Hitting the ball to opposite field isn’t an easy skill to teach. Nor is it an easy skill for baseball and softball hitters to create habit for. If it was, more hitters would be doing it and batting averages would be higher.
I will describe opposite field hitting technically to achieve accuracy. Stay with me on this. Understanding the concepts behind opposite field hitting is worth the effort.
Before moving ahead, let us define a few terms and some of the mechanics involved:
When a hitter fully rotates and makes contact out in front of the body the angle of the barrel sends the ball to the pull side. This would be to left field for a righty and to right field for a lefty.
Opposite Field Hitting
If a hitter lets the ball travel back into their body the angle of the barrel at contact will send the ball to the opposite field. This would be to right field for a righty and to left field for a lefty. If the hitter fully rotates and extends hands toward the pitcher or to the pull side, the barrel will strike a glancing blow and spin the ball sideways toward the opposite field foul line. But if the hitter uses an inside-out swing path and extends hands toward opposite field the ball will be driven into the gap.
Gap to Gap Hitting
Hitting the ball where it is pitched. This means:
- If an inside pitch location is contacted out front with full core rotation, if the barrel is kept inside the path of the ball until the last moment, and if extension is to the pull gap, then the ball will be driven to the pull gap. For righties, the ball would travel to the gap between the left fielder and center fielder. And for lefties, to the gap between the right fielder and center fielder.
- If a middle pitch location is contacted just as the ball passes the front foot with full core rotation, if the barrel is kept inside the path of the ball until the last moment, and if extension is toward the pitcher, then the ball will be driven up the middle.
- If an outside pitch location is contacted toward the middle of the body, if core rotation is about fifty percent at contact, and if the swing path is inside to out with extension of arms and hands to the opposite field gap, then the ball will be driven to the opposite field gap.
Inside-Out Swing Path
An inside to outside swing path is performed by not casting arms and hands, but rather by slotting the rear elbow (elbow against hitter’s side) then releasing (extending) hands toward the opposite field gap.
The kinesthetic definition of extend:
“To straighten a limb, to diminish or extinguish the angle formed by flexion; to place the distal segment of a limb in such a position that its axis is continuous with that of the proximal segment.” (The Free Dictionary, 2016)
Extension for rotational hitters should be thought of as the release (or throwing) of the barrel, not the conscious act of extending the arms. When the shoulders decelerate, the energy which has been transferred to the arms and hands is “released” from shoulder rotation, in a line through the path of the ball. The barrel is brought to the outer portion of the hitting zone by allowing the arms to fully extend (straighten). Power V through full extension is executed by not rolling wrists and maintaining a palm up, palm down position.
Margin of Error
Margin of error is the distance the sweet spot of the bat is in the path of the ball.
Increasing margin of error, within each hitting zone, increases batting average.
Typically, a pull hitter slugs for a higher percentage than a gap to gap hitter. One reason is the pull hitter’s intention is to time the pitch out-front regardless of pitch location. They are always looking to hit the ball deep. Additionally, with full core rotation, bat speed can be slightly higher at the out-front contact point, compared to letting the ball travel into the body.
So, why would any hitter desire to complicate at bats by striving to hit gap to gap? To put it concisely, to dramatically increase their batting average.
Here are some reasons batting average will be higher for a hitter who has trained themselves to hit the outside pitch to opposite field:
- The crucial concept to understand is margin of error is increased. When a hitter lets the ball travel into their body, then executes an inside-out swing path (see above), the barrel will be in the path of the ball three times the distance (and time) compared to a pull hitter. When the hitter’s timing is slightly off, say on a curve, sinker, change, or drop, the chances of contacting the outside pitch on the sweet spot go up three times compared to a pull hitter trying to hit the ball out front. For a pull hitter, the barrel is in and out of the path of the ball in a very short distance.
- Hits up the middle have a much higher probability of being base hits.
- Gap to gap hitting is a proven method to increase batting average. Proficiency in opposite field hitting will raise batting average from 50 to 100 points.
- Letting the ball travel to the optimal outside pitch contact point, then executing the inside-out swing path,will enable the hitter to get to the outside pitch more quickly. It gives the hitter more time. Having more time allows the hitter to make more effective decisions on whether to swing.
Here are three key points for learning to hit to opposite field:
- The hitter must deliberately practice hitting outside pitch locations to opposite field at every hitting practice. The mind must be trained that when the outside pitch location is recognized to automatically let the ball travel, not over rotate, and inside-out the swing. For a hitter to train this complex brain pattern, they must be convinced of the benefits of opposite field hitting and own their swing during practice and games.
- The hitter should strive to hit inside pitches to the pull gap, outside pitches to the opposite field gap, and not be satisfied with hits close to the foul lines. When the hit is not between the gaps, they should remind themselves to stay tight with hands, get the barrel to the correct contact point, and extend to the appropriate gap.
- Early bat speed mechanics remain vital (this will be a topic of a future post!). The hitter should strive to develop maximum bat speed before releasing hands toward opposite field.
In this era of power hitters, often young players equate good hitting to pulling the ball. Ask a typical high school hitter, in baseball or softball, how much they work at going the other way at school practices, they will respond rarely or never.
I think now is a good time for coaches to step back and re-visit some timeless concepts which have historically led to hitting success.