Here is the situation. Third inning, the lead off hitter just hit a double, the hitter coming to the plate is right handed, what happens next? Well, in many cases, automatically the employed offensive tactic is a sacrifice bunt. Why? Simple. It is the safest, most conservative method to move the baserunner up 90 feet and put him 90 feet away from scoring. Is that building and educating your players in the intricacies of offensive strategy? Yes, but at what cost? At the expense of trying to score a single run in the first third of the game?! Yes, this would be considered safe and a coach would never be second guessed. But, boy oh boy, are we developing our hitters to be masters of the sacrifice bunt? Surely, no high school or college player has ever been drafted for showing a scout his ability to bunt in the third inning! Let the kid swing...but teach and educate all hitters in the art, strategy and importance of hitting behind the baserunner and play for a big inning rather than a single run inning. If a scout were to see this it would certainly open some eyes. Just then how is it to be fashioned.
Let's look at the approach from the right side of the batter box. The hitter must keep in mind this is a team at bat. The objective is to hit the ball behind the runner, preferably on the ground. The right-handed hitter would be looking for a pitch a little down in the zone and on the outer third of the plate. This being said, you now have situational pitching versus situational hitting. The pitcher knows the hitter is trying to execute and will rarely give in and want to pound the inner half of the zone with fastballs. The hitter must have extreme discipline to lay off these pitches, as it takes a superior batsman to handle an inner half or inner third pitch and take it the other way. If the first pitch is a strike on the inner half, the hitter needs to take the pitch. The key is to look for pitches on the outer third and drive the ball to the right side. Conversely, a left-handed hitter will get fastballs on the outer third of the plate, but should be looking for a pitch on the inner third. His job is to pull the ball. It is usually easier for a left-handed hitter to effectively accomplish this than a right-handed hitter. Now caution needs to be heeded here in that, a fly ball, unless it drives the right fielder or centerfielder back for the catch, will not always permit the baserunner to advance. However, it is almost with 100% certainty, any ground ball to the right side of the infield, even weakly hit, will advance the baserunner up from second to third base. This type of situational hitting differs greatly from the hit and run insofar as the hitter has an option and should NOT treat the at bat as "I must swing"! It is the hitter's option based on the pitch location. Now, once the hitter gets to a two strike count, their options have run out. Now they need to battle and go to war to win the at bat and still try and get a ball to the right side.
In conclusion, a scout or college recruiter observes a hitter do this with success, that is one set of eyes that was just opened.
Work hard with your team to have them understand the importance of this team at bat situation, and instead of one run, a multiple run inning may take place. Good Luck
Image courtesy of thesportsfannetwork.com & nydailynews.com
We have previously written on the Top 5 Reasons To Use Indoor Batting Cages. In this blog I would like open up discussions on how to use a batting cage to get the most out of it for swing development. For many, commercial batting cages are used recreationally and not used for the actual development of the swing. For those that wish to use batting cages for actual swing development, the following is a breakdown on how to functionally use a cage to their advantage.
1. Speed of machine
When selecting the speed of a machine a common problem is the speed or velocity is far too advanced for the player. Often times, I will hear kids say “the speed is too slow” or asking “to speed the machine up”. Well let’s first look at what the hitter is trying to accomplish...that is, to refine the swing and the necessary movements associated with the swing. Pitching machines that are set to fast DO NOT promote efficient movement patterns in the swing. In fact, they promote poor swing habits, causing players to rush their timing; or failing to get the body into a good solid hitting position; or if their timing is so bad, they get frustrated with all the swings and misses and lose confidence in their swing. The speed is critical and should be set approximately 60-65 percent of the speed at which they will see in a game. Now, one can argue this percentage does not actually duplicate true game like speed, but the argument can also be said for those that truly want to work on swing development...it must be done at a speed substantially slower than what they would face in a game (how fast is the ball travelling on a tee??!!). Case in point...What do you think the average pitch speed of MLB batting practice is? It is certainly not near the speed of what hitters face day to day, it is approximately 60-65 percent of the actual velocity each hitter will face in a game. Furthermore, have you ever watched Home Run Derby? Granted, the concept of the Derby is Home Runs, but I would be surprised if the speed in the Derby comes close to 65 percent! So now why do MLB hitters take batting practice at approximately these types of speeds? Because the primary focus of their cage work is total swing development. It would be very difficult for the MLB player to work on the honing of their swing when facing a machine that is delivering pitches at speeds at or near the actual game like velocities.
2. Height of the pitch
Often times coaches, parents or players will stand in the cage, with the machine on and lay their bat out, in the perfect location and ask “can you raise the pitch” or “can you lower the pitch”. Now, look at a game...Does the hitter stand in the batter’s box, lay the bat out at mid thigh height and ask the pitcher to throw the ball in that exact location? Don’t think so! Obviously, the location of the pitch from a machine must be set so that as many pitches as possible cross the strike zone at the expected velocity and height, but, it should be up to the hitter to visually make the decisions as to whether they should swing or not swing based on the pitch. Pitching machines in cages are not perfect, and thus, hitters need to use discretion when swinging. That means, don’t swing at every pitch, but expect to swing at every pitch and learn to develop an eye for the strike zone and develop and eye for what you can drive rather than just swing at.
3. Don’t set up in the same place
Many hitters have tendencies to stand in the same place all the time and thus get the same velocity and generally the same pitch location (remember, machines are not always perfect) on each pitch. This does very little to help develop the swing. Instead, hitters need to work on hitting pitches in different locations and with different velocities. This is accomplished by simply moving up, back, in and out. As an example, if the hitter were to take 200 swings at the same location in the batter’s box, yes, they would work on swing development, but certainly it would not assist in helping the hitter make adjustments in their swings. Hitter’s should take some swings in one location, say, at the back of the batter’s box, then move up two or three feet. This would then mean the pitch velocity has increased forcing the hitter to make an adjustment. Then, the hitter should move back in the box and now, he is essentially getting an off speed pitch and once again, another adjustment will need to be made. The same type of adjustments can be made on in and out locations. Move in to work on pulling the ball, move away from the plate to work on hitting the ball to the opposite field.
4. Timing the pitching machine
When working on the timing of the pitch off a machine, hitters need to try and get away from timing the pitch, but instead, work on seeing the ball out of the arm or out of the wheels. Timing only serves to make hitters guess when the ball is coming out. This can often lead to negative effects when trying to produce efficient movement patterns. When hitters see the ball out of the machine, they become much more in tune to the visual elements needed to be an accomplished hitter. Many machines are set up so that the ball will come out at certain timed intervals, say 5 seconds or 6 seconds. Hitters will often try and time their swing relative to the timing of the outbound ball. This is not wise or prudent when it comes to any type of swing development. Don’t time the pitch, but instead see the pitch and get the timing off the pitch.
5. Start opposite field first
Many hitters jump into the cage and the first thing they try and do is pull the ball. Not wise to say the least. A much better approach would be to train your cage work the same way you would be trained if you were taking batting practice. That would be, to begin the swing development process by working on hitting balls the other way (opposite field), this will allow more efficient timing and promote the ball to be tracked deeper into the hitting zone (although it is impossible to watch the ball hit the bat, contrary to popular belief). Once the hitter has been able to get his timing to the velocity and the feel of the swing has begun to ramp up, the hitter can begin the process of moving around in the batter’s box to start the process of making adjustments. After all, isn’t hitting about making adjustments?
6. Create games and competition
A great way to work on swing development without actually thinking about the swing is to create games within the cage itself. For example, a common game that is played is Home Run Derby, where certain parts or locations of the cage represent certain base hits. Because each cage is different in height and width, each game will be played with different rules. Use a selected number of pitches per at bat as the number that you will use before the at bat is over. So, if a cage is pre-set at say 10 pitches per round, then each hitter would get 10 outs. At the completion of the number of outs, add up your runs and keep a running tally. Your number of innings could be as few as one to an infinite number. Targets can be set up as well as Grand Slams, HR’s , etc...to give hitters incentive when trailing late in their match. (Keeping track of results over time is also a great proven practice)
7. The fatigue factor
Probably the biggest issue with kids using cages is the pure number of swings they take in a row or over the duration of their cage time. Far too often kids just keep swinging and then the fatigue factor (FF) takes over. When FF comes into play, the body breaks down and swing development has now taken a back seat...now we have begun to create bad habits. So always consider the number of swings in a row and the rest needed between each set of swings. Swing smart rather than just keep swinging.
So next time you make your way into an indoor batting cage, make sure you keep a few of these points at the top of your mind to make better use of your time and ultimately help you become a better hitter!
Rick Johnston, Co-Founder - The Baseball Zone
PS - Would love to hear your own ideas of how to best use indoor batting cages
PPS - If you are new to The Zone we have a great intro 2-for-1 offer for you to consider below
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How do you attack this situation?
I often am amazed how hitters waste their at bats and simply give away outs over the course of a season. This is especially true with two strikes. Each hitter must learn to develop their own plan of attack when they are faced with a two strike count, because after all, we will all be in this position throughout the course of a season on many occasions. So, devising a swift plan of attack or some sort of exit strategy is the key to the two strike approach.
When faced with this count let’s review some of the areas that every hitter has heard yelled at them from the bench or the crowd at one point or another:
Spread out the base of support
Move up in the batter’s box
Shorten your swing path (what the heck does this mean, my swing is already short!)
Get closer to the plate
Look away and react in
Think later rather than earlier
Let the ball travel deeper into the zone
Think defensive rather than offensive
Track the ball longer
First of all, none of these things can be successfully accomplished in a game if they (the hitter’s) have not spent endless hours working on these in practice. It does not do any hitter justice if they are asked to do one, two or any of the above, if prudent practice has not been put in place.
The two strike approach, when reviewing the above can come across as being very, very defensive, but with work and understanding, the hitter can actually use the two strike approach with more of an offensive posturing rather than that of a defensive approach. What does this approach really mean? Take it that there is no negotiating for your pitch, there is no more selective/aggressive approach, but simply put, your offensive posture is that “I am going to eliminate the strike out by making contact”. That is your offence.
There really is no magic behind this two strike count approach. The mind must be prepared to never give up and the body must posture up to ensure the hitter can still stay offensive in nature.
Divide the plate in half and protect the outside portion. A pitcher will have a chance to beat you either in hard, away hard or soft away. If you are able to defend these three areas you will have a better chance to put the ball in play wich with two strikes can be considered offensive. Remember, balls that are put in play can lead to good or lucky hits, or less sexy but equally effective, errors. Errors lead to baserunners and baseunners lead to runs. We all know the objective of baseball - score more runs at the end of nine innings and you win ball games. Two strike base hits and two out base hits win ball games and build hitter confidence.
Appreciate your comments and/or your own approach below.
Rick Johnston, Head Instructor - The Baseball Zone
Image from www.profantasybaseball.com
As has been indicated in a previous post regarding the Hit and Run, it is a very high risk offensive tactic and as such there are many cons that can have a glaring effect on its outcome. Now let’s look at some of the pro's of the Hit and Run
- Helps the offensive team stay out of the double play with a baserunner moving on the pitch.
- It has the potential to move a slower baserunner up one base and into scoring position.
- Has the potential to position two baserunners on base, with the lead baserunner only being 90 feet from scoring.
- A high payoff and best case scenario, the hitter hits ball to the gap, past the outfielders, the baserunner on first base scores and the hitter ends up on second base.
- In some cases, hitters that are not swinging well, or simply are in constant take mode, will now be forced to swing the bat, which could assist them in getting jump started and rejuvenated once again with the bat.
- It has the potential to jump start the offense and start a rally.
- When executed with precision, the Hit and Run could take the rally and turn one play into an opportunity to create a multiple run inning.
- When executing the Hit and Run, the defensive alignment could often release early from their double play depth as they move to cover second base, which creates a hole on either the right or left side of the infield.
- The defensive team could field the ball, but either makes the play (throw) to the wrong base, such as the lead base, and the throw is late, permitting both the lead baserunner and hitter to reach base successfully.
- Because the infielders are often caught moving to cover second base, a batted ball may be hit in the opposite direction, causing them to try and make a fielding play in a manner they are not used to making. This could then follow with poor fielding and throwing actions which may leave the window open for an error.
Having said this, once again, sound and prudent judgement needs to be warranted when it comes to using the Hit and Run as part of one’s offensive strategy. Please keep in mind both the pro’s and con’s when weighing out the risk versus reward in this potentially high stakes play.
Rick Johnston, Head Instructor - The Baseball Zone
Potential downsides of the Hit & Run
In my last post I went over some of the elements essential to a successful Hit & Run. But I also warned that it may be a bit overused and not quite as successful as we might think it is or want it to be.
Now, let’s look at the why the hit and run is not always a good offensive tactic.
- Obviously, getting the right count is critical. That is, a count that favours the fastball or the count where the pitcher needs to come in with a good strike and a good hitters pitch. Well let's say the count dictates this, say 1-1...and boom, here comes the pitch - it is out of the zone. How often have you seen this happen at any level of baseball, let alone minor baseball? Now the hitter swings out of the zone, foul ball. The count now favours pitcher 1-2. Next pitch, swing and miss, strike three. We just took the bat out of the hitter's hands by having the hitter swing at the bad pitch.
- Hitter hits the ball on the screws and scuds a low line drive to an infielder, ball caught, throw back to first base, double play...that is one pitch, two outs!
- Defensive team decides to pitch out, the slower baserunner (remember that a hit and run is best done with a slower, yet smart baserunner) is thrown out by five feet. Then the hitter at the plate on the next pitch hits a single, double or whatever. Opportunity lost.
- The hitter at the plate may not have been the best candidate for the hit and run and swings and misses... and once again, the slower baserunner is thrown out.
- The hitter at the plate had a brain cramp and failed to swing the bat, didn’t see the sign or was just oblivious to the coach. Result - slower baserunner thrown out.
- The baserunner occupying first base, similar to the hitter in point 5, has a brain cramp or didn’t see the sign and fails to break on the pitch. The hitter hits a ground ball right at a middle infielder who would have been releasing to cover second base on the pitch. Result - inning ending double play.
- Hitter hits the ball in air and the baserunner gets decoyed by the middle infielder as ball is popped up. Result - baserunner slides into second base, ball is caught, thrown back to first base, inning ending double play.
- Third base coach on a whim decides to try and execute the hit and run, when the player mix is poor. The hitter at the plate has a long, slow swing, who frequently strikes out. Result - swing and miss, slow baserunner is thrown out.
- Hitter at plate is very good hitter with plus power and contact, yet now must possibly swing out of his zone and chases a pitch. Result - lost at bat for a potential power hitter.
- Hitter not clearly understanding the true execution of the play tries to hit the ball behind the baserunner on a pitch that will just no allow it to occur. Result - weak pop up for out.
Now, there are no plays in baseball that are guaranteed for success. There is an element of risk with every play, despite its best intentions. However, thorough knowledge of your team's strengths and weaknesses will help you make better decisions on when to call a hit and run and maximize the chances of a successful one!
In my next blog I will talk about the hit and run counts, batted ball areas, safe areas, type of batted balls and overall expectations of the hit and run.
I'd also love to read your comments and any other Con's you can think of with respect to the HIT and RUN!
Rick Johnston, Head Instructor - The Baseball Zone
How the Hit and Run works
The hit and run is an offensive tactic designed for the sole purpose of staying out of the double play, rather than trying to advance a baserunner up two bases to third base which it is often thought to be used for. It is designed for the situations when a slower baserunner occupies first base and a hitter that has the ability to hit the ball on the ground is at bat.
As mentioned, it is often thought that the hit and run is to be used to move a baserunner up two bases, from 1st to 3rd, but the percentages of this actually occurring are quite low. The hit and run can have a very good percentage of success given the right player mix.
This mix, first and foremost, must be with the right hitter. The hitter needs to be one who makes consistent contact, especially ground ball contact. The hitter, who is a high strike out type, fly ball type, has power or a long swing, is generally not one that should be directed to attempt the hit and run. The objective of the hitter is to hit the ball, or at least swing at and attempt to hit any ball, other than a ball in the dirt and put the ball in play and on the ground. At no time does the hitter have an option as to swing or not swing unless the ball is in the dirt. The secondary goal of the hitter is to hit the ball on the ground where the ball is pitched. It is also often thought that the hitter should try and hit "behind" the runner, in other words, hit the ball to the right side of the infield. However, much sounder advice is to make sure the hitter hits the ball where it is pitched. Hitting behind the baserunner for most hitters is very difficult and takes outstanding strike zone discipline and even better bat control.
Now the baserunner, for the most part, will be a below average runner, yet intelligent, alert and "headsy". Upon, taking a hit and run lead - that is, a lead off first base that will not permit the baserunner getting picked off - the runner will break for 2nd base when 100% sure the ball is on the way to the plate. As the baserunner takes off for 2nd base, he must glance in over his left shoulder to find the ball (as he is doing in the picture). At this point, if the hitter has hit the ball in the air, the baserunner must pick up the ball visually and should stop, possibly beginning to retreat to 1st base if the ball will have a chance to be caught. If so, return to the base. If the ball is struck in a way that it is a line drive to the infield, that is, a low line drive, the baserunner should keep going, with the hope that the batted ball/line drive will get through the infield. There is no reason to stop and try and get back, as the baserunner will be doubled off anyways. If the ball is not caught, the baserunner should determine, with the aid of the 3rd base coach, if 3rd base is a possibility. Most batted balls hit to right field that get through should permit the baserunner to move up two bases. Batted balls hit to the front side of the baserunner, that is, to left field, may not permit two base advancement.
If the baserunner hears the ball hit, but for some reason loses sight of the batted ball or area of the batted ball, they must immediately shift their sightlines to the 3rd base coach, rather than looking somewhere into the air for the ball. The 3rd base coach should be ready to help out the baserunner by providing him with the status of the ball. Additionally, the baserunner can never get decoyed by a middle infielder. Middle infielders will decoy either verbally with a “two, two, two” or visually, by simulating a double play feed or some type of footwork as the ball is in flight. It is critical the baserunner picks up the 3rd base coach when a loss of ball occurs.
On my next blog, I will write about the pros and cons of the Hit and Run and why this offensive tactic is not always the best way to achieve baserunner advancement.