Many young hitters and their parents walk into The Hitting Shop wanting to know the mechanics they need to improve upon and the best drills to do so. The desire to improve mechanics is crucial, especially for younger or beginning hitters.
But my students are often surprised to learn swing mechanics are only one piece of the pie (see above image). In addition to spending lesson time learning mechanics, they will spend an equal amount of time practicing timing varying fast ball speeds, and for more advanced hitters, timing an array of off-speed and movement pitches.
And as athletes in many sports soon come to realize, performing well in practice and games are very different goals. For most hitters, taking their relaxed, but aggressive practice swing into the game is challenging. The same as with mechanics and timing, the mental side of hitting must be practiced and honed over time.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the Three Skills:
I categorize hitting fundamentals and mechanics into two types: power and batting average.
Power Mechanics Defined
Any body movement which assists in increasing the transference of energy up the kinetic chain from the ground, to legs, to core, to shoulders, to arms and hands, and finally to the bat. Another way to look at power mechanics is any movement which increases bat speed. Many hitting experts agree, bat speed is the most critical determinant of future hitting success.
Batting Average Mechanics Defined
While most power mechanics also serve to increase batting average, since the hit ball is traveling faster and further, I think of batting average mechanics as those which increase the margin of error. Margin of error is the distance (and time) the sweet spot of the bat is in the path of the ball. Increasing the margin of error increases the chances of solid contact, thus raising the hitter’s average. One example of a batting average mechanic is the ability to hit the ball gap to gap. That is, outside pitches hit to opposite field gap, and inside pitches hit to the pull gap. Gap to gap hitting is not easy to develop (and often overlooked during team practices), but is important for the high level hitter who desires to play in college and beyond.
With younger hitters I typically teach power before batting average. My thinking here is if the young hitter is just a little patient during an at-bat they will usually get a good pitch to hit. Being able to drive a good pitch to hit into the outfield goes far for developing confidence and enjoyment of the game. Later, when the level of competition improves, increased focus on batting average mechanics is appropriate.
Achieving consistent timing involves developing several hitting techniques:
Tempo is the rate and timing of the body’s movements. The goal is to translate momentum from the Gather, Stride, and Separate phases into rotational energy, with maximum efficiency.
At the first move out of the hitter’s stance, the chain of energy has begun. At the end of the chain, energy is concentrated in the speed of the barrel. If the energy chain is paused or broken, as a result of to poor tempo, momentum is lost and bat speed reduced.
Timing of Gather
Timing the start of the rearward loading of weight must be adjusted to the speed of the pitcher and the aggressiveness of the hitter’s stride and approach. The start of gather should be adjusted so it occurs enough before the start of stride to allow a controlled rear weight shift in tempo, without rushing.
Timing of Stride
For younger age groups, facing slower pitching, the start of stride should occur somewhere after release and the ball traveling halfway to the hitter. At higher levels of competition, the start of stride must be fine-tuned to the aggressiveness and length of time needed to execute the hitter’s stride and approach, along with the speed of the pitcher’s fast ball.
Timing of Toe Touch
If the hitter starts their stride on time, and their stride is consistent in length, height, and tempo, then their toe touch will be on time.
Timing of Front Heel Drive
If the pitcher’s fast ball is correctly timed, front heel drive triggers core rotation immediately upon toe touch. Immediate front heel drive is an important contributor to a fluid tempo, where the energy created by the legs working against the ground and the momentum of the hitter’s approach is transferredand conserved (not lost) up the kinetic links to core rotation.
Only when the hitter recognizes an off speed pitch should there be a slight pause between toe touch and heel drive.
Adjusting to Off Speed and Movement
This is a lengthy and complex topic. Let us say for the moment, adjusting to change ups, curves, drops, sliders, etc can be divided into two primary methods:
Early Pitch Recognition – The hitter identifies the pitch out of the pitcher’s hand and implements a milli-second pause in their swing either during stride or at toe touch.
Late Pitch Recognition — The hitter is fooled by the pitch and pauses their swing by allowing their front knee to bend and their weight to travel forward.
- Mental, Strategic, and Situational
A great mental approach, where the hitter is consistently “in the zone”, is about understanding:
The state of mind and body the hitter wants to be in.
How hitters easily and unintentionally get themselves out of this optimal state.
During lesson time the SDS student will construct the mental skills necessary to:
Relax and clear the mind.
Reduce fear of the ball.
Not try too hard.
Apply the doctrine of easy.
Become immersed in the action.
Enable detachment from the outcome.
Habitually thinking positive and aggressive.
Believe in the process.
Deliberately and purposefully practice.
Being selective, while remaining aggressive, are challenging goals to balance. Selective, but aggressive, can be accomplished with a step-by-step program emphasizing developing the abilities to:
Look for a pitch.
Prepare and follow a plan at the plate (strategic approach).
Observe the game situation and perform the required execution (situational hitting).
Routinely prepare for game at bats (routines).
Every hitter is unique in their ability to execute each of the Three Skills. The first lesson for a new student entails an evaluation and recommendation for where to begin and what is the most effective mix of skill development.