You guys have issues also!
As I start to wind up on the Pet Peeves series, it is time to adress the hitters and discuss some of the items these guys do that are in most cases not surprising, but often not dealt with. In other words, is it the hitters that are to blame or can some of these be shifted to coaches and their philosophy toward hitting? Hmmm, that is a good question and maybe could turn into a Pet Peeve at some point.
Let’s try and explore more in depth many of the crazes that hitters do to drive coaches nuts and push them over the edge. Now coaches, remember, you may be responsible for some of these, so,as you nod your head while reading, ask yourself if some of these Pet Peeves could be changed if you as a coach spent the time creating an avenue of understanding with each hitter.
So, with this in mind, here we go:
1. When practicing hitting mechanics, weaker areas are rarely worked...yep, guys that’s right! Much of a player's work is spent on what he CAN do, not what he CAN'T do? Sadly, yes. As an example in its simplest form, a coach will set up a tee for a player to work on his swing and perfectly set the tee at a mid thigh high, cookie pitch and have hitters swing at that. Come on, a cookie? Give the players a challenge; force them to make adjustments; make them learn on the fly. My gosh, there is enough coddling and babying going on, don’t make using a tee even easier than it really is. Make them be aware of what they need to work on not just make them aware of what they do well.
2. Take, Take, and Take...just listen next time you are at a game how many times you will hear coaches tell kids to take a pitch. Are we trying to teach hitters to aggressive or timid? Have we not been watching MLB playoffs or looking at first pitch stats? Pitchers are trying to throw strikes early and often...wink, wink...that means early in the count hitting should be defined to each hitter. Hey, some will prescribe to the theory of make pitchers throw strikes, while others prescribe to the opposite, look to hit early and often in the count. I will make it simple, first pitch swings yield high batting averages when swinging at fastballs at any level. Take it from a Latin player; they hit themselves off the island!
3. Swinging at first pitch breaking balls...yes, a lot of players will do so instead of hunting the fastball early in the count. Best advice, most hitters are not good enough to hit the breaking ball early in the count, so learn to lay off it, even if it is thrown for a strike. Some may argue, “if he hangs it we bang it”, yes ok, then what happens when you don’t? Or worse yet, the breaking ball is in the dirt and the hitter swings at it? Yes, that too happens. Extreme discipline is needed when on the breaking ball in both one’s ability to lay off it and in one’s own ability as a hitter themselves.
4. Wait for a good one...this is one of my all time favourite lines from a parent, player or coach. You have to be kidding me, wait for a good one. It’s like waiting for the best looking girl at school to ask you to the prom...what are your chances? “Slim” went home, so you tell me? Hey, waiting for that good pitch takes away the positive approach and turns it into a negative or timid approach. Hitters should not wait, but instead “expect” to hit; expect to swing; expect to drive the ball.
5. Take the cookie and swing at (insert terrible choice here)...I am just not sure...like the pitch over their head; in the dirt or just flat out of the strike zone. Goes back to Take, take and take...that first pitch is a strike or take with a favourable count, 1-0, 2-0, 3-1 and there’s the cookie. Watch what happens in the next pitch? It is not close and hitters now need to swing because panic has now set in. Hey, make it easy, expect every pitch to be a cookie; expect to drive every pitch. Cookies are gifts, always be in a position to accept the gift.
6. Are you the hunter or hunted? Let’s hope you are not the hunted. The hunters want to hit; the hunted look to walk. The hunter is aggressive; the hunted is timid and passive. The hunter lives to swing the bat; the hunted is not sure if he should swing or not. The hunter expects to drive every pitch; the hunted is waiting for a pitch to drive. The hunter does not worry about mechanics; the hunted is always concerned about a mechanical flaw that inhibits their swing. The hunted swings and comes out of his shoes; the hunted does not want to exert much energy when swinging. The hunter never stops working on his swing; the hunted just does enough to get by. The hunter goes down swinging; the hunted is just happy to say he got a good hack or two in the at bat. Who would you rather be?
7. Oblivious to the situation...and just why are you oblivious to the situation? Hmm, maybe we are now talking about a lack of understanding, and then this can related back to coaching. Hey, at younger levels, for sure I can understand that, but geez, at older and higher levels you have to expect players should understand situational hitting? How about this then...when you implement your offensive signs, would it make sense to explain baserunners' and hitters' roles in the tactic? No doubt, it would. In addition, is situational hitting implemented enough in practice? Hey coaches, it’s your practice not the players', let’s hope you are.
8. Rat or Gorilla...which one are you? Well guys I can tell you most hitters are rats, not gorillas. “But coach, I just hit one out”....whoa, “good for you son, you are still a rat”! As much as most hitters would love to be those big power guys, very few are, so don’t try and be one. Think about this, the toughest tool to evaluate for any hitter is power AND power is actually the last fundamental tool that develops for any hitter. Trust me guys; there are more rats than gorillas.
9. The Sacrifice Fly....so let’s walk through a situation...runner on third base, less than two out, infield playing back. Pretty simple to ascertain hitters...the defence is giving up a run, just put the ball in play, on the ground, away from the pitcher and presto, run scored! But NO, they want to sacrifice fly, that’s right, the sac fly! Last time I checked; read; observed; watched or otherwise, I have NEVER seen a sign for a sacrifice fly. Now maybe the game has changed in the last few weeks, but a sacrifice fly sign? Don’t think so hitters, so, why try and alter your swing to hit a sac fly? Read your defence; read the situation; look at the score board. Hey, when you find someone with a sacrifice fly sign, please let me know.
10. Just gotta pull the ball...not realizing you become easy to pitch to and really an easy out. “Ya, but coach, I can jerk it out of here”. "Hey son, you’re not that good”. Hey hitters, you want to be better; you want to be tougher to pitch too; you want to make other teams work for their outs, then you had better learn to go the other way. From the age of 16 or so and up, the vast majority of pitches hitters will see will be away, so if this is the case, then learn to hit the ball the other way. How about this, if 70 percent of all pitches hitters will see from the age of 16 are away, then does 70 percent of working on the swing filter around this part of the strike zone? Hmmm, if the answer is no, then much of hitting could be a waste, as hitters will spend their time at working on the lower percentage pitch versus what they will see more of.
11. Two strike approach is non existent...just another situation that comes up that coaches could look at as their fault. If so, then admit this and implement immediately. Hitters, two strikes, mean you have one strike left...thanks for patronizing us coach! Oh, no problem hitters, but two strikes means you had better have some sort of exit strategy in your approach. I will make it real simple...DONT STRIKE OUT while remaining in an offensive posture (read more here).
12. The high five after a brutal at bat...that’s right, are you kidding me, a high five to the player coming back to the bench after a brutal at bat. NO CHANCE. Son, have a seat, let the at bat go, get out there and play defence. Hey when was the last time you saw big league players, managers or coaches giving hitter a high five after a poor at bat? Need I say more on this one!
13. No clue foul balls...have you seen this before...pitch, swing, foul ball straight back over the backstop and there goes the hitter, into a full sprint toward first base! Yep, can’t tell you how many times I have seen that. Hitters, you need to know the difference between foul balls and fair balls. Quit running out foul balls that are so foul that chasing them is a chore.
14. On deck preparation is pitiful...oh ya, happens all the time. Zero thought; zero emphasis; zero focus on your at bat. Hitters will use the on deck circle for everything else but their heightened awareness to the fact that they are next to hit. Some would prefer to use heavy bats to swing, which will surely cause a decrease in bat speed; some will be oblivious to the situation; some will be more in tune to guys on the bench or people in the stands. Hey, make that on deck time your time; time to zone in; your time to mentally prepare for your at bat. Don’t waste it with little focus on what is really going on. (You may want to check this blog out, too)
15. Looking for a sign leading off the inning or with two strikes on you and no one on base...not sure what sign you could be looking for. Maybe it is the same sign coming from the coach who has the sacrifice fly sign? Hmmm, so, hitters, think about this, you have two strikes on you...does your coach have a sign for don’t strike out; or put the ball in play; or hit it to the right side? Don’t think so, so focus on the exit strategy you have worked on in practice, when hitting with two strikes. Coaches can’t help you here; you are on your own. Find a way to win the at bat and put the ball in play instead of looking down for a sign. Hey, it is much different with runners on base, but in this case, the at bat is most crucial not the possible sign coming from the coach.
16. 3-0 Green light...for most of you, NO chance will the green light occur. Big league baseball is different, they can hit the ball out of the park and you guys can’t. The 3-0 pitch should be an automatic take. Make the pitcher throw three strikes before he throws one ball. Seems like the odds are in the hitters favour would you say?
These are just a few of the hitter-inspired Pet Peeves. I would suspect that there are numerous others that come up from time to time. If you have other Pet Peeves or are interested in other areas of the game that draw the errrh of Pet Peeves, I would love to hear from you.
Good luck and continued success.
Rick Johnston, Head Coach and Instructor - The Baseball Zone