Hitting Programme Part 2

Geelong Baseball Association has been pleased to present a three-part “Hitting Program” for the interest of coaches and players at all levels.

From early feedback, the first instalment was was very well received (you can access Part One here).

The program has been developed and is presented by Phil Allen. Victorian baseball interests will be aware that Phil is also a Victorian Claxton Shield Assistant Coach, Australian scout for the Colorado Rockies organisation and a former General Manager of the Melbourne Monarchs ABL club. Phil has kindly offered to share the Hitting Program with members of the broader baseball community.

“The hitting program has been designed to provide the means for each hitter within the program to realise his full potential and to develop into a productive, knowledgeable hitter as quickly as possible,” said Allen.

“Accelerated development is the central goal and can only be achieved with continuity in instruction,” he said.”Uniformity in teaching principles is essential to the success of the young hitters within the program. Staff and hitters alike should be well versed in all areas of the program.”

The Hitting Program is presented in sixteen sections.

This time, we cover Sections 6-11.
Sections 1-5 can be located here.
VI.        TWO STRIKE APPROACH
Two-strike hitting has been grossly over-rated as being a do-or-die hitting situation. Due to this fact, unnecessary fear and pressure to perform has been put in the minds of hitters, which substantially empowers the pitcher. By focusing on what we want to accomplish, we are utilizing the premise, “what we think about, we bring about.” When we focus on the “do’s” the “don’ts” don’t show up.
Hitters must realize that it only takes one strike to hit a single, double, triple or homerun. Successful hitting can come via the very first strike, second strike, or the third strike. Therefore, if it takes only one strike to help your team win the game, the fact is, EVERY STRIKE IS SIGNIFICANT AND OF EQUAL IMPORTANCE. The third strike has not more importance than the first two unless YOU give it more importance. A hitter might say, “Yeah, but I can’t strike out after the first or second strike, only the third.” Our response to the hitter is, “if you fear striking out, you had best change professions right now because striking out is not only inevitable in baseball but every Hall of Fame hitter has done so many times.” Also, hitters should know that when they fear striking out, they are increasing the skill level of the pitcher and in doing so, giving him the competitive edge. We must use the same mental approach no matter what the count is.
Do’s with Two Strikes
You must never allow yourself to totally “sell-out” by looking for a specific pitch in a specific location. You must never GUESS what his out-pitch might be. If, however, you’ve done your homework on the pitcher and you’re “very sure” of what his “go-to” or “out” pitch is on the third strike, you can anticipate that pitch but always be ready to adjust to something different. Remember, being “very sure” does not mean “guessing.” Informed anticipation is developed by past history with a particular pitcher and by watching the pitcher during the game to see what he will throw on the third strike.
  • Be ready to hit the fastball. Never, ever take the fastball for a third strike.
  • Understand and believe that it takes just one strike to get the winning hit in order to help your team win a ball game. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if it’s the first, second, or third strike.
  • Remember that the real pressure to perform with a two strike count is in the mind of the pitcher. Why is this so? Because he can’t get an out unless he throws a strike and when he does, you’ll be waiting for his mistake.
  • Hit the ball up the middle or the off-field with two strikes.
  • You must watch the warm-ups of a closer or reliever. Most of the time, they will throw their fastball to start their warm-ups and most of the time, the pitch they throw after their fastball will be their “got to” or “out” pitch.
  • Allow yourself to be empowered by not fearing striking out. Remember, your fear is the pitcher’s greatest strength or competitive edge and it is your greatest enemy. How do you not fear striking out? By understanding that failure is as powerful and important, and needed in your quest to be the best as is success. Both failure and success are “imposters” helping you to be empowered by knowledge. When you succeed, you learn what you should do the next time to create success. When you fail, you learn what not to do in order to create your next success. This way of looking at failure will diminish or even eliminate the fear of striking out because you’ll know that no matter what happens, empowerment will be the result when you learn from the outcome. Remember, failure is potential success. If you fear failure, you will not see its potential. Learn from failure, and your potential is limitless.
  • You MUST put the ball in play on the third strike.
VII.       BATTING PRACTICE ROUTINES
Batting practice must have a specific plan to help young hitters build habits that will ultimately lead to success. Structured sessions allow increased quality repetitions that enhance development. The batting practice routine is designed with both team and the individual in mind. Winning team baseball revolves around the successful execution of situational hitting.
All situations, from sacrifice bunting to hitting with the infield in, should be practised as often as possible if we are to expect execution during the games. Games are won on the total number of runs scored, not hits. Execution each day in batting practice will accelerate our hitters’ development in preparation to become unselfish, winning team hitters. In the first two rounds we concentrate on going the other way and hard up the middle.
ROUTINE
Round 1
  • 2 Bunts – SAC with a runner on 1B and SAC with a runner on 2B
  • 5 swings to the opposite field
  • 1 Squeeze
Round 2
  • 2 Hit  and Runs
  • 2 Move the runner over
  • 2 Score the runner from 3B with less than 2 outs
  • 3 Swings
Round 3
  • 5 Swings to the middle of the field
Round 4
  • 5 Swings: 2 strike approach
Round 5
  • 3 Swings if time permits
Round 6
  • Base hit round. If hitter hits a base hit, he stays in.
Each situation has to be successfully executed before moving on to the next. The routine, as always, is subject to time restraints, base runners where accessible.
VIII.       MECHANICS
BAT SELECTION
The weight, length and the thickness of the handle are all personal preferences in choosing a bat. Bat control is the overriding factor in the final decision in selecting the apparatus of war. Thriving hitters have bat speed and can control the bat head in the strike zone. Young and senseless hitters have a tendency to swing a bat that is too unmanageable because it looks good, is free or has an impressive name inscribed on the barrel. Bat control cannot exist with an incorrect grip or a bat that’s too heavy. The greater the bat speed…the more power. This can and will also work in reverse. Bigger is not always better unless you can maintain bat speed. Bat selection becomes extraordinarily important when compared and contrasted to bat speed or lack thereof.
 
STANCE / SETUP
Hitting is a cause and effect activity, beginning with a stance. Attain a simple, sound, relaxed and balanced stance that has control of the center of gravity and allows for the creation of rhythm and timing. Substance is more important than style, refrain from adding extras. Try to avoid the “set up to mess up” mentality.
  • The feet are the foundation; place them slightly wider than shoulder width apart, with the weight towards the balls of the foot and in a straight line towards the opposite batters box.
  • Flex the knees and keep them between the feet.
  • Align the head, both eyes and body squarely and level towards the pitcher.
  • Keep the head between the feet and let the arms hang relaxed, close to the body.
  • Place the bat close to the launch position angles at 45 degrees with a natural grip.
LOADING PHASE
  • As the pitcher gets ready to pitch the ball, the hitter begins to get into position to hit the ball.
  • Hitter loads slow, easy and early approximately when the pitcher lifts the stride leg – hitters hands go back towards the launch position.
  • Keep upper body rotation to a minimum while maintaining posture.
  • This initial phase of rhythm and timing helps the hitter to be on time for the swing no matter what type of pitch is thrown or the velocity of the pitch.
  • Grip the bat FIRMLY.
STRIDE TO BALANCE
  • When hitter strides to balance the hands will move back towards the launch position as the stride foot simultaneously moves towards the pitcher during the release of the ball.
  • The stride foot moves directly towards the pitcher, landing on the inside ball of the foot on a 45 degree angle. Heel remains slightly elevated in preparation for the swing.
  • Stride must be short enough to keep strong balance and long enough to fit the hitter’s body type.
  • The stride-to-balance linear movements are completed by the time the ball is half way to the hitter.
SWING
  • The swing begins the rotational action starting as the stride foot heel hits the ground elevating the back heel and opening the front hip.
  • Front shoulder remains closed with the hands back.
  • The lower half action begins the sequential swing and creates torque in the body.
  • The swing is feet first, hands last, from the ground up, with the back foot rotating to toe down or completely off the ground at contact.
  • The body delivers the bat to the ball.
  • During the swing the body rotates around an axis maintaining dynamic balance; if the hands remain close to the body the rotation will be quicker.
  • Less head movement during the swing is better, the head and eyes are angled towards the ball, while the hitter maintains eye contact with the ball as long as possible.
CONTACT AND FINISH
  • The bat is fired through the hitting zone as the front or lead leg snaps straight.
  • The front or lead leg will snap straight just before contact is made.
  • A firm front side will not allow the hitter’s weight to drift forward out over a collapsed front leg.
  • Hitting through the ball is a must. The hands stay above the ball and the bat head will generally be below the hands.
  • The finish should be high to keep bat in the strike zone longer and enhance bat speed through the contact zone.
HEAD AND EYES
  • The head will move twice during the approach and swing. It moves 1st during the stride and it moves a 2nd time during the swing.
  • Keeping these movements under control is important for success.
  • The eyes must be given a chance to track and recognize each and every pitch. Good decisions will be made when the ball is recognized correctly.
UNDERSTAND-FEEL-EXECUTE
  • We learn three ways. By Listening – By Seeing/Imitating – and by Feeling.
  • A good hitter tells his coach what he feels and a good coach tells his hitter what he sees.
  • A good hitter will also “listen” to what the ball tells him and adjust accordingly, especially during drills, T work and batting practice.
  • Together, difficult problems can be worked out and corrected.
  • Have an aggressive, positive attitude and work hard.
  • Never be afraid to fail or swing and miss. Go for it!
IX.         BUNTING
The short game has tremendous value to an offense and ultimately to the entire team. Moving runners into scoring position puts pressure on the defense. The bunting game draws the corners close and creates more openings in the infield. Everyone uses the short game differently. Our job as a development staff is to make sure EVERY player is capable of executing a sacrifice, push or drag bunt in order to move a runner into a better scoring position, and the squeeze bunt in order to score a runner. Our objective is to teach the players winning baseball. The bunt game is clearly used at all levels and contributes greatly to winning baseball. It is important that we produce well-rounded hitters, not one-dimensional players. Teaching our players that the team comes first is a priceless statement in the future of the player and our program.
SACRIFICE BUNT
  • Move up in the box to assure the bat head is in fair territory and create a more appropriate bunting angle.
  • When the pitcher comes set, the hitter pivots or relocates the back foot 4 to 6 inches closer to the plate for better balance. Arrive early to the bunting position to avoid being late with the bat head versus a quick pitch or slide step.
  • Body weight is 70 to 90% on the front leg. The back heel is slightly off the ground.
  • The lower half of the body is flexed and balanced – in an athletic position.
  • Hands separate: top hand slides up to the trademark into the fingertips, not exposing the finger to the bunting area. The bottom hand comes up the bat slightly for better bat control. The farther the hands are apart the softer the bunt.
  • The bat head is extended out in front of home plate. The bat head will be chin high at a 45 degree angle. The arms are never locked out, keep the elbows bent. Rigid arms promote hard bunts and hard bunts turn into double plays.
  • The bat is held at the top of the strike zone. Use only the knees to bunt a low pitch. NEVER lower bat head to bunt a low pitch. Only lower the body by utilizing the knees – back knee to the ground if necessary!
  • Head and eyes attached to the tip of the bat head. Absolute eye tracking is imperative throughout the bunting process.
BUNT STRIKES!
  • Early bounces – attack the top half of the ball and propel the ball on the ground.
  • Do not stab at the ball. Catch the ball with the bat – slightly give with contact of ball on the bat with both hands at same time.
  • Bunt first – run second: SACRIFICE YOUR AT BAT FOR THE TEAM!
  • Be aggressive – not timid: Do not try to be perfect.
DRAG BUNT (LHH)
  • Designed to take hard at second baseman.
  • First move is stride with right foot to disguise bunt.
  • Slide top hand (left hand) to just below balance point, holding the bat firm in hand.
  • Back leg should be stepping toward second baseman; your leg must be in that position before bunting the ball.
  • KEY TEACHING POINT: the foot must be down before bunting.
  • Remember: you are walking into the bunt, NOT running.
DRAG BUNT (RHH)
  • Designed to take at third baseman.
  • First move is stride with left foot to disguise bunt.
  • Slide top hand (right hand) to just below balance point, holding the bat firm in hand.
  • Back leg should be stepping toward pitcher/second baseman; your leg must be in that position before bunting the ball.
  • KEY TEACHING POINT: the foot must be down before bunting.
  • Remember: you are walking into the bunt, NOT running.
  • Looking ideally for a fastball up in the zone.
PUSH BUNT (LHH)
  • Stride leg is disguised to freeze infielders.
  • Take back leg (left leg) walking toward pitcher/second baseman.
  • Left foot must be down and pointing toward pitcher/second baseman before bunting.
  • Glide top hand to below balance point, holding bat firm in hand
  • The key is to walk into the bunt, making sure your back foot is down when ready to bunt.
PUSH BUNT (RHH)
  • Stride leg is disguised to freeze infielders.
  • Take back leg (right leg) walking toward second baseman.
  • Right foot must be down and pointing toward second baseman before bunting.
  • Glide top hand to below balance point, holding bat firm in hand
  • The key is to walk into the bunt, making sure your back foot is down when ready to bunt.
  • Looking ideally for a fastball up in the zone.
X.         THE MAINTENANCE PROGRAM
This is the main cog in the accelerated development wheel. Its design is to increase quality repetitions by providing a daily structure. Each day of the camp, if possible, the hitting coach will meet with individual hitters one-on-one for a specified time frame (5-7 minutes) based on need.
  • The maintenance program is how a hitter will make major adjustments in the swing outside of game situations over the long haul.
  • Proper mindset and time frame will allow for current production and gradual change to take place at the same time.
  • The goal of the maintenance program is to give each hitter an opportunity to acquire the mechanics used by successful hitters.
  • Adjustments made based on the maintenance program should be noted by the coach, who is in constant communication with the coordinator.
XI.         HITTERS CHECKLIST
5 ABSOLUTES
  • Firm grip once hitting approach begins
  • Rhythm to create consistency
  • Accelerate head of bat through contact point
  • Contact point out front
  • Release the Backside to allow release of barrel
IMPORTANT CONCEPTS
  • Dynamic balance
  • Axis of rotation
  • Sequence
  • Hit it square
There are only 2 movements in hitting: (1) linear and (2) rotational. One movement must finish before the next begins to have an effective swing.
Timing = being in the right place at the right time no matter the type or speed of the pitch.
SETUP
  • Square, level, straight
  • Balance
  • Feet approximately shoulder width apart
  • Weight placed toward the balls of the feet
  • Knees flexed, inside the feet
  • Elbows relaxed
  • Hands set close to the body and back shoulder
  • Level, 2-eyed look at the pitcher
  • Establish rhythm
SWING
  • Sequence = feet first, hands last
  • From the ground up, with the large muscles leading the small muscles to the ball
  • Turn all potential energy into kinetic energy with proper sequence
  • The swing starts when the front heel hits the ground
  • Hitters have only two different movements in the swing: (1) linear and (2) rotational. Complete the linear phase prior to beginning the rotational.
  • Back heel pops off the ground aggressively as the front heel drops and front hip opens.
  • The lower body begins the swing while the upper body remains closed.
  • Rotation is around an axis and under a stable head.
  • Objective is to minimize head movement to 3” or less.
  • Maintain posture
  • Create torque
  • Allow the lower half of the body to bring the bat to the ball.
  • Keep hand placement close to the body to help increase bat speed.
  • Top hand elbow will fall close to the side on the body turn causing the barrel to drop creating the bat speed.
  • “Feet first, hands last”. Let the body turn before the hands go to work, take the back of the knuckles to and through the ball.
  • Aggressive quickness with the feet along with sustained dynamic balance will increase bat speed.
  • Level hips create rotation around the axis.
CONTACT
  • Maintain dynamic balance
  • Stride foot angle remains at 45 degrees
  • Front knee snaps straight, or close to it
  • Back toe is either pointed straight down or off the ground
  • Head and eyes are angled down towards the ball
  • Maintain posture
  • Shoulders have tilt depending on the height of the pitch
  • Hands are above the ball and the barrel is below, or level with the hands
  • Contact is made in front of the stride foot
  • Pitch location requires creating hand angles to get the barrel on the ball
  • Back knee is bent, forming an L
  • Hips are very close to level
  • Top elbow is down and close to the body.
FINISH
  • Extend through the ball before rolling the top hand, think about hitting through 6 balls
  • Roll the top hand around the corner rather than over the top
  • Can be with one or two hands, whatever is best; top hand release must be late
  • Finish high and around the body
  • Allow head and eye angle to remain down as long as possible after contact
  • Maintain a stable head position and let the body rotate around underneath
  • Dynamic balance from start to finish.