Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Approach: Eliminating Pitches

A stocky right-handed hitter points his barrel towards the pitcher, ready to battle from his 0-2 count. A six-foot-three inch righty dusts the rubber off, stares in for the sign, nods his head, winds and delivers to the plate: a fastball elevated just above the belly button. The hitter stays loaded, takes the pitch, quiet and still. He glares back to the pitcher with a smile, as if to say “can’t fool me.”

Some hitters take two-strike pitches like they know what’s coming. No question, those hitters are strong in the mental game: slow feet, slow mind, quiet heartbeat, fast hands. But something more is going on here. 

Great hitters understand the pitcher’s repertoire and use the tunnel, break and spin of pitches as information against the pitcher, like a general anticipating an enemy’s next point of attack.

The concept of a 'tunnel' is that of a set direction based upon a starting point. When you see the direction of an arrow, you can anticipate it's estimated target. Picking up on the tunnel from a pitcher's release is similar.

If a right-handed reliever throws a slider, but does not throw a curveball or change-up with great depth, then any pitch starting out of a higher tunnel is unlikely to come down into strike zone. This allows the hitter to eliminate high tunnel pitches.

Hitters also struggle to barrel up a fastball with movement because they swing towards the initial plane of the ball rather than the anticipated plane. In other words, they fail to anticipate the altered direction the ball moves in when lesser fastball spin and air resistance add sink to a pitch.

If you are facing a submarine pitcher, the ball may come out of a "4-o'clock" slot. From this tunnel, fastballs and change-ups will move down and arm side and sliders across and glove side, in a sweeping motion. If you’re looking for a fastball to hit, swinging at a pitch that starts on the inside-corner will get your thumbs sawed off fast.


If a pitcher throws an 11-5 or 12-6 curveball and is pumping it into the zone, it would make sense to look for a curveball to hit, so you aren't quickly subject to an 0-2 or 1-2 count. To find a curveball to hit hard, a hitter must anticipate an elevated tunnel. If you look for the same tunnel out of his hand as a fastball down the middle, you will end up swinging at a breaking ball in the dirt.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Hitting Off-speed Pitches

I always laugh when I hear a scouting report that says a hitter “can’t hit a good slider.” No kidding.  Most of the time, neither can Miguel Cabrera. What coaches likely mean to say is, “this kid has no clue how to look for an off-speed pitch, analyze what tunnel the ball has come out of, decipher if this pitch will be a good pitch to hit, and put an aggressive swing on it.”

To be a strong hitting team against strong pitching, our hitters must understand when, how and why to look for an off-speed pitch. Bat speed is a talent that can be maximized. Hitting a curve ball is a skill that can be mastered.

We have to practice, daily, hitting breaking balls on the field, in the cage and visualizing off-speed pitches when hitting off of a tee.  If we expect our hitters to improve a skill, we must work SMART. Give them the toolbox from which to draw the proper tool.

There are several misanalyses in coaching jargon. Let’s take a look at two of them.

OFF-SPEED COACHING MISANALYSIS #1: “He can't see spin.”

First, as coaches, we are responsible for knowing whether our players have good eyesight. Do they wear contacts? What type of vision do they have? Making assumptions often makes…well you know.

Secondly, most hitters can see the spin of the ball. They can describe what each pitch looks like. Developing this awareness starts with dialogue, with questions, and an open conversation of what the pitches looked like, and what they did. Having hitters stand in on bullpens is a terrific way to develop this dialogue and for them to practice rhythm and timing.

Make a game out of the bullpens by having hitters call out “1” or “2” for fastball or off-speed, or “strike” or “ball” as soon as they recognize tunnel and spin. Keep a chart. Measurement of a skill equals motivation to improve the skill.

OFF-SPEED COACHING MISANALYSIS #2: “He only wants to hit fastballs.”

Loosely paraphrasing John Wooden, “there are no bad students, only teachers who don't reach them.”

Every thought, every choice, every decision a human makes is either in pursuit of pleasure or in avoidance of pain. Many athletes spend more time avoiding pain than seeking pleasure. Hitters will avoid swinging at off-speed pitches early in counts because they do not know how or why to look for them, or how to stay in sequence while the ball decelerates towards the plate with downward movement. You have to TEACH them how to hit off-speed pitches.

Front toss is the simplest way to teach the timing of hitting a breaking ball or change-up. We teach our hitters to front toss to one another at two different speeds. When we are front tossing, we are hunting fastballs and adjusting to slower pitches that are elevated, or we are hunting slower pitches that are elevated and taking all fastballs.

We teach our hitters, when “aggressive to off-speed,” to slightly delay the timing of the load and the stride. Watch a big leaguer, and you’ll see how their timing on some off-speed pitches is impeccable, like they “were looking for it.” That’s because they were.

When you see a big leaguer with fastball timing, keeping his hands in a loaded position, he has retained separation between his load and his stride, creating a tension or resistance in his posterior core that creates stored energy.

When our hands or “load” float forward, we lose early-swing bat speed and can only pull the baseball with authority.


We want our hitters able to drive the off-speed pitch to the middle and slight-oppo side of the field.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Mental Game System: 4RIP3

Successful people have a system for everything. A system for where they leave their wallet and keys at home, a system for how they prepare meals in advance, a system for how they prepare for a workout, a system for how they wake up in the morning, a system for what they do before they go to bed, a system for how they return and organize e-mails and on and on…

Hitters need a system that helps them control their thoughts and attack the game with confidence and aggressiveness.

The system we use is renowned sports psychologist Brian Cain’s “4RIP3.” You can access the excellence that is Cain at www.briancain.com . I highly recommend buying ANY of his books.  These books are not baseball books, or even just books for athletes, these are books for life!

EACH of them is outstanding. Reading just one of his books is helpful. Reading several of his books, listening to his audio tapes, watching him interact with coaches and athletes, and committing to a lifestyle of excellence...will change your life forever!

The acronym 4RIP3 is comprised of 4 R’s, 1 I, and 3 P’s.

The R’s: Routine, Recognize, Release, Refocus.
The I: Imagery, also known as visualization.
The P’s: Present, Process, Positive.

If you stick with me on this blog, you will see the language of “Cain” is in everything we teach. If you don’t have a system for most details in your life, particularly how you prepare, how you compete or how you overcome adversity then this quote is for you: “It is the START that STOPS most people.” 



Sunday, January 12, 2014

The "Inverted U" and Hitting

Many of you may have heard of the “Inverted U of energy.” Some call it the “Inverted U of success.”
As you can see from the diagram below, as emotion (or energy) rises, success increases. However, when one is over-emotional or over-energetic, performance suffers. On a graph, this creates the “inverted U.”



We talk about the “Inverted U” with our hitters all the time. It’s a simple reminder to be focused without being intense. “Tense” and success are two words that do not function well together in hitting. We all know this, sure, but SHOWING our visually-stimulated players how and why is often as important as telling them.
Check out this cool video from Sports Science during the World Series.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Emotional Hitters vs. Thinkers

One of our freshmen, a hulking and strong young man, hit his first homerun with us a couple of weeks into our fall season. We encourage post-at bat communication to increase awareness, so I asked him what pitch he had hit. At first, he said he didn’t know. Then, realizing this may not have been the most complete answer to give his hitting coach just moments after hitting a home run, he shuffled his feet and said, “Uh, I think it was a two-seamer.”

Flash back a couple weeks previous to that at bat. The setting: a Greek-Italian restaurant, one of our favorites for taking recruits and their families on official visits. As I sat at a large table with another large bison-looking hitter, I listened to this junior college hitter pick apart, pitch-by-pitch, at bats he had in junior high...Junior High!  

When our freshman donkey tried to recall, thinking this was for me and not him, what he hit, he didn’t recall the correct pitch. He had hit an 0-2 hanging slider off of our knuckle-scraping closer. Its spin was unmistakable, and combined with the poor location, sped up his timing enough to get his barrel out in front, and he stayed through the pitch well, breaking posture to get his top hand through the zone and hit a pee-rod of a line drive over the left field wall. 

We’ve all coached players like the above junior college player. They remember pitches they took. They remember pitches teammates hit.

I do not pretend to hold a master’s degree in biology, psychology or any –ology for that matter. I do recognize however, that there is a distinct difference in the ways in which the brain of an “emotional hitter” and a “thinker hitter” organize and relocate at bats, pitches and their results.

Our best hitter in 2012 was a “thinker.” He was extremely prepared, extremely regimented, extremely disciplined, and made precise calculations in approach from pitch to pitch. He had an 1.123 OPS with 100 hits, 30 extra base hits, 68 R, 65 RBI and was a 1st team All-American.

Last year, we had a senior step into the lime-light when another infielder went down with an injury. Any post-at bat conversation with said senior could require taking a dose of Excedrin. He appeared to have no pre-determined plan besides attacking strikes. See ball, hit ball. That young man is a very smart young man, but his ability to recall his plan, what pitch he saw or hit, or even what inning we were in, was often missing. However, this young man surprised everyone to have a .970 OPS in almost 200 at bats and nearly hit .380 with 20 extra base hits. While he was an extremely intelligent student and a terrific young man, we found out which type of a hitter he was, an “emotional hitter” and we enabled him to practice THAT type of behavior in front toss, tee work, imagery and batting practice. When he learned to gain better control of his emotions, his career accelerated at a rapid rate.

Clearly, both types of hitters can have terrific success.

My experiences lead me to believe that asking “emotional hitters” to think can be wildly detrimental to their success. Conversely, when “thinkers” get emotional, their ability to process and make decisions and adjustments can be severely impaired. We’ve seen this scenario play out frequently. One of your best and smartest hitters is frustrated, disappointed, girlfriend dumped him, etc. He’s become emotional, and thus, he can’t think straight in the box. The ball looks small, his load/stride are late, his hands are slow, his feet are heavy and the game is getting faster and faster.


Ah…and we’ve come full circle back to the mental game. BOTH “thinkers” and “emotional” hitters can have increased level of success by relaxing their bodies and dominating a slow stomach breath. Note, the “Inverted U” of Success...our next subject.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Teaching Confidence

The time we spend admiring the technique, mechanics, approach and unworldly talent of big league hitters can often allow us to forget the most important facet of hitting: confidence.

As a coach, I believe we can develop confidence as easily as we can breed insecurity. Now saying that developing confidence is easy does not mean it is quick. Confidence is a reflection of trust in self, and too often, security that others should trust you.

My goal as a hitting coach is to help my hitters become their own best hitting coach. While their awareness of their swing may not be as consistent or have the same perspective that I can offer them, ultimately they are in the batter’s box and I am not. They make decisions, have emotional reactions and can succeed or fail independently from others’ expectations.

Hitters can more consistently control their performance if they are in control of themselves. Confidence, like attitude, is both a momentary choice and an accumulation of certainties that training and preparation have the hitter ready to snatch success from the grasp of failure’s fingertips. Work smart and you’ll feel confident.

When Miguel Cabrera steps into the box, we assume he is confident. He looks confident. He’s hulking, swings a 33 ounce bat like a broom stick and imposes his strength at contact like a driving sledgehammer. But even Miguel has uncertainty. His load might feel off, or someone wrote a new article about his former issues with alcohol that upset him, or his oblique strain aggravated him again in BP.

Lacking confidence is really giving in to distraction. Confidence cuts with a razor-sharp blade through distraction and locks in with superior present-moment focus. Control what I can control. Confidence is simple. Confidence is aggressive but controlled, like a Mercedes-Benz.

We see hitters all the time who are “4 o’clock hitters.” Batting practice starts and they CRUSH 48-52 mph down the middle. They even have the audacity to drive the ball backside. Then the lights come on and the game starts at 7 and their approach sucks, their swing looks like a wet noodle through the hitting zone, and their body language looks as if someone just stole their lollipop.

So how the heck can we teach confidence? How can we GIVE them confidence?

Every teacher needs a system. We use Brian Cain’s 4RIP3 system here at Lee.

4 R’s: Routine, Recognize, Release, Refocus; 1 I: Imagery (visualization); 3 P’s: Present (moment focus), Positive and Perspective.

Most importantly, the way we teach on a daily basis is meant to reinforce perspective, kaizen (small and incremental changes), and being process oriented. When they focus on these three things, they can learn to control what they can control: attitude, approach and effort.

Hitters have no control of the ball once it comes off the bat, but how it came off of the bat is a reflection of mechanics, certainly, approach, definitely…and confidence.

If your hitters are having a bad round of batting practice, try encouraging them to get aggressive and COMPETE! Watch the results improve regardless of mechanical deficiencies. As they get better results, they should quickly realize that it was their mindset that had a significant and direct impact on their results. They dominated the process by focusing on their confidence, their aggressiveness…now that’s an approach we all can be excited about!

Welcome to “Hitting Mental!”

I’ve been terrifically fortunate to be around and have the opportunity to get to know some special people in the coaching world. Through the development of my own coaching education, I’ve always considered myself as much of a lifelong learner as a teacher/coach/mentor/educator. I thoroughly enjoy sharing hitting drills, talking philosophies and hammering out different mental game concepts with other coaches.

I decided to share the information I have learned and gathered and have created a resource and tool not just for other coaches, but for myself. If you’ve read Darren Hardy’s “Compound Effect,” you understand the significance creating lists can have on making small improvements. I hope to utilize this blog as a list of hitting ideas, philosophies, drills and as a general sounding board for self-improvement as a coach.

I am Justin Dedman, the hitting coach at Lee University, a formerly-NAIA and newly-D2 program in Cleveland, TN. Like most coaches, I have learned, inherited, borrowed, bartered and stolen hitting ideas and philosophies from many great coaches that I would like to thank.

Many of these great men have no idea the mentorship they have provided me but I am indebted to them for life. For dedicating your lives to the betterment of young men, and helping me become the coach I am excited to be today, and for the moments, days and years you may have spent giving to me, a BIG THANK YOU to Mark Brew, Pat Hake, Dave Altopp, Andrew Carson, Clint Spencer, Michael Moody, Bill Decker, Anthony DeCicco, Norberto Lopez, Manny Mantrana, Kevin McMullan, Chris Ermis, Tim Corbin, Mark Calvi, Erik Bakich, Brian Cain, Danny Price, Nate Metzger, Harvey Dorfman, Steve Springer, Ken Revizza, Dan Heefner, Matt Mossburg, Gary McClure, Jody Gerut, Joe Hodges, Travis Jewett, Donegal Fergus, Matt Reid, Jay Lavender, Jeremy Sheetinger, Mike Deegan, Bryan Christopher, Drew Shamrock, Brian Regan, Cam Cowden, Matt Fadely, Rob Russo, Travis Drury, Andrew Ganey, Drew O’Brien and Chris Phillips. A special thanks to my Mom and Dad for encouraging and supporting my passion every day, and to my incredible wife Brittany for her encouragement, support, advice and unconditional love.

Let’s get this party started!