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Baseball Coaches Newsletter - Feb. 2008

Basic Laws of Hitting*
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Loading & Extension: Two Essentials of a Great Swing
Basic Laws of Hitting*
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Drills to Develop a Solid Swing*

From The Hitting Edge by Tom Robson



The following drills really work and will help young hitters improve. Hitting drills are designed to help a hitter become more efficient at hitting a moving baseball. The hitter’s body must learn how to time and recognize all types of pitches. Then the hitter must deliver the bat to the ball and through the ball. All this needs to be accomplished in less than 0.4 second. Now that’s an athletic event!

The drills coaches use should work in line with the absolutes of hitting, employ the correct sequence, and deal only with what really happens during a swing. When players use drills that closely simulate reality, they’ll be better off.

The number of swings a hitter takes in each practice session and how often a hitter works on his hitting will relate directly to his strength base, age, and desire. It’s always better for hitters to take swings in small groups to prevent reaching a fatigue level that may lead to bad habits. Taking turns in small groups allows some recovery time that the hitter needs to maintain his highest bat speed and quickness. Once real fatigue sets in, the hitter will pace himself just to keep swinging. This leads to passive swings that really don’t accomplish much. To hit for an hour or until the hands are raw isn’t very smart. Quality is better than quantity.

The best drill, if it’s at all possible, is to take live batting practice against real pitchers.


Live Batting Practice
Standing in for live batting practice against a real pitcher is the best way to develop pitch recognition and timing. Hitting against a live pitcher is as close to game conditions as a hitter can get.

The hitter needs to stand in against the pitcher as if he were in a game with the whole team counting on him. The hitter should go through his entire batting routine, using the stance he would use in a real game and focusing on the absolutes of hitting and the skills he has learned.

The hitter’s adrenaline will not be at the level of intensity that it would be in a real game, and he usually will experience a lot of failure. It’s extremely important for the hitter to remember the importance of the hitter’s attitude. The focus should be on the hitter developing the skill of recognizing good fastballs and breaking balls, and on understanding that this skill will make him better. The hitter shouldn’t focus on the immediate results.

Finding live pitching is not easy, as most pitchers have to save themselves to be ready for real games. The next best drill is live batting practice with a coach pitching from a close distance. This drill builds a hitter’s confidence while working different areas of the strike zone. This batting practice allows for some control of the situation, and different areas of the strike zone can be worked as needed.

A hitter will experience more success when a coach is pitching to him because the ball will not travel as fast and there will be less movement on the pitch. Usually the hitter feels good when he’s done for the day. This is a good hitting-specific drill that also works timing and recognition.


Standing In Against Pitchers During Side Work
This drill, which I mentioned earlier in chapter 5 on recognition, is one of the best ways for a young hitter to learn to recognize pitches and time them.

The hitter stands in the batter’s box as the pitcher works all of his pitches but does not swing. The hitter should always approach the pitch as if he were going to hit it. His back foot comes off first with the bat still over his shoulder. This is the look of a correct take.

This is a tremendous drill that’s not used often enough. Hitters have the chance to see fast pitches, breaking balls, and movement over and over again. The quicker the hitter can pick up the ball out of the pitcher’s hand (i.e., within the first 5 feet after release) and recognize speed and location, the bigger and slower the ball will look. Remember, a hitter doesn’t hit what the pitcher throws; he hits what he sees. The baseball always looks huge to a hitter when he’s taking a 3-0 pitch. I believe it could look that way almost all the time. This drill is a must for all hitters high school age and older.


Swings With an Underloading Bat
The purpose of using an underloading bat—a bat that is 4 to 5 ounces lighter than a regular game bat—is to improve bat speed. In this drill, the hitter attacks live pitches, swinging the bat at high speed. The hitter stands in against a coach tossing softly from behind a safety cage. The hitter works through his entire hitting sequence, concentrating especially on bat speed and quickness. Another option would be for the hitter to use an underloading bat and swing at visualized pitches, focusing on increasing bat speed and quickness with every swing.

By using the underloading bat, the hitter can move his body and hands (in sequence) at a higher-than-normal speed through rotation and the swing. The hitter learns what it feels like for his body and hands to move at a high rate of speed. Over time, the hitter becomes accustomed to that feeling. A small percentage of that speed carries over into the hitter’s regular game bat.


Soft Toss
The soft toss drill is commonly used by many players to practice hitting pitches in all areas of the strike zone by altering the bat angle. The coach softly tosses the ball from behind a safety screen set up in front of the hitter. The hitter works through his entire hitting sequence, focusing on changing bat angles to hit pitches in different areas of the strike zone.

This drill teaches the hitter to create energy under controlled conditions. The hitter has the chance to work on bat angles and practice hitting pitches in all areas of the strike zone. The hitter learns contact points and angles for left field, center field, and right field. He also learns how to create bat quickness and speed using the correct hitting sequence.

The soft toss also can be done from the side. The soft toss from the side has much the same purpose as the soft toss drill: to give the hitter experience in hitting pitches in all areas of the strike zone. A coach or a teammate stands to the side of the hitter and tosses the ball softly. The hitter must adjust to each pitch as it comes in at a difficult angle. The person tossing the ball must keep the hitter in a good rhythm but never rush him.

As with the regular soft toss drill, this drill also requires the hitter to hit pitches in all areas of the strike zone. This one is a little more difficult, however, since the hitter must deal with difficult angles because the ball is coming from the side. The person tossing the ball needs to know how to flip it correctly and must keep the hitter in a good rhythm and sequence. The tosser must never rush the hitter. Sometimes players flipping to each other will fire the balls rapidly to get in more swings, but this forces the hitter to use only his upper body, resulting in the development of bad habits.


Hits to an Open Field
Hitting to an open field reinforces good hitting habits and identifies and corrects bad ones. Perform this drill with the tosser standing either behind a screen in front of the hitter or to the side. The tosser softly tosses the ball to the hitter, who hits the ball into the open field. A hitter who tries to hit the ball too hard and uses his upper body too much will hit a lot of ground balls. The hitter needs to relax and use his lower body, feeling his front leg snapping straight just before contact. He needs to finish through the ball and finish high, then watch the ball to see for himself how it carries. Hitters can pair up, two on each side of home plate, and take turns hitting balls to the gaps.

Major league hitters like to use a long tee when they hit into the open field because they can see the results quickly. A hitter learns quickly whether or not he’s on time. By using a good hitting sequence and snapping his front leg, the hitter will be able to drive the ball harder and farther. When the hitter tries to muscle up and hits the ball with his upper body, the ball goes nowhere fast.

This drill provides immediate feedback with every swing. The hitter can see exactly how the ball comes off his bat. Hitting errors can be instantly recognized and corrected. When I was coaching in Japan, we used this drill daily. We brought it to the United States, and most hitters really like it.


Tee Work Into a Screen
The purpose of tee work into a screen is to reinforce good hitting mechanics. It is also a good drill to loosen up a hitter. A hitter can use a screen on his own, either while he’s awaiting his turn to perform another drill or when he’s practicing alone and wants to polish his mechanics.

Using a tee often causes the hitter to keep his head down and his eyes zoned in on the home plate area when the bat makes contact with the ball. The correct way to use a tee is to start by looking out at the pitcher and then track the ball to the tee without a severe backward head movement. The eyes should remain just out in front of the tee and ball.

 

This book is a must for every baseball coaches library.

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* To reprint this excerpt with permission from Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc., please contact the publicity department at 1-800-747-4457 or publicity@hkusa.com.