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Seeing the Ball Part 4: Mental Preparation

Hitters are in complete control of how well they see the ball. Nothing can interfere with how you see the ball unless you allow it. If you have a poor swing mechanically, but you see the ball well, you still have a good chance to hit the ball. Conversely, if you have a great swing, but don’t see the ball well, you will not hit. When you are up to bat you must not let mechanics enter your thoughts. Think “see the ball” and you are more likely to put the sweet spot of the bat on the baseball.

1. Judge how well you see every pitch. – When judging how well you see the ball, consider 3 zones: the release zone, the middle zone (about 30 feet out), and the contact zone. Looking from a side view, the zones are basically the release point, middle zone, and contact zone. The release zone is seeing the ball leave the pitchers hand. The middle zone is where the hitter tracks the baseball in flight. The contact zone is from the grass, in front of the plate, to the actual point of contact. Get into the habit of reviewing and grading every pitch. An “A Look” is when you see the ball as well as you possibly can. A “B Look” is when you see the ball well enough to make contact, but contact is inconsistent. Any look less than that, and you will be lucky to make contact. If you do not have an “A Look”, identify the zones in which you could have seen the ball better. If it is not an “A Look”, then it is not good enough and you will need to fix it immediately. If you cannot identify the zone in which you see the ball poorly, you will continue to see the ball poorly, or make the wrong adjustment. Once you identify the zone, you can focus on it and fix it.

A. Release Point – Many times pitchers telegraph their pitches, and change the release point for different pitches. On occasion, hitters can read what the pitch is or the speed because of a change in hand position or arm speed. It is not unusual for the hitter to come back to the bench and say, “I know what this pitcher is throwing before the ball leaves his hand, but I do not know how or why I know. ” When that happens, trust yourself and don’t try to figure it out, just stay with the subconscious. When you do not see the ball in the release zone, but pick it up later, the pitcher has a great advantage. You are not seeing the ball well, and tracking the ball from 50-55 feet, instead of 60 feet 6 inches. Seeing the ball late does not give you as much time to react and makes it almost impossible to read the speed of the pitch. It is necessary to see the ball well in the release zone to have any chance of reading the speed of the pitch.

Some pitchers say that the game is built around changing speed, because hitters cannot read the speed of the pitch. Some hitters can, and do, read the speed of the pitch. But they are the exception. It takes a hitter’s “A Look” at the ball to accurately time the pitcher’s pitch. The release zone is where a hitter reads the general location of the pitch. Within 4-6 feet after release, the hitter can begin to tell if the ball stays behind the pitcher’s release point, or if it is moving in or moving down. You can determine the point of contact, or tell if the ball is going to be a strike or a ball, determining where it is in relation to the release point.

B. The Middle Zone – After the hitter sees the release and follows the ball approximately the first 10 feet, the ball enters the middle zone. The end of the middle zone is where a hitter will get a read on the speed of the pitch, and what part of the strike zone the pitch will be. The middle zone is where early movement of fastballs start and breaking pitches start to break. This zone is where you see spin on pitches. Many great hitters question how anyone can hit without seeing spin on pitches. One thing is certain, seeing spin on the pitch is important and is a must to being an elite hitter.

Every player is capable of seeing spin on pitches. If a catcher can see the spin, a hitter can see it. If observers standing behind the catcher can see spin, a hitter standing beside the box can see spin. Hitters who are taking pitches can see spin, but many times when you swing the bat, you do not see spin. The explanation is that you will never see spin when you are batting if you never look for spin. Most hitters tell you that a slider has a dot about the size of a dime or a nickel. It helps them to recognize the pitch. This is an example of reading spin. At what point you see the spin of the pitch depends on the spin of the pitch. The spin of a slow curve, split finger can be see about 30 feet out. Breaking balls with tighter spin will be seen later in the zone. Four-seam fastballs will look white, or you will see red for two-seam fastballs. When a hitter is looking for spin, he will see it. A hitter who identifies a pitch will react to it unconsciously. It is after a pitch when a hitter is capable of telling you what he saw. A good hitter just sees the ball and reacts.

C. Contact Zone – The last 8-10 feet is where the fastball moves the most. This is where breaking balls are moving or angling the most where it goes across the plate. This is where hitters have a tendency to let their swings pull their heads or eyes off the ball at the last second. When a swing pulls the eyes off the ball, it also changes the path of the bat. The body follows your head and eyes. Hitters are in complete control of how well they see the ball. Hitters can and should always have their “A Look” on every pitch. There are no excuses for not getting a great look at the ball.

2. Visualize – See the ball the way you want to see the ball. Visualizing how you want to see the ball is critical. This is like programming your computer, telling your mind and eyes how you want to see the ball. When a hitter is going good, he remembers visualizing or seeing the ball well. That prepares him for seeing the ball well again. When a hitter is struggling, the look that he remembers is probably a poor one. Slumps are built because hitters remember or visualize what they did poorly their last at bat. They do not take the time to fix it mentally, or physically, before their next at bat. Sometimes the hitter gets lucky and the cycle breaks because they face a new pitcher, or go to a new park. The best way to correct what is wrong is to take control and fix it. By visualizing their “A Look”. I would suggest you always remember what you looked like when you were hot, when you were getting your best look, your “A Look”. Most hitters can remember a big homerun, or a ball that they really hit hard off someone. If they really think about it, they can even tell you how the pitch looked when they hit it! Through visualization, a hitter can improve their look, they can imagine the ball looking bigger, see the release point more clearly, and make the pitch look faster or slower to serve their purpose.

3. Clear your mind. Thinking and hitting must be separated. When you are planning or coaching yourself, do it outside the batter’s box. When someone yells at you to distract you, get out of the box, clear your mind, and visualize the ball before you get back into the batter’s box. While in the batter’s box, keep your mind clear of garbage by staying focused on a single thought. Focus on a single thought, and that is seeing the ball. Anything more than seeing the ball, and it is too much. Don’t think. Program yourself to hit and let your eyes take over. Trust your eyes. Do not become too intense, let your eyes take over. You will see the ball best when you are relaxed.

4. Change your game plan. As long as baseball has been played, the way to get out of a slump is hit the ball to the opposite field. Slumps occur most of the time because of over-aggressiveness and not seeing the ball well.

Bat control is a must… with a fluid swing of tension-free muscles working together. Trying easier is better than trying harder. When hitter’s are trying to pull the ball, even if they are pulling their head and eyes off the ball, they still get lucky and sometimes make contact. That can fool the hitter into thinking I’m okay. But the consistency will not be there. Hitting to the opposite field forces you to stay over the ball with your head and eyes, because if you pull off the ball you will miss it. Having an opposite field approach does not mean you cannot pull the ball, but rather, it emphasizes seeing the ball as long as possible. To really hit a ball hard to the opposite field, you usually hit a pitch to the outer half of home plate and let the ball get deep, you must let it come to you.


Seeing the ball poorly will cause mechanical breakdowns as your body tries to compensate for what your eyes do not see. A swing that worked yesterday that does not work today may be because you are not seeing the ball as well as you did yesterday. So… don’t be in a rush to change your swing mechanics. Seeing the ball with your “A Look” has more of an impact on your success as a hitter than having a perfect swing. The bottom line is; see the ball well… and relax.

About Rick Down

Richard John Down was named the New York Mets hitting coach on November 26, 2004. In 2004, he was the minor league batting instructor with the New York Yankees. Served two separate tours of duty as the Yankees batting coach from 1993-1995 and from 2002-2003. After leaving the Yankees in 1994, he was the hitting coach with the Baltimore Orioles (1995-1998), the Los Angeles Dodgers (1999-2000) and the Boston Red Sox (2001). Helped guide the 2000 Dodgers to a franchise record 211 home runs.

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