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.

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