Everyone that has played the game and those of us that are still playing the game, will tell you how difficult it is to hit a baseball. In fact, one can argue, it is the most difficult athletic movement to create in sport. Just think of the thousands and thousands of swings that hitters take over their years of playing. And those thousands of swings that are taken still don’t produce positive results - the failure rate exceeds 70% for any hitter, even those that are the best in the world!
One of the inherit problems with hitting is not necessarily the actual movement pattern of the hitter, or the art of tracking a pitch (although, I would say visual awareness of a pitch is by far the most critical element and least spoken about or taught), or the strength or the athletic ability of a hitter, but it is their sheer lack of simple awareness to elementary items prior to their at bat.
At younger levels, most hitters walk toward the batter’s box and may or may not look at their coach for a sign (although, at younger levels, perhaps a sign is not even necessary). Then they proceed to step into the batter’s box without a plan. Now, this blog is not specifically about having a plan to hit, but is merely pointing out simple items each hitter has control over. As we all know, once the pitch is on the way, the flight, speed, visual tracking, movement and swing, will be predicated by the ball. Then the guy behind the catcher, usually wearing a blue shirt, grey slacks with a black mask and a ball and strike counter will make a judgment call on the pitch. It will be a ball or a strike; there is nothing else they can call. As hitters, we have no control over the umpire, so we better learn to manage the things over which we have control.
Now, just what is it that hitters should be aware of and have total control over? First, it really chaps me that so many hitters approach the plate, step into the batter’s box and stand there looking like a damn statue or like they are cast in bronze (not gold). They have their feet in cement and are stuck. That is a crying shame. So, what is the deal? The deal is straightforward - get in the box and create some sort of rhythm. Rhythm is a relaxer of the body and is used to create a tension free feel; it is used to get the body ready to fire an explosive movement. Rhythm is created from the ground up. So often I see kids who only create rhythm (if they have any at all) with their hands, but what so many fail to grasp is all strength (if one wishes to use "power" as the word of reference, fine) is derived from the ground up. Sure, just having the hands move a little creates some rhythm, but the key is finding rhythm with the feet. Hitters - be more aware of your rhythm and use that rhythm as an internal clock to sync up to the pitcher.
Second, hitters need to be aware of the situation in front of them. Every hitter should, prior to addressing the plate, take a quick scan of the defence. Guess what, that is rarely done! Not sure why. Next time you watch a big-league game, take notice how these professional hitters take a quick visual scan of the defensive alignment. The defence will change positioning from hitter to hitter, pitch to pitch and pitcher to pitcher. When hitters become more aware of that defence, they may pick up an indication of how they will be pitched to. Questions to be asking before the at bat…Where is the infield playing? Is the third baseman back? How is the pitcher pitching to others in the lineup? How deep or shallow is the outfield playing? How far or close off the base is the first baseman? These are just a few of the awareness items hitters must address prior to engaging into their at bat.
Third, hitters should have a pre-pitch routine that is repeatable. In other words, when the hitter steps out of the box, are they sticking to a routine, are they breathing with controlled inhales and exhales? So much value is gained from what hitters do between pitches. Once they step back into the batter’s box, they become automated because they followed a routine allowing their instincts to take over and their minds to be clear.
Watch hitters that hit versus hitters that want to become great hitters - there is a difference. They have a plan, they analyse the situation, they have a pre-pitch routine and employ body rhythm to sync up to the pitcher. Great hitters are aware of, and get after, what they can control.