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The Process of Hitting

Hitting, without a doubt, is the most difficult baseball skill to learn. It has even been stated that hitting a baseball is the most difficult skill to master in all of sports. The combination of trying to hit a round ball with a round bat, squarely, is a very difficult task. Add two competing human beings into the equation, the hitter and pitcher, and the problem intensifies. The pitcher trying to disrupt the timing of the hitter, and the hitter trying to find his timing and rhythm. This makes hitting a baseball a skill that demands exceptional abilities and tremendous desire. So what should the primary goal of all good hitters be? To make solid contact with the ball? Not really. Sure, we would all like to hit the ball hard every time we go to the plate, but that is only the end result. We must do two other things before we can make consistent contact. First, we must have the same approach and swing every time, all the time. Second, we must be ready to swing at our pitch every time, all the time.

Effective pitchers constantly try to change the speed and location of each pitch with movement and different release points. The hitter faces a constant challenge to make contact on the “sweet spot,” trying to generate maximum bat speed. Sound impossible? Yes, if the only thing that matters is base hits or even less, just solid contact. Before we can do any of the above, the primary goal of every hitter should be to get his pitch every at bat and take his swing every at bat. Every time, all the time. Do you see a pattern here? Every time, all the time! Take care of the process of hitting, don’t be overly concerned about the end result or outcome.

There is no shortcut or easy secret to success in baseball, in particular hitting. Success comes from long hours of meaningful work; soft toss, drills and batting practice. A player also needs to be in control of his thoughts in order to be in control of his performance. Failure can bring about discouragement, disappointment, and even cause a player to quit completely. So how do coaches help players understand that 70% failure is all a part of the learning process? How can we help them to believe that they can succeed and have fun playing and hitting a baseball?

By emphasizing the process of hitting! The one thing that you have 100% control of is the pitches you swing at! If the primary goals of a hitter are not solid contact, or getting base hits, but seeing your pitch every time, all the time, you can be successful 100% of the time and have fun doing it. That said, how do you maximize your chances of getting your pitch to hit in order to make solid contact? Through correct mechanics. Correct mechanics allow a hitter to do four things:

  1. Help you to see the ball better.
  2. Give you a shorter swing, allowing you more time to see the ball to make better decisions.
  3. Generate maximum bat speed to hit the ball harder.
  4. Give you better balance and control throughout the swing.

If what you are currently being taught does not involve these four principals you are wasting your time! Plain and simple.
Seeing the ball is the most important aspect to hitting the ball properly. The eyes are the gateways to the brain. The visual system accounts for approximately 80% of a hitter’s total performance! So what exactly is the visual system? It is the Golden Key to the process of hitting. Technically, it is the ability to see clearly, recognize what you are seeing, track what you are seeing (the ball) and relay that information to the brain, which then signals the body to react to the pitch (swing or don’t swing). The position of the head is important because it allows the player to track the ball with their eyes. If the head position is correct; 1.) The head is completely turned to the pitcher. 2.) The eyes are level and both eyes are on the release point. 3.)The head remaining still during the hitting process, only then will the hitter be able to develop an effective tracking system; see the ball well and utilize the visual system to it’s fullest. The hitter must see the ball out of the pitchers hand all the way to the contact point, the complete 60 feet 6 inches. Any lapse during the ball flight can lead to failure. The hitter must first determine the speed of the pitch (always ready for a fast ball, his quickest pitch) and then identify the rotation of the ball. When you see the ball well, it allows you both physically and mentally to be ready to hit the pitch.

The second factor is a short swing. All things equal . . . The player with the most time will get the better pitch to hit. Good mechanics = faster swings = more time to decide on whether to swing. A short swing must be a straight line from launch position (hit position) to contact point. Anything else is too long and will take too much time. Your short swing every time all the time, at your pitch every time all the time, gives you maximum advantage in the battle between pitcher and hitter. Hitting is a total body activity that involves a sequential activation of body parts through a link system; A.) largest to smallest body parts, B.) slow to fast muscle fibers, C.) backside to front side, D.) bottom half to top half, E.) and bat from high to low. Hitting is a two-part phase, the stride first, the swing second. Most swing problems are a result of a poor approach, or stride. You must start right, (stride) in order to finish with the right swing.

Thirdly, good mechanics will allow you to have maximum bat speed at contact. Simply said, it will allow you to hit the ball harder. Factors that affect bat speed and magnitude of force applied are 1.) Strength of the batter, no one should be stronger or in better condition than you are as a player. 2.) The weight of the bat, a lighter bat can be swung faster than a heavier bat. When you have a choice between heavier and lighter bats, go with lighter for better control and bat speed. 3.) The more body parts involved at the point of contact, the better the bat speed. We want the body and swing to arrive on time at contact. You want to hit with your whole body, not just half the body. If we stride to the front side too early, we lose our entire lower half, which is the strongest part of the body, our legs. Power and bat speed is timing and rhythm. Arrive on time, on plane, through the ball until we finish our swing.

Finally, good mechanics will allow the hitter to have better balance and control of his body. To be a good hitter you must have proper weight distribution throughout the entire swing. To have good balance the batter must have his weight centered over a shoulder wide stance, with a vertical torso, tall upper body, and knees flexed. Proper mechanics help to ensure that this occurs. For example, if your weight transfers too early you lose balance and cannot control your center, your head. If you do not start right, you will not finish right.

In conclusion, there is no such thing as a natural hitter or the perfect swing. If we look at any video of any hitter, we can find something wrong with his/her swing. The bottom line is that we don’t want you to let the things you can’t do get in the way of what you can do. Therefore, the perfect swing is your swing every time, on your pitch, every time period. In the hitting process we are only as good as the previous phase. We are as strong as our weakest link. If we make a mistake in seeing the ball, it is bound to have a negative impact on our swing. Remember, before we talk about the specifics or mechanics of hitting we must make sure that we see the baseball as well as possible. Have a short swing so we have the time to make better decisions, utilizing maximum bat speed so if we do hit the ball we hit it as hard as we can. To do this we must have good balance and control of our bodies. These four things are the foundation for proper swing mechanics, and without the four critical elements, the process of hitting becomes nearly impossible.

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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