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.

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