test? GET YOUR MENTAL ABs IN.

Here's an explanation of what imagery is and how to best use it:

And here's a great article on Olympic athletes and their experiences with imagery:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Core Covenants of Hitting Consistency

Consistent performers control what they can control. Attitude, approach, effort and preparation are the core covenants of controllables.

Nothing is more important to a hitter than his attitude.

Attitude is a choice, a decision, a conscious control we each have over our thoughts. Attitude controls thought processes, body language, energy and enthusiasm. If any of these areas are poor, a hitter's chance of success is poor.

Controlling body language and self-talk are the two quickest ways to improve attitude, confidence and performance. A hitter who improves his body language to combat how he feels inside will find that he more quickly feels positive, aggressive and in control.

Bad body language is the mind saying "I'm defeated. I'm frustrated. This is hard. I hate this."

No hitter can have consistent success with thoughts like these.

Approach is not a reference to hunting a breaking ball or trying to pull the ball. Approach is a general term that reflects a hitter's selflessness, perspective and intent. Trying to hit a home run with the bases empty and your team down three is not having a bad attitude. This is a poor approach. This hitter's perspective is not good. His strategy is one of self-importance and ego.

Effort is easy to see. We can all tell when someone is giving less than their best. Often, a poor effort is related to a poor approach. A runner lets off the gas because he is worried about re-injuring a knee that is fully healed. A hitter doesn't lift as hard during his session because he knows there is a game today and he is afraid of being tired or sore.

Often, poor effort is a result of an attempt to avoid pain. Frequently, this perception of potential pain is just that: perception. No real pain is imminent or even likely. Conversely, when an athlete pursues pleasure (i.e. the pride of hard work, the feeling of success, record breaking, winning, etc.), there are few limits, particularly in his effort.

Preparation is as much about having a detailed plan as it is about working hard. Working smart is underrated. Success leaves clues, and the most consistent hitters pay attention to the detailed regimen of professional hitters. Professional hitters are not just hard working, they are smart working.

Each workout has a plan of action, and each plan is a piece of a puzzle that they know how to put together. Working on hitting sliders in the first week back hitting in the off season is not a smart plan. A hitter's pride and ego can be restricting, if his approach to his preparation is not well thought-out.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

"When" Is Just As Important As "What"

Part of being a helpful hitting coach is empowering a hitter with mechanical awareness. However, the timing of the hitting "teach" is as imperative as the actual lesson itself.

Most collegiate hitters have some awareness of their swings, and can generalize what they think a good swing should look like. This knowledge, and a desire to create consistency, can cause hitters to analyze and make corrections to each swing. This is an average and unhealthy behavior.

Yes, the best hitters work on their swings relentlessly, but they are working on their energy, focus and concentration as much as they train their mechanics. A thousand swings working on your mechanics doesn't make you a better hitter, necessarily. Intent is king. Purpose is paramount.

Coincidentally, knowing when to coach a hitter with a particular mechanical teach is important. Video review can assist a hitter's awareness and drill work can give a hitter consistency. But when a coach or a teammate makes a mechanical comment to a hitter, are his words well thought out and planned?

Most hitters having success will be resistant to change at that time, and who can blame them? Hitting is challenging. Some elite hitters can make adjustments without sacrificing current success. But let's not think about statistical aberrations here. We're casting a large net.

A helpful hitting coach should evaluate the emotional stability, confidence and current success of a hitter. The goal isn't to give the hitter the answer, but to help him learn the answer.

There will be a time for every hitter on your team, when they crave that interaction, that assistance, that trained eye and communication. If you've been building them up with confidence, energy and passion, hitters will listen keenly to your recommendations.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Most Important Thing You Aren't Practicing: Breathing

Nothing is more important to your hitting success than breathing properly.

Consistent mechanics are important. A committed and aggressive approach is a must. But without the ability to breathe properly, consistently, and deeply enough, you or your hitters are never in complete control.

As world-renowned sports psychologist Ken Ravizza preaches: "You cannot control your performance until you are in control of yourself."

Tom Hanson says "Act Big, Breathe Big, Commit Big."

Both gurus intend for our hitters to practice awareness, positive body language and breathing techniques.

Whether you are teaching your players relaxation techniques through deep breathing for counts of 8 to 10, or teaching them to take slow and deep breath, an increased awareness of their heart rate will improve their in-game success.

Here's a great article, with plenty of science behind breathing:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Quick Hits: The Five Tools of Hitting


1.) Focus: soft focus shift to sharp focus near release point.
2.) Know what pitches he throws. Eliminate tunnels, pitches.
3.) To be able to utilize SHARP focus—control breathing.


1.) Attack. Hardest hit balls are in FRONT of hitting zone.
2.) Rhythm is necessary to create maximum bat speed.
3.) Extension: palm up, palm down maximizes extension.


1.) Balance = energy transfer with low center of gravity.
2.) Separation = Hands/barrel must stay loaded to retain bat speed.


1.) Passion. Actions speak loudest.
2.) Energy. Bring positive energy to ballpark.
3.) You cannot consistently outperform your quality of practice.


1.) We never try to hit multiple pitches at one time.
2.) Approaches must change. Make adjustments.
3.) Dugout communication: Share information, i.e. relative velocity, spin, movement, does he hide the ball, pick-off move, tempo, strike zone

4.) How will you attack: soft LHP, side-arm, submarine, 3 pitch ACE, high velocity, soft RHP

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Skill of Disconnecting

Metaphorically, we should never put our hitters in a box. They are unique, have different skills, confidence levels, work ethics and talents.

Physically, hitters should not hit in a box. What I mean is, they should be allowed to “disconnect.”

Imagine your four-hole hitter on time for that cookie fastball that ended up a little lower and a little further outside than he was anticipating. He swings, rolls over the top of the baseball, “staying tall” as hitting coaches so often preach. 6…4…3. Double play.

Your leadoff steps into the box with the bases juiced, two outs and a 1-2 count. He’s in a lefty-lefty matchup with your rival’s ace. A slider comes spinning his way then darts down and away from his projected swing path.

He can’t keep his hands back; they float forward as he loses his center of gravity and, from his front foot, weekly waves at the pitch. P-5. Inning over.

Hitters should seek to make connection with pitches with good posture. Strong posture, or what many coaches call “staying tall”, can allow for hitters to utilize their best swing…but only if they have a low center of gravity. This means that they have flexion, not necessarily in their knees, but in their quads. This is why “staying tall” is a mis-teach. The term “tall” puts a hitter’s focus on the height of his stance rather than his lower body strength and center of gravity.

Imagine Kobe Bryant dribbling, analyzing a defender. If the defender has a taller center of gravity, Kobe will penetrate and dunk on someone. If the defender has an athletic stance, a low center of gravity and balance in their lower half, he likely will pull up for a jump shot (God knows he isn’t passing the rock).

A defender- with strength in his legs- has explosive control of his body. Note that this doesn’t mean an overly-wide base. We aren’t talking about the typical defensive stance in basketball, slapping the ground with energy like you’re playing pressure defense. If you’re going to guard one of the most dangerous scoring guards in the game, you must be able to move quickly in any direction. This requires recruiting the power in your glutes, quads, hammys and calves in unison.

So does hitting.

NOW, if we have a hitter who has a low center of gravity, we can teach them to retain greater separation between their load (whether scapular or with their hands) and their stride. Retaining such separation is what creates the most explosive bat speed and highest exit velocities for each hitter.

NEXT, we must understand that WHEN FOOLED (whether we are early on a fastball or out in front of an off speed pitch) it is MORE VALUABLE to retain separation and DISCONNECT from a typically tall posture, allowing the chest to move forward of center, than it is to stay in my posture and finish a swing.

A hitter who is early and retains separation with a low center of gravity can murder the baseball regardless of posture.

We’ve all seen MLB hitters hit home runs, doubles and heat-seeking missiles, despite their balance being primarily on their front foot. This is achieved through a sinking of the hips when fooled. To do this, a hitter must have a lower center of gravity…and DISCONNECT from a normal posture, utilizing their separation. This allows the hitter to stay through the baseball with top hand extension, and drive in the big runs…even when fooled.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hitting Coach Awareness

Recruiting trips always offer the opportunity to watch other coaches work. Some third base coaches shuffle their feet, cross their arms and put their head down most of the time. Some are more boisterous and engaging, jumping, clapping, shouting, running. Every coach has his own 'style.'

I appreciate the "silent assassin coach" as much as the "energetic jumping bean coach."

I'm all for uniqueness, so long as that uniqueness isn't getting in the way of a hitter's confidence, short-circuiting his focus or sapping his energy.

How do you coach your hitters?

Do you show them what to do mechanically between pitches? Do you tell them what they did wrong with their last swing? Do you yell at them, "Knock this run in!"?

These are confusing, deflating comments to hitters. When a hitter reaches the batter's box, it is all about energy, commitment, trust and adjustment from pitch to pitch.

These are skills that we are responsible for teaching them...before they cross the white lines. Telling your hitters what to do during their at bat merely shows that you don't trust them. How, then, could they trust themselves?

These problems typically stem from insecurities in the coach themselves. Caring more about winning, or perhaps a bottom line, coaches put pressure on everyone around them.

Think deeply, how do you coach your hitters?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Hitting Approach is a Skill

No doubt we live in a Sports Center-watching , highlight-infested, media-driven baseball world.

We love talent. It's impressive. Miguel Cabrera's bat control, Mike Stanton's strength, Billy Hamilton's speed.

We are obsessed with anyone who breaks records, particularly in speed, i.e. Aroldis Chapman, Usain Bolt, Rickey Henderson. And who am I to scoff at them!

All of those athletes are phenomenal, impressive, exciting, blah blah blah.

Rarely do we give these athletes the credit they deserve for their skill, or their preparation of that skill. Talent does an athlete no good if he doesn't have the discipline to work on his skill.

Baseball is a SKILL game. The big leagues are full of talented players, but the most talented players are those who work on their barrel manipulation, bunting, catch play, hand-eye coordination, ability to change direction quickly and ability to hit a breaking ball.

The minor leagues are full of uber-talented players who look, throw, run, swing and spit like Hall of Famers. And a high percentage of them will end up being released without even a cup-of-coffee.

Having an approach at the plate is a skill. It requires self-trust, confidence and calculated thought. Hitters that practice their swings over and over again may possess a skilled swing, but are missing the bridge between average and great.

Practicing approach, confidence and mental toughness can all start in tee work, front toss and BP.

Hitters that practice choosing confidence and aggressiveness, despite recent or accrued failures, have sharpened their most important skill.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Being On Time, Part 5: Visualization and Sound.

Today I want to talk about how hitters can use visualization and sound to improve their timing.

In the on deck circle, hitters use the movement of a pitcher's body and the tempo of his delivery to time the speed of the pitch. What is the gap between his fastball and breaking ball?

Some hitters use music or sound as a key to honing in on the timing and quickness of a pitch. How?

Imagine the sound of a fastball, hissing towards the plate. Ssss-sst. That was 85. Ss-sst. That was 90. There is a rhythm to a fastball, something almost musical. A hitter can visualize a pitch and a location while simultaneously imagining the sound it makes.

A breaking ball makes a different sound, depending upon the pitch and the speed. Hitters can hear the sounds and file those in their memories of what to look and listen for out of the hand when getting aggressive to fastballs or off-speed pitches. Hitters that are advanced are always ready to hit the pitch that they are looking for at that moment, but can take the pitch when they hear or see a different pitch OR if they recognize that the tunnel the pitch has come from is different than that required of their hitting zone.

Sound complex? It is. Just like every other aspect of hitting, these idiosyncrasies become intuitive when they are practiced over and over again.

Visualization is not nearly as helpful when it is not lifelike. If you were trying to imagine what a lemon tastes like, you would not visualize a watermelon. You also would not visualize a lemon the size of a basketball because your mind knows that is a fantasy.

Using the mind to visualize pitches is no different. Practicing this skill means creating a still and quiet environment for the mind. This must be practiced in the cage, with front toss, and tee work. To increase difficulty and make more game-like, increase distractions i.e. music, noises, radio, TV, teammates talking, etc.

Being On Time, Part 4: Creating a "Flat" Swing

Our next series in being on time is a dissertation on creating a "flat" swing.

First, it is imperative that we get on the same page. A flat swing is about the BARREL PATH to the ball, not about the angle of the swing. The best swings that produce an elite contact percentage and power have a slight upper-cut to the arc and trajectory of the barrel path. Slight. As in 6-10 degrees lift.

Swings that look like THIS one create high contact ratios with low power. This dude is enormous. Lots of strength, good bat speed, and the worlds most handsy swing.

Don't hit like that.

Can't tell what he's doing? Too fast to see with the naked eye? Go to 1:10 of the video feed, and keep clicking on that swing.

The knob of the bat should not point towards the pitcher BECAUSE we used our hands to do so. The rear elbow slots first, then the hands take over the direction of the swing.

When the rear elbow slots first, the barrel immediately flattens out, parallel to the ground. This is what we want to achieve. The paralleled nature of the bat and ground IS WHAT CREATING A FLAT SWING IS ALL ABOUT.

From there, our hands will create a tilt or lift angle on the ball. A hitter may also tilt his chest and legs in an effort to lift; this,we wish to avoid, as it creates massive holes in the swing with elevated and elevated inside pitches.

Hitters that are "low ball hitters" often have very handsy swings and cannot hit elevated pitches that have higher velocities. The reason for this is that a handsy swing pushes the hands forward, but the bat stays high above the hitting zone until the hands release the barrel out in front, always lower in the hitting zone.

Hitters who hit for a high average AND for power....what we all seek to achieve...slot the rear elbow early, creating a flat barrel and maximizing contact points. These hitters can hit pitches that are high, low, inside or outside...all with power. When their approaches are good, their results are elite.

Watch this video from the HR derby.

Yoenis Cespedes has approximately a 25 degree lift. This explains why he is a perfect candidate, in combination with his bat speed and strength at contact, to lift dozens of balls out of any yard, even Target Field. HOWEVER, this is batting practice. Sort of. This is HR Derby BP.

A typical BP is 38-43 mph and his BP from Mike Gallego was approximately 33-35 mph: big ol' beachballs coming in there with their own downward plane. He can easily get away with such exaggerated lift in BP.

When Yoenis takes that swing into a big league game, he has to commit sooner, is exposed by elevated pitches, and ends up with a slash line for his career that looks like this : .261/.318/.464, for an OPS of .782. Above average offensive production for a big league outfielder, but certainly not the .264/.382/.530= .913 OPS Jose Bautista has put up since arriving in Toronto, or the .270/.361/.538 numbers that Giancarlo Stanton has. All 3 are freakishly strong, despite different body types. All 3 have very strong and consistent approaches at the plate (watch them hit for a couple of games). This is where swing plane, i.e. creating a flat swing, is a difference maker!

Lastly, it is important to understand that their are outliers. We should not mimic them.

Derek Jeter...

... was extremely handsy. He has a .311/.379/.443=.822 stat line. Realistically, he could have had significantly more power had he had a flatter swing. His average may have been 10-15 points lower, but his OPS (which has a significantly greater statistical correlation to runs created) would have been markedly higher.

Miguel Cabrera....

... is a magician at altering his swing. Sometimes he gets slotted early, sometimes his approach is to punch one through the right side to get a free RBI with a shift on. He's smart. If you attempt to take one of his backside HR swings and mimic it as a hitter, you'll be trying to mimic what a 6'4 240 lb. athlete does. He is freakishly strong. Are you? If you have his strength and can alter your swing from pitch to pitch, you are likely a first-rounder next year- congrats!

Lastly, Mike Trout...

... is a notoriously terrific low-ball hitter. However, he gets slotted very early. Watch again. What he does differently is he dives- a posture tilt to reach low and outside pitches. To beat Trout, you must come in and you must elevate. Big league pitchers try to do this to him. Problematically for them, the big league strike zone is 17 inches wide and about 18 inches tall. So anything elevated that most hitters swing at, is often called a ball...and Trouty just takes those pitches. His approach is FIRST CLASS. He knows his swing and knows what pitches he can and can't hit. This is, perhaps, the most important skill a hitter can have.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Being On Time, Part 3: Balance and Using the Legs

Recently, we have been exploring the fundamentals of a swing that is consistently on-time. This blog is dedicated to the use of the legs in creating consistent timing and barrel contact.

The best lower body mechanics in a swing allow the hitter to be both aggressive and "on time." Many professional hitters gain aggressiveness with a leg kick. Often the leg kick is mis-taught or misused at the amateur level; hitters often land with their weight disproportionately on their front foot, creating a break in the swing's synchronization and causing hands to drift forward away from separation. This immediately impacts both maximum bat speed and direction of the swing.

The avoid becoming a 'front foot' hitter, many amateur coaches react to this lack of balance by preaching "STAY BACK" and by cajoling their hitters to become inefficient lower-body rotators with very linear hand paths who lack explosiveness and have lessened their bat speed potential.

Watch these elite hitters:

Notice mainly two things:
1.) Their center of gravity at heel strike: low.
2.) Their head, centered directly between their legs.

Focus on the same items, while watching Mike Trout:

Now Barry Bonds:

Now, recalling what we have preached about gaining separation between the load and the lower body, think about those swings you just saw.

Now, recall the concept of elbow slotting to flatten the barrel out, allowing for 1.) Enhanced contact opportunities with the plane of the ball 2.) Early bat speed 3.) Late commitment.

Watch the videos again, focusing on separation and slotting.

Now, MOST HITTING COACHES spend 75% of their time coaching the upper body, when nearly all breaks in the swing's synchronization began in the lower half.

Focus on these mechanical breakdowns:
1.) If a hitter's head comes front of center, separation will be lost.
2.) If a hitter gets his heel down late, the ball will beat him to the ideal point of contact. He is beat.

So, the conundrum is what to do when the foot gets down too early? The answer: SINK. When a hitter gets his foot down too early and the ball is elevated, it is easy enough to retain separation or "keep the hands back." However, when the ball is away or down, often the hitter will roll over the top or swing and miss. SINKING the hips, lowering the center of gravity beyond normal allows the hands and load to remain separated longer. Often this is long enough to barrel the ball up, despite a break in the kinetic chain.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Being On Time, Part Two: Holding the Bat Properly

Many hitters struggle to make consistent, hard contact. Often, the issue can be as simple as a poor grip. A proper grip should have the knocking knuckles of each hand lined up with the fat knuckles of the other hand.

Try it. Seeing the grip will help gain awareness of what your hitters are doing.

Now, the further towards the pitcher that your top hand rotates, the more difficult it will be to get the bat flat into the hitting zone early, thus creating late bat speed and earlier commitment to pitches. This grip also causes the contact point at which bat speed is sufficient enough to consistently hit balls hard, to be further out in front than that of a flatter swing.

This fault in grip causes hitters to be "good low ball hitters." Nothing wrong with being a good low ball hitter. But can you hit a fastball elevated within the strike zone? Probably not hard, or probably not fair.

This grip also causes hitters to be primarily pull hitters. Try it. Over-rotate your top hand, now take your bat to contact, and let go of the bat with your fingers, trying to hold the bat between your palms. See how it rolled? Now try the proper grip, big knuckles lined up with knocking knuckles. Go to contact. Release your fingers. See how the bat stays firm?

The PROPER GRIP allows for a swing to maintain a "palm-up, palm-down" grip through the hitters zone for the LONGEST POSSIBLE AMOUNT OF TIME. This maximizes the hitter's distance through the hitting zone, and maximizes opportunities to create backspin by staying through the ball immediately after contact. READ THIS PARAGRAPH AGAIN!

If your hitter has a high back elbow, check their grip. There is nothing wrong with a high rear elbow (1) as long as that elbow can be easily slotted near the abdomen early in the swing, allowing the barrel to get flat and (2) as long as the hitter has the proper grip.

The common mis-teach of "hands inside the ball" creates a very linear punchy swing is often a devastating mis-analysis and mis-correction for a hitter that simply has a poor grip.

Conversely, an under-rotated top hand, where ALL knocking knuckles are aligned, completely drops the rear elbow into a weak "chicken-wing" position near the abdomen. "But, isn't that where you wanted us to be," you say? Not so fast, my friends! Beginning in this position creates an incredibly compact swing: good. It also nearly eliminates any opportunity for SEPARATION between the upper half and lower half of the body during the commitment phase of the swing (the portion of the swing that generates bat speed): this is bad.

As with most things in life, moderation is key!

And, as always, these are guidelines for creating an optimized, efficient and violent swing. However, you can go to YouTube right now and find a dozen big leaguers who have huge hand wraps, extremely high elbows and love the ball down. You can find another dozen with extremely short swings where the hands cast forward "inside the ball" for what seems like forever, prior to the barrel entering the hitting zone.

These are elite athletes with freakish strength (even the skinny ones). If you think David Eckstein hit no better than your next door neighbor, or that Martin Prado is weak and need to trot over to your neighborhood MLB stadium for pre-game BP and watch from the first row. Then call and tell me how weak and small they are.

And we have not begun to speak of their years of experience in hitting approach, mental toughness and hitting approach, and hitting approach...and hitting approach. You get the point.

Moral of the story, simplify. If your mechanics look sexy, they are probably impeding, at best, and disabling, at worst.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Being On Time, Part One: Stop Evaluating a Pitch Out of the Hand

Anyone around the game long enough will tell you that hitting is the art of being on time and pitching is the art of jacking that timing up. Pitchers clearly want to force weak contact...or no contact at all.

As a hitter, your job is to put your body, and your mind, into a position to attack the baseball aggressively out in front of the hitting zone. Why out front? Well, that is where your bat has achieved its maximum bat speed, an ideal place for contact.

The next few blogs will explore different hitting and coaching concepts that can assist and detract from a hitter being on time.

Today: Stop Evaluating a Pitch Out of the Hand

Imagine you've just dug into the box, twisting your cleats through the hard clay and dirt. 3-1 count, runners at second and third. Your mind is fast, your heartbeat slow. You're ready.

You point your barrel towards the pitcher as if to say, "Bring it."

He lifts his leg, arches his back. Here comes the pitch. Fastball.

You swing the bat, fast, true and the barrel heads right for the ball. Center cut.

Foul ball. You hit it down the opposite field line, the ball disappearing into darkness.

What happened? How were you late?

Watching tournaments, games I've coached and even big league games on TV, too many times are hitters LATE on fastballs in fastball counts.

There are so many possible reasons for why our barrel could be lagging by mere centimeters, keeping us from destroying the baseball, accelerating through a gap and meeting our teammates, dancing around home plate in walk-off jubilation.

 Many hitters try to evaluate pitches out of the hand. This is something that must happen and something that will happen, certainly, if our vision is any better than that of Mr. Magoo.

Still, hitters need to be committed to the pitch they believe is coming. This isn't guess hitting. This is hitting. What pitch is he most likely to throw? What are my risks if I am wrong? What are my rewards if I am right?
Make a decision and get body and mind ready to attack that pitch where you can drive it.

Waiting to see a pitch out of the hand is foolish. Even the best hitters in the world cannot recognize spin until 10-12 feet out of a pitcher's hand. At this point, a 90 mph fastball will be on top of you in less than three tenths of a second. That's the amount of time it takes for you to blink. To then take the barrel to the baseball with an aggressive swing is nearly impossible. We end up with a lot of near-misses, or in reality, near-hits. Weak contact. Foul balls. Strike two. Ahhh, just missed. Yes. Yes, you did just miss. And that is all you are going to get in this at bat.

Baseball is hard, folks. Hitting a baseball is really tough.

Pre-determine what the pitch is going to be...not always where it is going to be (we'll talk more about that later.)

Understand the amount of time it takes for that pitch to get to the plate then get your body ready to attack. A proper take should look like a full load and stride with a short, aggressive movement to the plate with the back leg, hip and possibly rear elbow and hands, depending on how long you waited before shutting down the swing.

Think of this concept as a "yes, yes, YES," on a swing, and a "yes, yes, NO," on a take. Pre-determining a swing is only dangerous if you will swing at anything. When you learn to practice this mental technique in front toss and BP, game time discipline will increase rapidly.

Hitters that evaluate pitches in mid air can hit a breaking ball backside but get roasted inside. So many hitters wait to evaluate, and teach themselves a linear, handsy swing to stay "inside" the baseball. This swing fundamentally supports the middle-backside singles hitter.

Look at that kid's stats: He's batting .400, but his ISO power is .050 ? He has 4 2Bs in 30 games ? PITCH HIM INSIDE! He's waiting to evaluate pitches, and he is a linear, handsy hitter who stays on all of your offspeed pitches and hits middle-inside fastballs to center field.

Let's progress in how we teach hitting.

Future blogs will address these concepts, and how they aid or impair a hitter's timing:

1.) Holding the bat properly.

2.) Balance, stance and using the legs.

3.) Creating a "flat" swing.

4.) Timing pitches through visualization and sound.

5.) Fear.

Please send me a note and let me hear what you're thinking.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Tools of a Hitting Coach

Remember the first Batman movie with Michael Keeton and Jack Nicholson? During one scene, Nicholson’s character “the Joker” quips, “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”

Well I suppose if you want to be a super-hero hitting coach you have to have some toys, right? Here are some of ours:

The Personal Pitcher Machine. Cost: $150

Pitches golf wiffleballs. We purchased multi-colored balls and white balls and use this toy for vision training more than hitting. The strike-throwing consistency outdoors is average with the elements making some pitches dive and slide out of the zone very late. However, if there is little wind, this machine is effective for hitting FBs, and it also throws a pretty good left or right-handed slider.

Eli’s Springback Hitting Tees. Cost: $110.

Tees are an imperative part of individual training. The ball is stationary, competition is low, and hitters can work on mechanics with immediate feedback. The Eli tees have a metal coil or spring between the base and the tee head that allows a transfer of energy that keeps your tees from getting quickly destroyed by improper swings or reckless use. Best tee we’ve ever had. Period.

CamWood Trainer. Cost $80.

This is a modified wooden bat, a training tool, that has a large wooden knot between the handle and the barrel, slightly closer to the handle. You can choose which size bat you want: we purchased the 33”, 45 oz. bat. Yes, 45 oz. However, the weight distribution makes it feel like a 30 oz. bat when swung properly. The physics of the bat encourage a shorter (not necessarily more linear or ‘handsy’!) swing path. When the swing path is tight, and the hitter slots the back elbow tight to the body, the feeling is that the bat is lighter than it actually weighs. When the knot of the bat takes a longer route to contact, the weight lags outward, pulling against the force of the swing, creating a feeling that the bat is very heavy.

To simplify, when hitters create EARLY bat speed by slotting their back elbow and getting the bat head flat, the bat feels normal. When length is added to the swing, the bat feels extremely heavy.

Coach’s Eye App. Cost: $4.99 (iPad Air was $600).

I’ve always been a huge fan of the swing mechanics and analytics system Right View Pro. We installed the system while I coached at Ole Miss, and the feedback that program gives to players is infinite and indispensable. Right View Pro costs upwards of $15,000. On a wonderful but perceptively smaller D2 budget, I decided to purchase an iPad (for personal and professional use). A close coaching friend told me of an App he uses called Coach’s Eye. More or less, it is Right View Pro except it's cheaper and just as accessible with it’s portability! Coach’s Eye allows you to easily scroll forwards and backwards through swings with high quality resolution at over 150 frames per second.  There are tools for drawing and quickly erasing on the screen, like a coach analyzing football film, and you can e-mail the videos to your players from the App. Also, I found that many hitters would rather see their swing in an informal setting, not sitting in my office looking at a computer. Now, I can give them visual feedback AT the cage, or in the locker room, or on the road, with little effort.

Casio Exilim EXFH100 Camera. Cost: $400

Last year, I purchased the Casio Exilim camera to record swings in HD quality at over 250 frames per second. The shutter speed is incredible, and the ease of use is terrific. You have to figure out how to use it on your own, because it is a Japanese product sold only in Japan, and all of the instructions are in characters that might as well be wing-dings to this uncultured eye.

Despite purchasing the Coach’s Eye App and iPad, we will most definitely still use the Exilim on the road because the zoom feature and clarity are superior, and it is easily mounted on a tripod, all of which are necessary for consistent in-game use. Again, we don’t have $15,000 to buy Right View Pro and the six cameras the get mounted in your stadium when you purchase that program. Still, we have made purchases that have empowered us to give our players daily feedback on what they are doing well and can still improve upon.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Recruiting Hitters Begins With Recruiting Character

When we hit the trail to evaluate players there are numerous concerns we must consider. We want to find hitters who are athletic, talented, skilled, projectable, durable, consistent and represent the type of character we want to embody.

All of this must happen within budget, competing against numerous other schools that have interest in the same player.

Of course, there are ideological questions. Should we sign the player who is more talented defensively but has less power? What about the hitter who has yet to show the ability to hit breaking pitches? Does he have a vision problem, an approach problem or has he just never learned how to get aggressive timing to a breaking ball?

And I really like this catcher offensively, and he receives well, but his arm is average. Can he be a number one catcher?

When we recruit, we have to look at the big picture, working to improve upon weak areas and build a well-rounded club. To do this, we need well-rounded players. Of course, it is impossible to have every player with every attribute, and we put a premium on defense and pitching. Still, there is something more important to learn about recruits than if they can play great catch.

We know we must score to win, but it is our confidence in an ability to take talented and gifted hitters and develop their approach and skill set that allows us to have this defensive-minded approach.
To recruit this way, we must bring in coachable athletes with strong work ethics.

We whole-heartedly believe that recruiting talent is imperative, but there is a price that is paid for signing uncoachable talent. We want a team of self-less players.

While this may sound obvious, we work very hard to minimize the number of risky people in our program, and this gives us greater consistency at the plate.  

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Measurement Equals Motivation: What Are You Saying?

Think for a second, what do you measure in your program? Do you post fall statistics with batting average as the first viewable stat?

Do you keep a barrel chart for batting practice? Do you get after your hitters each time they swing at a fastball outside the strike zone?

While it is imperative to keep charts, regardless of personnel or resources available, what we verbally measure creates a desire in our players to do what we ask of them. They are motivated by what we do and say, even when we coaches are unaware of what we are communicating.

If you give hitters a verbal pat on the back for getting the big hit in an intrasquad, despite their duck fart falling just beyond the grasp of the first baseman’s over-the –shoulder attempt, then guess what they will value- getting base hits, which they cannot control.

As humans, we attach emotion to nearly every experience, and then seek pleasure or avoid pain in all future experiences. If you have ever listened to Tony Robbins speak, you know all about what he calls the “Pain-Pleasure Principle.”

Our players want to please- they want to please their parents, their teammates, their coaches- this is human nature. 

If you show them why OPS is important and has a greater correlation to run creation than AVG or RBI, you empower them. Instead of trying to get hits and knock runs in, things they cannot control as a process, they work to become better at reaching base (OBP), which requires plate discipline, and driving the baseball (SLG), which requires committed swings and approaches. 

Thus, valuing or verbally "measuring" OBP will increase plate discipline.  In turn, this will improve SLG, as hitters will swing at fewer fringy strikes or at pitches they are not committed to, increasing barreled balls which have higher exit velocities and result in more extra-base hits. 

When it comes to charting, few coaches have the resources to chart as much as they would like while still feeling effective as a coach in regards to time management. SEC, ACC, PAC12, and BIG12 teams have multiple managers, student assistants and an operations director, all of whom are capable of keeping charts. Most schools have two or three paid personnel, at best.

Certainly, we must teach our players how to manage these charts, and it is not difficult to assign a player or rotation of players to keep track of charts. Many times, fortunately or unfortunately, there may be an injured player capable of assisting. Make them an asset to the program by giving them ownership in the measurement process.

When charting games, we value quality at-bats, barrels (part of the QAB equation) and pitches per plate appearance. We also keep a barrel percentage (barrels divided by plate appearances).

Our qualifications for a QAB are: barrel, BB, HBP, successful bunt, 8 pitch AB, 2 strike hit, RBI out, advancing a runner to 3B w/ 0 outs.

What do you measure in your program?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Want to Win More Games? Make Practices Like Games

Do you want to win more games? I thought so.

Often, it is the missing link of realism and competitive nature between games and practices. For hitters, batting practice is easy. It's fun. It's relaxed. Hitters can have success without competing or focusing at a high level.

Games are hard. Why? Because that dude on the bump sixty feet away wants to shove that pearl down your throat. He wants to watch you walk back to the dugout, muttering, cursing and losing your competitive cool.

Let's let go of the excuse that, in games, pitchers are throwing off-speed pitches. Often, hitters are jammed by average fastballs for eight innings. In the ninth inning, a team may begin to compete at a higher level, and success can be found, hitting missiles all over the field. What changed?

Hitters spend so much of their time focusing on the physical aspect of the game. They work on their swing. They lift weights. They hit off the tee. They do mirror work. They hit curve balls off of a machine. They buy protein powders and nitric oxide boosters. They get Evoshields for every joint on the body.

Then with a runner at third and one out, a hitter swings and misses at three off-speed pitches....

Another hitter is given the bunt sign, shows bunt, pulls back and watches a fastball go by for strike one...

Yet another hitter, running at first base, forgets how many outs there are and gets doubled off on a routine fly ball, disallowing the runner at third to score...

We need to get better at practicing being in control of our emotions, and in control of our thoughts, while in competitive win or lose situations. Are you challenging your hitters with situations, consequences, rewarding them for positive things they can control?

Hitters that work on their swing in batting practice, day after day, lose an element of competition, of realism. Really, what they lose, is an opportunity to flush the negative. Overcome a bad round. Get tough. Grind out a quality at bat.

Coach pitch, game-situation BP is so much more productive than the pre-game, hit the ball here, hit the ball there variety.

Have your hitting groups compete as two or three teams, working to achieve process-based goals.
Players expect to get jobs done in batting practice, but truly only have pressure from themselves. This creates a system by which their only to their own expectations.

When a group of hitters is accountable to each other, to the betterment of the group, individual success becomes a less stressful part of the process, and the team flourishes.

Look, setting up a process-based practice takes up more of your planning time. You said you wanted to win?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Front Toss...from A to Z

Many of our hitters make important improvements to their mechanics and approach when they properly utilize front toss. We station our typical front toss cages 15-17 feet away from home plate. When the pitcher gives a firm underhand toss (23-25 mph- use your stalker gun to get a feel), the batter must do much of the same that are required of him in a game.

A batter must use the mechanics of the pitcher, similarly to in-game, to judge when he should initiate his load sequence and prepare to attack the baseball. A batter must judge speed and location of the pitch, as well.

When we work normal front toss, our goals are to 1.) Be on time 2.) Attack the center of the baseball.

Next we add off-speed pitches. All pitches are either a fastball or a change-up.
Primarily, in 'advanced' front-toss, we are working on timing and/or approach. Secondarily, our objective is to work on our mental game. Adding a wrinkle to the front toss can easily get a hitter off-balance, even from fifteen feet. With expectations of perfection extremely high due to the slow nature of typical front toss, hitters frustration levels can often be elevated.

In evaluating the results of a front toss swing, it is important for hitters to understand that a ball perfectly squares, and with backspin, should hit the back of a 90-foot cage at relatively the same height that it began (assuming we are talking about high school skill level and above).

Hitting a ball that lands near the bottom of the net, though fairly well struck, is likely to be a two-hop ground ball. Balls that result in line drive singles and extra base hits usually have a 10-20 degree upward angle. Squaring a ball up perfectly into the back of a net is teaching the body to make contact with the ball in an effort to hit a one-hopper to the back of the infield. 

While occasionally we manage front toss on game days, I prefer for our players to front toss during practices. We also communicate with them daily about being a good front tosser and managing the time between pitches properly.

Players frequently pitch to each other too quickly, creating a tempo that is too fast to allow hitters to physically and mentally reset. Hitters lose the realism and flow that a normal at bat would have. Players also can frequently throw too many strikes and hitters fall into ‘swing mode’ where they are no longer processing information- they have predetermined their swing.

Many hitters like to ‘get loose’ on front toss. I am against this. We encourage our hitters (vehemently), to do tee work prior to front toss. As the baseball is not moving at them on the tee, they naturally feel less of a need to compete, and will take swings that more resemble those of ‘getting loose.’

Front toss is a great opportunity for video work while also working on approach (aggressive off-speed, 2 strike, situational, etc.). When we want to do more detailed video analysis and review, I use our Casio Exilim HD camera, which sees their swings at 240 frames per second in HD (the human eye normally sees around 20 frames per second). When we want the players to get quick feedback, I use my iPhone or iPad. There is a terrific App called "Coach's Eye," that allows you to view video forward and backward, and also allows you to mark or draw directly on the video with different colors and tools. 

Another form of front toss we frequently have is 'separation’ front toss where we begin the swing with lower body commitment and a scapular load. This allows hitters to feel the stretch that creates bat speed and concentrate on loading with their scapula (think shoulder blade) rather than their hands, allowing their rear elbow to 'slot' near the rib cage more quickly and the barrel to become flatter in the zone earlier.

We also have an ‘everything’ front-toss where we challenge our hitters to swing at everything. They must be on time for the fastball and work to retain separation while hitting every pitch near the zone. The goal here is barrel control and manipulation.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Vision Training

Before we discuss seeing the baseball, watch this video:

Don’t you love sports science?!

Let’s talk about training the eyes.

As John Brenkus mentioned, we have approximately .44 seconds from the time a pitcher releases a 90 mph fastball until it travels 60’6”, crossing home plate.  How can we best train the eyes to be good at this drill?

We love to have our players, particularly in January, use these drills:

1.) Stand in on bullpens. Our pitchers’ bullpens in January will all be at 100% intensity, creating terrific realism. 

We wear helmets, preparing to hit just as we would in a game, both physically and mentally. Hitters go through their routines, release, refocus and master the timing of taking pitches with commitment (the back leg begins to fire and create separation and the back elbow begins to slot).

2.) Spin recognition. This can be done a multitude of ways. We like these:
a.       Have players throw alternating or random fastball/breaking balls to one another at 50-60 % intensity. The batter stands behind a square screen and has no threat of being hit.
b.      Use a pitching machine to work on hit and runs (barrel control) off of curveballs only. This requires hitters to minimize fear and maximize intent of the swing. Timing is always a major issue with pitching machines (this is why we do not hit live off of them). To improve our timing, we encourage them to be early on this drill. This also reinforces our desire to retain separation and keep our barrel loaded as long as possible.
c.       We hit curveballs in live batting practice. Usually we alternate FB/CB/FB/CB.
d.      We have coach-pitched simulated intra-squads where we utilize breaking balls.

3.) We use a drill called “super-BP” where the BP pitcher throws very firm (45-48 mph) from a very short distance (22-25 ft.). Hitters must be ready to attack fastballs- the decision making process is more similar to facing 90-92 mph, instead of what the 75-80 mph batting practice normally simulates.

4.) We use a whiffle ball pitching machine that fires golf whiffles up to 55 mph. While hitting off of this machine is challenging outdoors with even the slightest breeze, we have found this to be a terrific tool for vision training. We have colored whiffles and white whiffles and ask our players to catch one and let the other go.

Hitters must shift their eyes from a soft focus, further away, to a sharp and hard focus right in front of them, just as in hitting.

What drills do you use for vision training?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dugout Culture

Dugout energy is contagious. It builds trust, generates positive feelings and can be the difference between a win and a loss.

When the second nine practice with the energy it requires to be first nine All-Stars, teams accelerate.

To be so committed to a baseball game that you hang on every pitch, athletes must value the competition and feel the fear of what might happen if they don’t give every ounce of focus and attention to detail.

Certainly, this type of intensity can be lost over the course of 162 games. Major leaguers are encouraged to jog, take it easy and generally try not to get hurt or burn out too soon.

It may be cliché for a college coach to revel in players buying in to hustle and attention to detail but over the course of a 60 game season, with only five games each week, intensity should be second nature.

We get paid to develop young men. Period. When they develop, games will be won with energy, toughness and intensity. It’s against the rail, with squinted eyes, hearts pounding and blood rushing through the veins that we learn the most about who we are.

You must practice with intent to play with intensity.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Hitting Approach, with former big leaguer Lance Zawadzki

Lance Zawadzki was an an All-American switch-hitting shortstop at Lee University. He helped direct the Flames to the NAIA World Series in 2007 and later was drafted in the fourth round by the San Diego Padres. He reached the majors in 2010 and singled in his first plate appearance.

Battling injuries during his six-year professional career, Zawadzki has been with five different organizations and continues to pursue his dreams. 

I asked Lance to speak about hitting approach. Thanks to Lance for sharing with us all. Enjoy.

No matter how much talent a hitter has or doesn't have, there are two things that separate a good accomplished professional hitter and everyone else. It simply comes down to their mindset and approach. After going to the big leagues the first time I immediately took notice to the fact that I wasn’t even surrounded by the most talented players I had played with. However, the separator was that everyone there knew the type of player they were, they all had routines, and they all had a plan every bp, every game, and every at bat.

You can have all the talent in the world but without a solid approach there will be no consistency in your at bats. After all, consistency is the name of the game, especially when it comes to hitting. We play a game in which we can fail seven out of ten times and be considered a “Hall of Famer”. We have hundreds of at bats every year (over 500 to 600 in pro ball) and when you go up to the plate 3-5 times a night, you want the most consistent approach possible. Even when everything is clicking, we can hit a ball right on the nose as hard as possible four times in a game and still be 0-4. Consistency in our swing and, even more importantly, consistency in our mental mindset and approach is what takes a player to the next level.

What kind of hitter are you? That is the first realistic question you need to answer before knowing what your hitting approach must be. Are you a gap guy, a slappy leadoff, a dead pull "all or nothing", are you there to work counts deep or do you prefer being aggressive and jumping on something? Now after you answer that question realistically, let's look at the second question; how are you going to be pitched? How is this team going to pitch you? What does this guy throw? How is his control? What is his best secondary pitch (watch him in his warmups, it's usually the pitch he will throw right after his fastballs). WHATS THE SITUATION?

Two quick stories of guys who had an impact on my figuring out my mental approach, the first one is “A-ROD”.  Alex Rodriguez stood over home plate and tapped his bat on each corner, nothing special there. He said, "The difference between an accomplished big league hitter and everyone else is, everyone else tries to make their money between 17 inches (the width of the plate).  We make our money here (pointing to the fat part of the plate right down the middle to maybe slightly middle in to slightly middle away)." You don't need to cover the whole 17 inches of the plate and the black, you are going to get a pitch to handle on the fat part of the plate if you don't give in and give your at bat away. The best pitchers in the big leagues can only hit the spot they wanted around 20% of the time.”

Well where does that leave high school, college, and minor league unaccomplished pitchers? I'm going to have to say under 20%.

The second story is Adrian Gonzalez. Adrian was facing Jamie Moyer one night in Philly. Jamie Moyer was MAYBE throwing 80. Adrian, as one of the top hitters in the Bigs, went 0-4 with 3 Ks. The next day while watching video in the clubhouse I started talking to him about hitting and all he was talking about was approach. He said “Hats off to Moyer, he got me last night and had pitched me differently than he had previously, but if he would have gone where I was waiting for him to, I would have got him”. this a guy who is covering up for an 0-4 or was that the kind of approach that a true big league hitter has? Sticking to his approach, even after the 0-3 and sticking with it for the fourth AB, believing that if Moyer missed his spot and had thrown it where Gonzalez had been looking without having a doubt in his mind.

Well if I had any doubt, it was answered the next night when Cole Hammels faced off against Matt Latos, both guys unhittable their first time through the lineup, including Adrian who was 0-1. The second time through he got the pitch he was waiting for and didn't miss it. Homer to left 1-0 Padres lead. Couple more times through the lineup and few hits on either side when Adrian got another pitch he had been waiting on for the last two at bats, homer again to left center, off one of the best pitchers in the game at that time. Was this just a weird coincidence? Or was that just one of the best hitters in the game trusting his approach through the thick and thin of strikeouts, fly outs and walks and then there it was, the pitch he had been waiting for and he didn’t miss it. That has to be my favorite hitting story, period.

If we were to be honest in talking about our hitting approach, what I’ve learned and what has always gotten me into trouble and still continues to, is having a little power. Getting away from my approach and trying to do too much with a given at bat. It's a constant battle I have faced since I began playing. I get away from my approach of trying to stay down and through the ball to hit a line drive somewhere and try the Tin Cup “Grip it and Rip it” swing. When this mindset takes over it not only takes me out of an at bat before I'm even into the box, but is synonymous with sending a batting average and power numbers into a dead spiral down without warning. 

For me personally, I am a gap-to-gap hitter, so my approach comes down to staying within myself and looking to drive the baseball to the big part (middle) of the field. So now that I know what I need to do, the struggle becomes am I going to BUY IN and TRUST IT?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Teaches and Non-teaches From a Big-League Swing

Here is a great Jose Bautista video with many takeaways.

Bautista speaks mostly about approach in this video. Notice that his mechanics are elaborate and must take thousands of hours of repetition and honing. There is, no doubt, something both awesome and sexy about his swing; he has something that makes young hitters emulate him.

So what can we take away, mechanically, from Baustista?

Things that “Joey Bats” does that we should teach young hitters:

1.)    Start the swing slow and early. Tempo is best under control. Only the swing, beginning at front heel plant, should be fast.
2.)    Maintain tension in the legs and resist drifting forward as long as possible (see Uncle Charlie)
3.)    Slot the back elbow, immediately after heel plant, flattening the barrel prior to hitting zone

Things that “Joey Bats”does that we should avoid teaching young hitters:

1.)    Allowing the rear knee to align over the back ankle, creating huge momentum.
2.)    Start with your hands above your ear, requiring more movement pre-slotting.
3.)    Have a leg kick that transfers large amounts of energy.

None of these mechanics are hindrances to a swing IF a hitter maintains proper sequencing, or in other words, maintains proper balance, positioning and tempo. “Well that’s a lot,” you say? Exactly. This is a professional athlete: statically and functionally strong, flexible and dynamic. 

When youthful hitters mimic these mechanics, they quickly and consistently can come out of sequence. They lack the strength and low center of gravity to maintain proper sequencing in the swing. At heel plant, most young hitters are already spinning on their back leg or trying to stay standing up because of a loss of a low center of gravity.

On the contrary, each of these items could help create improved timing and tempo IF the hitter is athletic and disciplined (Bryce Harper, Gary Sheffield, Juan Gonzalez, Andres Galarraga, Prince Fielder, Carlos Gonzalez, Adrian Gonzalez, etc.).

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Choosing a BBCOR Bat

Like many college programs, we had our bat/glove day this fall to give our players an opportunity to swing different models in an effort to choose the proper bat for each player.

While we let our guys choose which bat they really want (confidence is most important), we do steer them in a certain direction.

We have a 6’2”, 210 lb. lefty that has 95-98 mph exit velos and with some lift in his aggressive swing.

We have a 6’5” 230 lb. right handed frosh who has some length and some lift in his swing with 90-93 mph exit velos. He is raw and unrefined in his approach. We need to help him slow the game down and gain control of himself.

Then there’s the 5’11”, 190 lb. lefty senior who is built like a brick house with 95-99 mph bat speed and an uber-flat swing. His strength is as impressive as his bat speed. He is not as experienced at the plate, even for a senior, but could be a breakout star this year.

We have another 6’2” 190 lb. hitter who has 87-90 bat speed and above average barrel control. He has a more difficult time keeping strength and sequence in his legs. He is an everyday starter because of his defense and leadership and is on the precipice of being a good offensive player.

My point is, we all have varying levels of hitters with different swings paths, body types, bat speeds, experience levels and approaches.

What is consistent among all of these players? They all need to be able to control the barrel.

Entering a new conference, we now have a new bat contract with Easton, who offers some terrific options. The S1 and XL1 are at two different ends of the bat control spectrum. The XL1 offers slightly more exit velocity due to its larger barrel and more end-loaded weight distribution, but there is some sacrifice in bat control for a player lacking superior strength.

The S1 and Mako offered more barrel control with a more evenly-distributed weight. The S1 appeared to maintain more “juice” or exit velocity than the Mako, though the Mako had slightly more weight distributed towards the handle, leading to better barrel control and consistent hand path.

As they should have, all of our younger hitters chose the Mako or S1. The strongest and most experienced hitters chose either the S1 or the XL1.

When a hitter was undecided between the S1 and XL1, we reminded them that it didn’t matter if the XL1 had 5% more “juice” if they weren’t centering the ball on the barrel. Besides, the hitters hung up between models were upperclassmen who have terrific bat speed and strength. What became most important was choosing a bat that gave them a smooth, aggressive and confident swing without wondering if their bat was too “heavy” or end-loaded. 

Doubt is a stinky beast. Our hitters have bats that, more than giving them a shiny weapon to swing, enable their confidence.

Here’s a Sports Science video on BBCOR bats.