Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Great Teammate


                                                                                (photo credit: forbes.com)



A great teammate is an energy giver. You can trust a teammate who always gives energy. You know that he gives past the point of exhaustion, boredom and pain. 

A great teammate runs every ground ball and pop up out with 100% intensity. He comes early to the field. He stays late. 

A great teammate trusts himself and his teammates. He doesn’t curse after a bad at bat. He doesn’t make loud noises and hit things to draw attention to his own “care factor.” 

A great teammate encourages. A great teammate holds his teammates to the standards of the program. 

A great teammate communicates and asks questions. He isn’t afraid to be wrong, and isn’t afraid to fail. 

A great teammate keeps going. He is relentless.

A great teammate hustles to the field when he’s late from class. 

He has great focus in the dugout and on deck. 

A great teammate looks for tips and free pieces of information from the pitcher. A great teammate carries equipment that isn’t his, before a coach asks him to do so. He is selfless. He knows the team only grows more when he gives more. 

A great teammate communicates on defense, regardless of his age, talent or position. He isn’t afraid to say the wrong thing. 

A great teammate has perspective. He is enthusiastic, but not reckless. He is patient, but not passive. A great teammate cares about his brothers and shows his love with effort, intensity, energy and communication.

Are you a great teammate?

                                        (photo credit: active.com)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

How to Practice "The Zone"



The very best hitters have trained themselves how to shift in and out of a soft and hard mental focus. They use their routines, breathing, and self-talk to bring themselves into a peak mental state, primed for attack.

The best hitters are no more than momentarily deterred by bad calls, belligerent fans, bad swings, bad at bats, or other distractions, no matter the stage. Think about when you were playing your best, swinging a red-hot bat. The ball was more clear, the swing felt effortless, the ball exploded off the bat. This is the "zone."

Why can't we live in the zone? Why do most hitters not have their best years until their last years? Is it simply physical maturation? Surely not. Think of all of the freshmen All-Americans. What do they do so well? Even when scouting reports get out, those guys keep hitting.

Too many cage sessions include bad self-talk, bad body language and inconsistent focus as hitters worry about their mechanics. In order to have successful rounds in the cage, you must separate rounds where you 1.) Focus on mechanics, from rounds where you 2.) Quiet your mind and compete.

Hitters must practice getting into the zone. How?

Imagine an hour glass, like the one seen above. A human's ability to focus is best utilized in short, high bursts of attention. The human mind is easily distracted, and when a hitter's mind is distracted, his thoughts detract from his ability to execute the task at hand: hit the ball hard.

To physically practice getting into the zone, you must have the "4 R's" in what peak performance coach Brian Cain calls his system 4RIP3.

1.) Routines

Routines are the foundation of all success. - Ken Revizza

A routine gives you stability. Routines are what you do no matter how you feel and no matter how you are swinging, hot or cold. You create a routine, you believe in the routine and you always do the routine. The routine might include your footwork in setting up, touching your batting gloves, touching your helmet, tugging on your jersey, tipping your bat a certain way. This is part of the routine. Humans take pleasure in routine, and the stability they create gives us a calm, yet constant place to go to emotionally.

This place of habit, stability, comfort and calm, gives us our best chance, when combined with quality breathing and aggressive self-talk/intent, of staying in the zone.

                                                                                            (photo credit: cbssports.com)

The 2015 ABCA/Rawlings National Player of the Year Dansby Swanson, the number one overall pick in the MLB Draft, hit: .335/.423/.623 with 24 2B, 6 3B and 15 HR...and 54 K. Dansby wasn't perfect. But he was committed, aggressive and relentless. He knew how to breathe to re-center himself, and he could clearly communicate what he wanted to do with a pitch or inside of a sequence because he was under control emotionally.

And if you ask him, I bet Dansby would tell you that he practiced with intent. He competed during his BP rounds. Mechanical adjustments were off the field, and the zone was honed in the cages. By game time, he had a process of how to get himself into his highest level of peak performance, regardless of distractions.

The next part of the mental game is much easier when you always have a routine:

2.) Recognize
3.) Release
4.) Refocus

I won't dive into the three of these today. If you want more info from these, see my earlier post called "The Mental Game System: 4RIP3" posted January 18, 2014.

Work smart this winter! Acquire the skill that means the most. Practice your routines, dominate your routines, believe in your routines, and you will have your most consistent season ever. Spend 25% of your swings working on mechanics, 75% working on approaches/competing.

                                                                                                            (photo credit: mlb.com)



Friday, December 4, 2015

Have a Plan: Hit Smarter In the Cages This Winter


                                                                                            (photo credit: youtube.com)

Many hitters do not hit with an organized plan. They know they are going to hit today. That is their plan.

To be a good teacher, you have to have an organized plan. To become a stronger athlete, you have to have an organized weight training program. To become more fit, you need an organized nutrition plan. To rebuild a car, you need an organized plan. You get the point.

So, why do so many hitters hit with no plan and expect success? We call hitting the hardest single task in sport, and then show up to the gun fight with a sword.

To be a better hitter, we must practice intentionally.

We know the swing is important. A great swing maximizes bat speed, contact opportunities and assists good approaches. And no hitter can be consistent without a strong approach and ability to make adjustments. So, off to the cages we go to work on our swings, out bat speed, our contact and our approaches.

First, the average hitter gets loose with four or five swings, mixed with a couple of awkward half-stretches and back twists. Ah, there we go. After one hard contact and a couple of 6-4-3s, we're ready to really start hitting.

Let's back it up and start throwing to each other. Now is the time when many hitters "get on time for the fastball." Which one? One fastball velocity can have a relative velocity difference of up to 12 mph in the strike zone. An 85 mph fastball thrown down and away has a relative velocity of 79 mph while the same 85 mph fastball up and in has a relative velocity of 91 mph. Think you can sit on 85 and handle 91 and 79 in locations opposite to each other in the strike zone? Good luck. You may make contact, but you won't hit many balls hard. {For more information on relative velocity, see my previous posts "Box Positioning" (4/25/15) and "I Hate Slow Pitchers" (7/16/15).}

These types of cage hitting philosophies (or lack there of) are prime recipes for meddling in mediocrity and frustration. Don't be average, folks.

Let's create a plan. Every hitter should have a plan for what he is going to accomplish in the cage that day. That plan should be a progression from fundamentals to more challenging aspects of hitting, and can include mechanical focuses, varying approaches, changes in velocity, adjustment making, mental game training, strength training and vision training.

Quality of Swings

When you step into the cage, preset how many swings you are going to take. This innately makes the round competitive. You know how many swings you are taking and you will focus more on each repetition. The quality of the work immediately improves.

To start, cap a round at 12 swings. Elite hitters will take so much time between pitches to go through their routine, that they may only take one swing every 10 seconds. Most hitters take one swing every four seconds. This is an enormous difference in ability for the body to physically reset, and for the mind to refocus. Hitting is an anabolic movement. It's explosive. If you're swinging every four seconds, you must be trying to lose weight while you hit.

Instead of getting tired and pushing through, hoping to finish your round on a swing that makes you feel good, set parameters and goals for each round. When each round and each swing is competitive, the thought process and adjustment making between swings should become more intentional and game-like.

Approach 

Rather than just seeing it and hitting it, know whether you are looking for a fastball or an off-speed pitch. What are you sitting on? Then hunt one side of the plate or the other.

You cannot cover the entire plate. Sure, you can hit the baseballs thrown anywhere on the plate, but that shouldn't be your goal, should it? Desire to hit each ball with energy and aggressive flight into a gap. Let your misses be hard contacts that find holes.

Don't seek to make contact. You'll achieve that goal too easily, and create a manipulative, handsy swing that lacks bat speed, and commits to pitches at the same instance that it generates bat speed. Your outs will be pull-side on the ground and opposite field in the air. Sound familiar?

Making Changes/Level of Difficulty

If you are seeking to improve your swing, work off of the tee, and progress no further than front toss. If you can't master front toss with a swing adjustment, you will struggle against a live arm.

Once you have success against a live arm, increase the velocity to one that feels increasingly more stressful each round. Move the L-screen closer to the hitter, or have the BP pitcher throw harder. Eventually, we can work on the most challenging elements of hitting that mimic the most difficult game moments: high velocity/high spin fastballs, low and away fastballs, aggressive off-speed approaches and two-strike approaches.

If you have access to a pitching machine, this transition can be easy. If not, don't settle for the same old easy, feel good BP. That isn't building your swing, and it isn't challenging enough to truly build your confidence.


Note Taking

Many MLB hitters take notes. Some of them even do it in game. Taking notes allows hitters to retain more information, and to create a thesaurus of at bats, approaches, pitches, emotions, etc.

When you hit, take a note pad with you. This is Josh Donaldson's tweet from November 13th of last winter. Did he end up having a good season? What's an MVP?



This holiday season, be a giver. Give the gift of intelligence. Help your teammates work smart.

Be creative, be intentional, be prepared.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Hitters: Getting Drafted


(photo credit: 27outsbaseball.com)


Nearly every little leaguer dreams of playing Major League Baseball. The president of Little League, Stephen Keener, notes that "for the 5,000,000 children playing baseball in the United States, 400,000 will play high school baseball. Of those, 1,500 will eventually be drafted by a Major League team (out of high school or college)."

To be drafted, a player must obviously have significant talent. He must possess electric speed, first class hitting ability, gorilla power, and/or outstanding defensive abilities. He must be projectable: his ceiling must be much higher than his current ability. 

Major League scouts are looking for ballplayers whom they believe can become big leaguers one day. They aren't looking for minor league fillers. Every scout wants to draft big leaguers, but they aren't looking for just one thing or another. Scouting is a complex web of evaluating talent, skill, work ethic, success, competition, character and signability. Those who are drafted possess most of those facets, not necessarily in that order.

There exists 30 MLB clubs with different general managers, scouting directors, advanced scouts, major league scouts, area scouts, cross checkers, special assistants to the GM and each of those 30 clubs has a different perspective on what they need, want, desire and actually draft. And each of those clubs may change their identity from time to time; baseball is as fluid as society. It is ever-evolving, hopefully for the better.

So what can a young man do to get drafted?

A hitter wanting to get drafted can control, in my estimation, about 10 % of the process. Here are a few controllables: 

The best hitters hit every day. They study their swings. They compete with resiliency and relentlessness. 

The highest drafted players are also consistent people. They are well spoken, can communicate their thoughts clearly, and have consistent control of their emotions. Usually, the highest drafted players are more mature. 

Big leaguers are professionals at nearly everything they do. Time management skills and the ability to focus are important for a big leaguer. These are skills that can be acquired for a young man.

Professional hitters are strong. They lift weights 4-6 days/week. They take care of their bodies by eating well and avoiding foods and substances that make them inconsistent or unpredictable. 

The best hitters know how to slow their minds down. They practice with laser like focus. They can consistently control their process, and thus, have consistently high results.

Finally, the best players focus on the team's success. If your number one goal this year is to get drafted, you're headed for a major let down. Selfishness is at the root of destruction. If you want to get drafted, focus on doing what you can do to help your team win. Make your team better. Make your teammates better. 



Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Big Game


                                                                                           (photo credit: nytimes.com)

Today's the big game. A rivalry game. An undefeated season on the line. Maybe today is a championship game. Or Scout Day. Today is the day you've been working toward for months. For you, for your team. Today is the big day. The big game.

What will I do to be special today? How can I step up? These are dangerous thoughts.

When the big game arrives, you have either put in the preparation, or you haven't. Players who perform consistently high in practices will have the confidence to perform consistently high in games. Players who perform well in regular season games should play with confidence in big games.

It doesn't take a Hall of Famer to tell you that the rules of the game haven't changed. A 90 mph fastball is still coming in at 90 mph. The requirements in approach and swing path are still the same. Why, then, do some struggle more than other in big games?

Hitters who have big game success have practiced at high speeds, have created intensity in their minds in regular season games, and know how to gain control and slow their minds down.

When the mind is slow, the body can react.

When our belief is that we have to do something different as a hitter, or if we feel unprepared, we get stressed and don't breathe as deeply. Muscles tighten, brain function slows just enough to affect clarity and precision. Results suffer. Ok, so we know we have to breathe well while in the midst of stressful competitions. What else can you do?

Visualize. The part of the brain that processes real information can differentiate those experiences from those that you vividly imagine. Practicing mental imagery creates confidence in preparation that never actually took place. Your brain can take you through scenarios that, when presented with similar real life images or information, feel familiar. Familiarity breeds calmness and confidence.

Here is a link to great info and instructions from Brain Cain on practicing visualization.

Great big game hitters also have perspective. Over-focusing on the meaning or importance of a scout day or a rivalry game creates a need to do well. When your body goes into fight or flight mode, your adrenaline and cortisol levels rise so high that your body's fine visual focus and manual accuracy are compromised.

The feeling of desperation can be helpful in athletics, but not in hitting.

Big moments require high energy, aggressiveness and instinct. But if you aren't playing with the same energy and intent every single day, you will feel the need to step up.

If the big game is wildly different in your mind than a regular game , your results will be compromised.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Symptoms vs. Problems.


When you get a cough, the cough isn't the problem. Your virus is the problem.

Many hitters diagnose their own swing problems incorrectly.For example, they believe their inability to stay through the baseball is a problem with their hands rolling over too soon.

What truly happened was that their center of gravity was too high or too far forward, disallowing them from retaining separation between their load and their stride, causing them to have less bat speed and their contact point to be too far forward. Then the hands rolled over.


                                                                                    (photo credit: dailyclimate.org)


There are many other examples. You all have heard the genius coaching tag line, "keep your head on the ball."

To the human eye, processing 30 frames per second, the collegiate or pro hitter appeared to yank his head pull-side in a desperate and futile effort to pull the baseball. What actually happens, when you analyze these swings with post-1980 technology, is that the hitter got beat. His body's natural reaction to making contact with the ball down the barrel, nearer the handle, was to evacuate the zone. Had he continued through with a normal swing path, his fingers would have felt as if they had been individually pulled from his hands, ringing with a sharp pain we all can remember.

Simply, when hitters feel mid-swing that they are beat, they pull every part of their body out of the zone in an attempt to salvage their hands, and perhaps, advance the ball more firmly than should they have continued on with natural extension.

Those are mechanical symptoms.

Even more challenging to evaluate, without proper communication with a hitter, are approach problems. Often these are misdiagnosed by the resident hitting guru as bad mechanics, or worse yet, the coach says the hitter "just doesn't know how to hit."

The student is often not the problem. Someone once said, "there are no such things as incapable students, only teachers who cannot properly communicate or adjust."

When a hitter is looking for an oppo FB and swings at a FB middle in, it looks like he has all sorts of swing flaws! His approach might have been good. But his commitment to his approach was the problem. His bad mechanics were a result, a symptom of the problem.

Many times, the mechanical problems begin with problems in the lower half. What should you look for? Start here:

1.) Center of gravity (high, low). High COG creates uncontrollable movement forward. The hitter isn't in control, gravity is. Timing is inconsistent. High COG creates more problems than a bull in a China shop. High COG is the most common mechanical problem I see in amateur hitters.

2.) Separation between stride and load. If their is no stretch in the bottom arm, there is no space to accelerate. Sure, you've got great barrel control, but with zero bat speed. Congrats on sucking.

3.) Hand path. Hitting coaches are notorious for talking about hitting with the hands, staying inside the baseball, etc. The reality is, if you create your bat speed by pushing your hands (linear hand path), you will be a low ball hitter, struggle with velocity IN and/or UP, and make most of your outs pull side on the ground and oppo in the air. You will lack your max ability bat speed, and will have to commit earlier than hitters who have elite swings.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

What is Your Hitting Identity?

                                                                                 (Photo credit: beyondtheboxscore.com)

A hitter's talent, skill set and approach combine to make his identity.

An identity might be a power hitter with plate discipline, a line drive grinder who isn't strong enough to hit consistent fly balls, or a young and talented hitter who's youthful intangibles cause a roller coaster of success.

Whatever the identity of a hitter, it can change. Approaches can improve, bodies get stronger, mechanics can change and bat speed may even slightly improve.

Faster or weaker hitters should focus on hitting low line drives and hard, deep ground balls. Bigger, more physical hitters should hit high line drives and low fly balls.

As you may recall, at Lee University, we assess a number (1-10) for every ball flight our hitters create. A "4" flight is a ball that is hit well and first lands in the infield dirt. A "5" is perfectly squared up and lands just beyond the infield or in the shallow outfield. A "6" has a five to seven degree angle flight with tremendous backspin and usually results in a single, line out, double or triple. A ball must be crushed with 6 flight to be a HR. A "7" flight usually results in a double or home run if well struck. Batted balls that are 8-10 flights are rarely hits. Three out of our twenty hitters can consistently hit an 8 flight out of the park.

Some of our hitters are given the identity of "456" while others are "567." We test exit velocities on our hitters, and are specifically aware of their weight room strength numbers. We pay attention to the size and strength of their forearms and hands. We understand the speed of our hitters, and who can get away with 3 and 4 flight mistakes, as well as 7 and 8 flight mistakes. All of these bits of data go into our determination of the type of hitter a player is, today. May sound like a lot, but it is a relatively simple process. Imagine the bits of information you would use to assess yourself or your own hitters.

If you are still teaching your hitters to consistently hit ground balls to the opposite field, stop reading this post and do your research here.

Another great tool is MLB's Statcast web page. Check out this link.

A coach doesn't want his 8 hole hitter focused on dropping bombs if that isn't in his skill set. An 8 hole hitter should be pursuing reaching base by any method possible. Conversely, you don't want your 4 or 5 hole hitter taking so many pitches, perhaps in an effort to reach via walk, that he takes most of the good pitches that he sees to hit with runners in scoring position, two outs and a less talented hitter on deck.

We tell our hitters that they can change their identity. Nearly every hitter wants to be a 567 hitter. As Greg Maddux famously said in a Nike commercial where pitchers were taking batting practice, "Chicks dig the long ball."

What is your identity as a hitter?

If you coach, do you know who your hitters are? Have you explained this to them?

We have begun giving them more detailed information on who they are and why. All of our BP sessions are charted, and we plan to chart intrasquads, too. Our BP sessions always consist of a spray chart showing ball direction as well as a ball flight number, and we break down their percentages of each type of ball flight our hitters hit in a weekly assessment we put in their lockers.

For instance, one hitter may have hit 20% ground balls (1-4 flight), 20% line drives (567) and 60% fly balls (8-10). If this hitter is one of our 456 guys, this is not good. He's hitting way too many fly balls and needs to change his timing and approach. If that hitter is a 567 hitter, this is more towards his desired standards, but probably slightly too high of a fly ball ratio.

We want them to not only know what their identity is, but be able to be emotionally invested in this process. We want them to accept who they are while pursuing who they want to become.

If we can develop this mindset of acceptance and growth, I believe our hitters will better fill their roles on the team, while still pursuing growth and maximizing their potential.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

You Won't Be Great Unless You Have This

                                                                                     (photo credit: fastpitchnation.net)

Being accountable means you take P.R.I.D.E. Personal Responsibility In Daily Excellence.

The best hitters create their own accountability. Average hitters float in and out of focus. They don't follow through.

Many student-athletes go to most of their classes, but not all. They eat two good meals, then they crush an entire pizza. They lift hard for an hour but don't drink a protein shake afterwards.

Hitters who aren't accountable leave balls lying in the corner of the cages. What's the big deal?

Here's the big deal: how we do anything is how we do everything. 

Following through is important. It is important to FINISH.

Accountability is a covenant with yourself.

Great hitters are great learners because they are great listeners. Great listeners are focused on something greater than themselves. They also have great expectations based solely upon controlling what they can control. They dominate controllables. They relinquish uncontrollable thoughts from their mind.

Being accountable means a hitter takes P.R.I.D.E. Personal Responsibility In Daily Excellence.

Great hitters compete on a different level of self-expectation. They take pride in their competitiveness, relentlessness and toughness. Think about it. Are you a great hitter?

Think about the great hitters you have known. There are lots of average hitters out there. There are a good number of good hitters. What are the great hitters doing to be so accountable?

They plan.

They take notes.

They watch video.

They turn in assignments before they are due, or at the latest, when they are due. Every hitter can develop accountability.

Start today. Make your bed. Start the day with excellence. We all know you're just going to get back in bed tonight, and that no one will see your bed. No one else will care if you don't make your bed.

YOU should care. Set the tone for your day. Be willing to do the small, menial tasks that create energy, attract discipline and inspire your inner thoughts.

Do it. Do it right. Do it right now.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Hitters: Do Less, Do More.

                                                                                        (photo credit: funmozar.com)

Hitters: do less. Not less work. Keep working hard.

Do less thinking in the box. Think outside the box, then get back in, breathe and attack.

Swing with less effort. When you maximize separation, you lift your butt off, and you have early rhythm in your swing, you don't have to swing with so much effort. Try 90% effort in your swing.

Watch less TV. Watch less Netflix. Drink less soda. Curse less.

Don't be the guy who cries at the end of the season. You either busted your tail and earned what you got, or you didn't. We all have to work hard just for the opportunity to succeed.

Now do more.

Read more. Invest in your hitting approach! Read books on the mental game, hitting approaches and self-improvement. Change your attitude about books and you can become a life-long LEARNER !

Here are 3 can't miss books:

9 Innings of Hitting by Troy Silva

The Mental Conditioning Manual by Brian Cain

The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy

Hit more. I mean hit. Not swing. Get someone to throw to you. Have them throw hard. Have them throw breaking balls. Go to the batting cages and get in the "FAST" cage. Take your own bat. Be that guy.

Don't be average. Average sucks.

Watch more YouTube. Did you know you can learn how to fix a flat tire or tie a bow tie on YouTube? Did you know you can watch endless videos on hitting approaches, hitting mechanics, hitting drills, interviews with big league players and managers with priceless soundbites on their experiences? FREE.

I know you know this. So do it!

It's the START that STOPS most people!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Swinging vs. Hitting

                                                                                             (photo credit: nytimes.com)

Too many hitters work on their swing, but not on hitting. What's the difference?

Swinging is mechanical. Most hitters work on their swing in the cages. They think about their mechanical flaw, take fifteen swings in a round, and aim to put in reps. The velocity . This is swinging. This is preparing to have a better swing. Your swing will follow your approach.

Hitting is not just in the game.  Hitting is not just in the game.

Hitting is when you prepare mentally for your next pitch. You are engaged in competition, in battle. You are relaxed...but fighting like mad. Hitting happens when front toss or live thrown pitches have a velocity that becomes stressful. Stressful velocity means you cannot simple see the ball and hit the ball. You need a plan. What am I on time for? What will I take. Creating this type of an approach/energy combination...this is what hitting in practice should look like.

Hitting in the game provides stressful opportunities and challenges in which to compete and learn. During practice, every hitter should provide more of those game-on-the-line opportunities in their mind's eye.

Smart preparation gives a hitter confidence. Confidence under pressure allows that hitter to see the ball better, and for his muscles to be relaxed enough to be quick and fluid.

Cage hitting, front toss, soft toss, tee work: these are all enhanced with competitive breathing, game-like routines and pace. Take your time. Visualize your pitcher, his uniform, his mechanics and his release.

Work on hitting as much as you work on your swing. You know you won't be able to think about your swing in game. If you have prepared to compete, your swing will take care of itself.

Great hitters can create that competitive energy required in game, during their pregame or preseason routine.

College and high school hitters should emulate much of what a big leaguer does, but they must prepare differently in relation to the types of repetitions they take.

Their is a time to work on the swing, and their is a time to work on hitting. Try splitting up your reps 50/50 this week, and you may find that you are more physically and mentally prepared. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Mental ABs, Continued: Practice


                                                                                       (photo credit: new.nationalpost.com)

First, a note from my first blog on mental ABs: 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.

Moving forward: Swinging and hitting are two different things. We must be prepared to swing on every pitch, with a plan of what we are attacking, and what we are taking. With enough practice, memorization of spin patters, velocity recognition, release point recognition and pitch planes/tunnels can all become reactionary/subconscious. Til then, work on the skill of recognition.

Practice makes PERMANENT. Here are some examples of what to visualize:

Aroldis Chapman

Masahiro Tanaka

Stephen Strasburg

Gerrit Cole

Zack Wheeler

Jeff Ibarra (Former Lee Flame)

College RHP with high take-away

College RHP 75-78 with slow off-speed

College LHP, stiff delivery, over the top release, 12-6 CB

Mike Minor, LHP, while in minor leagues

Mark Buehrle, LHP, Blue Jays

Tyrell Jenkins RHP, vs. SS Addison Russell
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0myF38EDu_4&list=PLK6bYt6NNwZ8k5wAJEa7bbuo9J2PN3If0

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Making the Best Lineup


                                                                                        (photo credit: usatoday.com)


Hitters, like all humans, love to be comfortable. Hitters especially like to settle into a specific spot in the lineup, unless it's the eight or nine-hole, that is.

According to the old standard of lineup construction, the fastest guys bat lead off and the two-hole is some average hitter who can bunt and has a linear, push pattern swing so he can manipulate the ball and "advance runners." Times, they are a changin'.

Any coach with both eyes open should have read by now that there is a more intelligent way to build a lineup, one that literally, figuratively, sabermetrically and even in video games...will score more runs per game.

While many may shun sabermetrics as baseball math for those who have never played the game, those who have played the game and aren't afraid of change are realizing that the hitters with the highest OBP and OPS should hit as many times as possible every single game.

If you don't believe me, check out this article or this one from Beyond the Boxscore. And here's a specific example of Jim Leyland building a better lineup.

If you heard about SS Troy Tulowitzki's trade to Toronto, you may need to check out his first box score here. He went off tonight. And by the way...Tulo, a lifetime MLB three-hole hitter, hit in the lead off role for, presumably, the first time in his career. Despite a lifetime OPS of .885, he was 0 for his last 20 ABs in Colorado. Then he went off tonight in the lineup spot! Thank God he was comfortable!

Let's ignore exactly why he may have started with such a flurry (pun intended) in Toronto, and focus on the concept of being comfortable in a lineup position.

So many hitters believe that they are better hitters in four-hole than the two-hole. Many will claim they don't feel comfortable moving to a different lineup position. But comfort doesn't always equal success. The belief that comfort equals success is a problem for those making out the lineup. "Should I move my best player to a different position in the lineup that he hasn't hit in before? What if he doesn't know how to approach that role?"

What's truly problematic is that many talented three-hole and cleanup hitters would assist in their team scoring more runs if they took their 200 ABs from the lead off or two-hole.

Rather than college and high school coaches feeling hand-cuffed by egocentric hitters who believe they have to hit in the lineup positions they are most comfortable in, let's challenge them to get comfortable as part of the process.

Every intrasquad, every competitive BP and every scrimmage against another opponent, move your lineup around. Play with it. Explain to your hitters what your intent is. Explain to them how the team's lineup construction matters, and explain to them what an ideal lineup looks like and how your team can score more runs by utilizing said lineup.

The Toronto Blue Jays are one of the most forward-thinking major league clubs. They aren't afraid to weigh what is statistically superlative against the emotion and feeling of a player being comfortable. And I bet they've communicated how and why to their roster in an effort to improve the results of their statistical boon of a lineup.

In case you haven't looked at that box score, go check it out. Notice that the bottom of the cellar, noticeably ancient-thinking Philadelphia Phillies are hitting the atrocious Ben Revere lead off. Again.

Revere can flat roll. He's a speed demon. Yet he holds only a .711 OPS.

Sure, he's on pace for 38 stolen bases. Let's not pretend that he's the next coming of Vince Coleman.

The Phillies' 2-hole hitter is Freddy Galvis, he of the .670 OPS. PEOPLE! Five of the seven hitters after Galvis in the lineup have a higher OPS!

This lineup construction only further impairs the ability of the Phillies to win a game. As if they needed help this season!

Don't be afraid of the truth. And, remember, beliefs are not truths.




Thursday, July 16, 2015

"I Hate Slow Pitchers"


                                                                                          (Photo credit: livestrong.com)
                                 
"I hate slow pitchers," said no true competitor ever.

Great hitters make adjustments, including the most elementary of adjustments: timing.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Take it easy. I know timing isn't easy...but it is simple.

Most hitters gobble up the average fastball: average velocity, average spin, average movement and average location. Crushed. Boom. See ya.

Most hitters also enjoy the challenge of a hard thrower. And most hitters hate facing guys who throw really, really slow. Especially when their arm action deceives them, indicating they should have at least modest velocity, and then it just nev-er-gets-there. Pop out. Weak ground pull side. Strike three, swinging, 74 mph fastball.

Most hitters...are average. But you don't want to be average!

Great hitters understand that adjustments in timing can be controlled by the hitter.

A hitter dictates his readiness to be in rhythm with a pitch and crush it by the point in a delivery at which he begins his load. Read the last sentence again.

So, if you're early on a fastball because it's really slow, delay the start of your load.

If you normally initiate your load when the pitcher throwing an 85 mph fastball is breaking his hands, and now you want to sit on his curveball, don't be a fool and get ready for 85 and then freeze and wait for the 72 mph CB to get there. That's just stupid. That's average.

Delay your load.

Conversely, when you are used to facing an 83 mph LHP and they bring in a dude chunking 90-plus, don't speed up your load...start sooner!

Here's a great drill for working on rhythm, timing and delaying your load:

"3 Plate Drill" (I stole this drill from a coach who is much smarter than me.)

In a cage, or on the field, align three home plates, all facing the same standard direction, one behind the other, with one foot of space between them. One will be closer to the pitcher, and one will be even closer. The hitter should take 2 swings at each plate, beginning in back, then advancing forward, thus increasing the relative velocity of the pitch. Hitters will have to acquire the skill of starting their load earlier as they advance forward. Finish the round by jumping from the most forward plate to the rear, and "climbing the ladder"again.

Now, for round two, start this hitter at the front plate, and move them backward for each round. Front, middle, back, front, middle, back. Now hitters must delay their loads.




Sunday, June 28, 2015

Working Smart: Evaluating Box Scores





The above snippet from an MLB box score is what "Average Joe" sees when he reads the newspaper each morning.

"Ah, yes, I see Pete Rose had another good night."

Perhaps another fan may more closely evaluate this box score and see that Esasky drove in two runs with two QABs, and did not record a single hit. That'a also a good night at the plate.

On the Padres' side of the box, one may notice that Tony Gwynn only had one knock. Surely a sub-par results evening for the greatest contact hitter since, well, Pete Rose. But what did Tony do in his other ABs? Did he hit two missiles right at a fielder? Did he advance any runners because of his advanced approach? Did he get aggressive with a two strike count and a runner on first, knowing that a strikeout would do less harm to his team's chances of scoring than would grounding into a double play? That's important.

The point is, we cannot truly evaluate the game in proper depth with a box score.

As you will see in this game, the first MLB game ever played, the same style of box score was used!

Thank goodness the box score has evolved...a little.

This 2010 box score below is a representation of a shift in our value system. Yes, folks, sabermetrics are taking over the world. Get over it. They're useful, efficient, provide accuracy and depth...and are here to stay.



Now, we can see a player's advanced stats (those that have a higher correlation to success than does batting average or ERA). We also can see how many pitches a player saw in his collective ABs. 

This is vital. 

Imagine two players with equal stats are free agents. One hitter sees 4.2 pitches per plate appearance (PPA) while the other sees 3.4 PPA. Keep in mind they have nearly identical batting statistics. 

Sign the guy who makes the other team work! In order to win big games, most MLB clubs must be able to get to the bullpen as quickly as possible, regardless of the vaunted nature of the opposing club's bullpen. The ability to knock a pitcher out with an aggressive-under-control approach is valuable and has become a highly sought-after skill.

Evaluating a new age box score, we can also see:

1.) How poorly a team or individual does with runners in scoring position.
2.) A pitcher's game score (grading their performance in relationship to a perfect game- score 100)
3.) Defensive statistics
4.) Base running information previously unavailable i.e. which bases were stolen, and off of which pitcher/catcher combo.


But let's focus on the hitting aspect, for the sake of this blog. 


When you ask your players, teammates, coaches, friends, son or daughter...

"How did you do?"

How do they typically respond? 

"2 for 4." 
"0 for 3."
"1 for 5."

What we allow, we encourage. Stop allowing this stupid behavior! This is offensive suicide! We are programming our brains to be focused on and respond with results. Too many hitters are obsessed with their batting average, despite it's extraordinarily low correlation to runs created in comparison with OBP, SLG and hard contact percentage (barrels).

Look, results matter. But in hitting, results are best and most consistently found by focusing on:

1.) The process.
2.) What helps the team win.

Hit the ball hard. Swing at good pitches to hit. Take borderline pitches. Advance runners. 

Coaches and parents: measure, reward and celebrate QABs, PPA, OBP, OPS! These measurements are important to value because valuing them creates a mindset of aggressiveness, discipline, and controllables.



Saturday, June 20, 2015

Get Tough: Change and Grow

                                                                           


                                                                          (photo credit: bellinghamdistanceproject.com)



Everyone wants to be tough.

Many show toughness in small chunks, but they just aren't consistent.

We admire those who are consistently tough. They are relentless mental assassins. They assassinate negative thoughts. As the eloquent Macklemore wrote in his song titled 10,000 hours, "the greats weren't great because at birth they could paint; the greats were great because they paint a lot."

Malcolm Gladwell outlined the 10,000 hour theory in his book Outliers. You want to be a master at your craft, you say? For most, it takes an accumulation of 10,000 hours of training in that skill. The greats usually started young, but it's never too late to accomplish something great.

Mental conditioning is just like strength conditioning, you have to do something to get stronger. When lifting weights, muscle tissue that gets broken down repairs and regrows as bigger and stronger muscle (when observing proper rest, hydration and nutrition). Likewise, mental conditioning requires "breaking down" of our attitudes. Fortunately, this happens every day! We all have bad thoughts, attitudes and ideas. The key is knowing what to do with them, surrounding yourself with the right equipment, and growing!

Weight lifters can't have the same weight routines without reaching a plateau. The same is true in mental conditioning. We all must challenge, change, seek new knowledge, surround ourselves with new mentors, read new books, buy new audio tapes, and disable the systems that limit us.

Sometimes, growth cannot occur until we rid ourselves of our limiting beliefs or negativity that surrounds us, i.e. negative friends, co-workers, TV shows, movies, commercials, etc. These are all advertisements for our attitudes. If you're consciously working to become tougher, you've got to get rid of the junk.

Imagine you were working to lose weight, so you began lifting weight and running. But you kept drinking soda and eating potato chips. Eating healthy 80% of the time will get you marginal results. Thinking positively and aggressively 80% of the time will bring the same average results.

When you want to get tough, you must fear average.

Here are a few resources for improving mental toughness:

briancain.com
tonyrobbins.com
mentalgamevip.com
jongordon.com


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Today's Plan for Improvement

                                                           
                                                                                           (Photo credit: zarachiron.com)

How will you get better today?

Excellence isn't quantum physics. Heck, it's not even trigonometry. It's not that tough! So many believe you have to do something massive or extraordinary to create success. Success begins with a step forward - kaizen - small and consistent improvements. Excellence is not as much about what you do but how you do it.

Focus on these items today, creating a short, written plan on how to attack them.

1.) Nutrition. You energy comes from what you eat and drink (and how well rested you are), so focus, truly focus, on what you are putting into your body. Take just five minutes each day and plan what you will eat today, or if you are really getting ahead, tomorrow. Temptation and bad choices are tough to avoid when we don't plan.

2).  Turn off your cell phone. Holy crap. Put it away.

3). Wear a watch and set an alarm for every 30 minutes. See how much you get done in that time. Did you get distracted? To invest your time, you must increase your awareness of time. When we feel like we have the whole summer, or all day, we don't value time. Keeping track of time will help you create greater return on your investments.

4). Cut out photos of people you want to be like, places you want to go, goals you want to reach. Advertise to yourself! There's a reason why companies pay millions of dollars for 30 minute advertising segments. Advertising works!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Recruiting: Tools or Character?

                                                                 
                                                                                                    (photo credit: sfgate.com)


A professional scout asked me today, "which would you choose, tools or character?"

I paused. "Do I have to choose?"

"Well, are you willing to take someone who has baggage," he asked.

I have a lot of respect for this scout, and it was a well-intentioned question. He knows a former player of his (when he coached collegiately), that is transferring...with some baggage, and wants him to land in a place where can grow as a person and player.

I believe grace is important. Everyone needs a second chance at something at some point in their life. However, as I described to the scout friend of mine, I believe there is a difference between 1.) an attitude or energy problem and 2.) a choices or decision problem.

Players with bad attitudes and/or energy, in my experiences, don't often change their attitudes while they are in college. College offers more opportunities to make incorrect, immoral or just plain stupid choices. An attitude is not fixable by circumstance, provocation or by anything initiated by another. Attitude is a personal choice, and changing a bad one takes large personal change.

There are, of course, thousands of athletes who are good people with strong character backgrounds who are simply immature, sheltered, enabled or entitled. Often, these young men have made a stupid decision simply because they have been in an environment that has fostered bad choice/decision making. Give them an environment where they are surrounded by a team and coaching staff full of more disciplined, regimented and positively experienced people, and they will be led in a direction of better decision making.

We are all a compilation of the people we surround ourselves with. With so many distractions in college, it is important to choose wisely who we hang out, listen to and learn from.

Collegiate coaches clearly have the opportunity to build their programs through selection, i.e. recruiting. Intentionally inviting people into a culture that are unlikely or unwilling to change who they are as people is sheer lunacy.

So many coaches are allured by the talent, potential and other four letter words of a handsomely talented athlete. If an athlete has made a mistake, and clearly offers remorse, along with a plan of self-improvement and a passion for a fresh opportunity, without blame of others, he is clearly ready to receive grace. This athlete will be grateful for the opportunity presented to him and will be more coachable and energetic.

Let's not group all athletes with baggage into one boat. When recruiting, no one should choose talent over character, but coaches should understand and respect the difference between an athlete's flaw in decision and his lacking character.


Monday, June 1, 2015

Hitting Success in Summer Ball

                                                                                       (Photo credit: Wralsportsfan.com)

It's June 1st, and summer ball is all around. I mean, it's everywhere. Travel ball has 18u, 17u...heck they go all the way down to 8u. Little Johnny and Tommy are getting shuttled all around the country to play the best teams their tournament fees can buy.

At the collegiate level, summer wood bat leagues are already several games deep into the hot summer grind. While some hitters try to continue their hot streak from their spring seasons, others are happy to have a second Opening Day.

Let's get this straight: the summer is about development. 

No matter what age you are, it's not about as much about winning a summer championship (those are nice, too), as it is about personal development of your skills, your craft and developing committed hitting approaches.

Summer ball often provides an opportunity to see better pitching. Whatever league you are invited to play in will have an assembly line of pitchers who were among the best on their respective high school or collegiate teams. If you're a travel baller or high school hitter, you're likely seeing pitchers who have been bused or flown in just to face your team in pool play.

Facing pitchers that you have no scouting report on, in sizzling hot and muggy climates where exhaustion can creep in, with new teammates and coaches to prove yourself in front of, and a high school or college to represent...can create a lot of challenges and pressures. And as a collegian, your coaches have asked for you to improve on a skill or approach over the summer. Whew.

If you want to dominate this summer, heed this advice.

1.) Show up early. Earlier than everyone. Every day. Get better in the cages before the coaches ever show up for BP.

2.) Be process oriented. Focus on seeing the ball well and getting good pitches to hit.

3.) Play aggressively. No one plays well when timid or passive, especially against better competition.

4.) Develop self-awareness. The summer provides a more relaxed atmosphere for focusing on your thoughts, making adjustments and finding a way to improve. No one has homework in July.

5.) Invest your time. Buy a couple of good books. Buy a notebook and take notes on your at bats, pre-game and during game thoughts, etc. There are a lot of long road trips in the summer, and an iPhone, Xbox or Men's Fitness magazine are really just a brief waste of time. Everyone should have some down time, but in summer ball provides an enormous amount of down time. Invest that time into something that will give you dividends upon your return to school ball.

6.) Work out. Hard. So many players waste their opportunity to improve their strength, flexibility and athleticism because they are afraid of playing sore or just flat can't get off the couch. Set a plan into action with an aggressive growth goal and attack the weights or yoga !

7.) Have fun! Everyone wants an opportunity to play pro ball, and this is as close to playing every day as many will get. Enjoy the opportunity to play in front of big crowds at night, meet new teammates, invent new rain delay antics and learn more about this beautiful game and about yourself!


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Plate Discipline


                                                                                (Photo credit: Diamondhoggers.com)

In 2012, 2013 and 2014, Bryce Harper had the following stats:

Year      PA      BBs   BB rate
2012      597        56      9.3%    
2013      497        61     12.2 %    
2014      395        38       9.6%  
2015      195        40     20.5%

Not surprisingly, Bryce Harper leads MLB with a 1.193 OPS, 42 RBI and a 4.1 WAR.

Certainly, pitchers are more careful with hitters who show consistent power, but 10% more careful?

Bryce Harper has become more selective. He is swinging at fewer pitches that aren't what he is looking for. He has improved his plate discipline.

Having great plate discipline means hitters swing at pitches they are on time for and take pitches that they cannot hit in that timing. No hitter can cover the entire plate and the entire depth of the hitting zone up and down, even if every pitch is a fastball.

When a hitter is looking to pull the baseball, the outside corner should be a take. Who cares if it's strike one or two. Putting the ball in play simply because it's a strike is a terrific way to induce an easy out at the collegiate level and above. Hitters simply reacting to a coach's 35-40 mph BP fastball and swinging "as long as it's a strike" are creating poor visualization and reactionary habits. They are teaching themselves to react to pitch tunnels and swing at pitches that they will not be able to cover once the pitcher is throwing 85+ mph.

I believe coaches can teach, preach and empower plate discipline in hitters. It is a skill, not a talent. The hitters who lead the league in walks are certainly talented, but they have acutely honed the skill of plate discipline. Seek and ye shall find.

Keeping track of batting practice is an outstanding way to measure plate discipline. Throughout the fall, we will measure:

1.) Strikes swung at
2.) Strikes taken
3.) Balls swung at
4.) Balls taken

It is not a batting practice pitchers job to throw every pitch in the strike zone. Conversely, it is not a hitters job to swing at every pitch thrown, so as to "keep BP moving." What do we really care about?

A timely BP or the development of our hitters? A great way to empower this is to take shorter rounds. Instead of 8 or 10 swings, try 4 or 5. Taking many swings is good for acquiring feel, but only if their is time between the swings to make adjustments, and energy with which to take the best hacks at each pitch.

Hitters who swing at 70% so that they can take 8-10 swings in a round are developing a feel for the barrel while moving slowly. Sprinters don't jog. Sprinters sprint. We, too, must train our hitters at full speed.

Now, what to do with this information we have acquired? Formulate percentages. Hitters who take too the highest number of strikes are not aggressive enough and operate in a mindset that each pitch must be too perfect. Hitters that swing at too many balls are reckless and lack discipline.

Many coaches may make the excuse that you can't make a kid more aggressive, but you can calm his aggressiveness. Noted. Let's start in batting practice. What we measure, they will value.

Plate discipline is simple. Hunt a pitch, be on time and take pitches that you aren't in rhythm with.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Become a Better Hitter Immediately: Box Positioning

                                                                                        (Photo credit: risingapple.com)

Where a hitter stands in the box is crucial to his success. Proper box stance gives a hitter one of the few opportunities for adjustments that he can make.

Changing box position can allow a hitter to cheat to one side of the plate or the other, make the relative velocity of a pitch slower than it actually is, or change the elevation and height of a an incoming fastball or breaking ball.

Hitters with long arms should allow more space between themselves and home plate as they have more length in their swings, but also have better plate coverage, particularly on the the outside part of the plate. Shorter hitters shouldn't stand way off of the plate, as they won't reach the outside corner with consistency.

Box positioning is an important consideration when evaluating a scouting report. A team who knows that a pitcher is going to throw primarily off-speed pitches, should move up in the box to elevate the height of the off-speed pitches. Sure, this makes the fastball get on a hitter a tad faster, but this box positioning adjustment is made when a pitcher throws lots of change-ups or breaking balls with good depth.

Some pitchers unintentionally, yet consistently, elevate their fastball in the strike zone. These guys are tough to hit. Hitters feel like they have to cheat to the ball, and most college hitters have linear swing paths that don't allow their barrel to be flat enough, soon enough, to crush a truly elevated pitch. A change in box position, to deeper in the box, can make the relative velocity slower and the elevation of the pitch lower.

Any time a hitter faces a sinker-baller or submarine pitcher, it can be quite challenging to hit their fastball with downward depth. Moving towards the front of the batters box  takes away the majority of the depth of a sinking fastball.

Facing a pitcher with a plus 12-6 CB? Move up in the box and attack the fastball. The deeper you are in the box, the more like a strike the breaking ball looks to the umpire. If a hitter moves up in the box, he may get more breaking balls called as a ball high, crossing at the belly button, rather than at the belt.

Some pitchers don't have a ton of movement, but are wildly successful because they command pitches at the bottom of the zone, right at the knees. Don't just sit there and wear it for seven innings while their ace gets ground ball after ground ball! Move up in the box and get some pitches to hit at the quads.

Average hitters make game to game adjustments. Good hitters make at bat to at bat adjustments. Great hitters make pitch to pitch adjustments.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Energy Givers Win.


Energy givers win. To be an energy giver, you have to live outside of your circumstance. Energy givers are focused on what they can control. They have learned from the past but aren't going to drive down the road staring in the rear view mirror.

Energy givers have aggressive body language, good posture and focused intent in their eyes. They communicate firmly and positively with their teammates or players.

To be an energy giver, you must be so convicted in your own skills and preparation that your competitiveness overwhelms the meek.

Winners care about the last strikeout, but it is not a fatal blow. They are relentless, eager for the next opportunity, and preparing in each waiting moment.

Energy givers learn. They make adjustments. They grow.

Energy givers win, and winners give energy.

Be an energy giver!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Problem With Oppo Hitting Approaches


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There are so many coaches who teach their hitters a linear hand path swing that chops at the ball, pushing the ball backside. Hitters with this type of swing are known as “bat control” guys, when in reality, we mean that they cannot hit good pitchers, with the exception of crushing a four-hole single.

Coaching your hitters to serve the ball backside like it’s a tennis backhand can be a valuable skill. Bat control is a terrific asset, but it should not be the core swing of a hitter with bat speed.

Too many coaches have clearly micro-managed hitters swings to the inside-out, “stay short” swing because they are A.) poor communicators of approach or B.) don’t understand what the mechanics of an efficient swing are, or C.) are afraid of the strikeout and thus, make all of their hitters “make contact” and “put the ball on the ground.” These are crappy ideas. These thoughts all come from a lack of comprehension...or fear. For most, I believe it is the latter.

Every weekend, I see a talented hitter with strength, a strong approach and plus bat speed that we can consistently get out by hammering him inside or spinning away before elevating.

Hitters who only possess a linear swing have a huge hole in their swing both inside and elevated, causing them to early commit to baseballs in these tunnels. Their maximum bat speed is only achieved on pitches middle in and down, making their barrel path steep, and causing them to hit choppers pull side on the ground and opposite field in the air. Particularly at the collegiate level and above, these hitters beat up weak pitching and soft lefties, but are easy to shift on and are exposed by velocity and movement.

These mechanical problems are only reinforced by the “oppo” batting practice round and teaching/forcing hitters to single their lives away backside. So many rounds of BP have been micromanaged, forcing hitters to push fastballs down the middle to right field. 

A hitter who attempts to force middle or middle-in pitches backside in batting practice is creating a physical and mental impediment that takes months, if not years, to break.

Earlier this season, we faced one group of knuckleheads who actually kicked their players out of the cage, during pre-game BP, if they were to pull a baseball to their pull side of second base. Needless to say, those cats didn't hit the ball well that weekend.


Allow your players the freedom to discover who they are as a hitter, with an understanding that it takes months to change a swing, and only a moment to destroy confidence and trust.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mechanics: What's Most Important?


                                                                                           (Photo credit: fancloud.com)

Mechanics are not the most important part of hitting, but they are important. There are so many successful hitters who have mechanical deficiencies or weaknesses. The best hitters at the highest levels often have something that could be more “ideal.” Great hitters have first-class approaches, work ethics, strength, bat speed and toughness. However, hitters who are still unseasoned in these skills should pay close attention to their mechanics as part of the development process.

There are infinite potential mechanical issues to think about. Some hitters are frozen in fear thinking too much about their mechanics. Let's keep it simple. 

Here are my two mechanical absolutes for a young hitter to focus on improving:

1.)    Stance and Stride

A hitter’s stance can begin in many places. Where you start is not nearly as important as where you end up or how you get there. A hitter needs to land, post-stride, in a position of strength. The term ‘balance’ is often misused. A flag pole is balanced, but it isn't very strong. A position of strength must have a low center of gravity. Think of a mid-squat technique or the position you would be in to guard LeBron James. We want to activate our quads without being so wide that we have lost athleticism. If we land in a position that is too upright, the swing will be propelled predominantly by the upper body, resulting in less than his max bat speed. A hitter’s height and leg length determines his proper squat depth, defensive position and hitting stride length.

Hitters who over-stride beyond their optimum stride length become momentum-driven front-foot hitters with timing issues and are susceptible to velocity inside, located off speed and elevated fastballs. Hitters who “stay back” and do not stride at all, or under stride, don’t drive the baseball. They lack bat speed. Hitters should desire a combination of the two: an aggressive movement for timing with a low center of gravity.

The coaching key is paying attention to a hitter's finish. If a hitter’s head rises immediately after a swing, their stride is likely too long for their height. If their swing sees their back foot quickly flattening out post-swing to balance (to keep them from falling over), the stride is too narrow and the body's energy is traveling up, instead of forward.

 2.) Separation

                                                                                        (Photo credit: examiner.com)

Separation, defined as the distance between a hitter’s load and stride, is a major key to bat speed. Many mechanical deficiencies can be overcome with great separation.

Hitters who have serious grip wrapping, where the hands/knuckles are over rotated, can lengthen the time their swing is in the zone by creating separation. Hitters who have a vertical bat after loading (meaning the bat is pointed straight up) are low ball hitters and cannot stay on or through the baseball. Separation should occur without allowing a large gap between the hands and the chest. The further from the chest or back shoulder the hands end at the load position, the more exposure a hitter will have to being beat inside. To compensate for this gap, hitters usually take a very linear/handsy swing path. These hitters are not as challenging to get out.


Separation allows the necessary space needed to create bat speed. No hitter can create maximum bat speed over a shorter distance. Creating a greater distance between the stride and load maximizes bat speed, allowing hitters to wait longer to commit, have a flatter swing path (rather than steep) and maximize contact and extension opportunities.