In my last article http://batspeedfitness.com/?p=133 I promised writing a collection of swing training methods. While the first article was about correcting swing pattern deficiencies this is more about improving hit ability and power with training methods.
A good swing pattern with a well timed hip dissociation, a good load, good deceleration patterns and good swing path already does help batspeed and hitting ability. There is a movement in hitting coaching to worry more about intent and moving fast than moving well but I’m not in 100% agreement with this. It is certainly right that getting too anal about mechanics and especially styles is bad and the body has good self organisation abilities but I do think that certain movement foundations need to be laid at a sub maximal speed. For example some martial arts styles do practice punches and kicks in super slow motion so that a punch takes 20 seconds and only if the sensei is satisfied you are allowed to move faster. I’m not that extreme and some movements only work at a high intensity (like throwing arm layback) but I still think some moves need to be practiced at lower intensities first. That doesn’t mean you need to worry about every little detail before you can swing hard but not a fan either of just giving a kid a stick and tell him to crush the ball and the rest will be fine.
Yes it is true that hitting middle middle balls off the tee won’t make you a good hitter but if you have a kind who sucks off the tee busting him inside with 90 won’t make his body magically self organize into a good swing. Because of this I will asses mechanics and do a movement/mechanics block before I start with the following advanced training methods. You shouldn’t force a certain style (leg kick/hitch vs slide step/more direct load…) and worrying about little details won’t make you a better hitter either but certain movement basics just need to be there before you can worry about moving faster.
However once you have a certain proficiency in your movement and also a good base strength there are ways to improve your hitting which haven’t always been used by coaches. While I think some take the “challenge hitters” too far traditional practice has been too easy on hitters.
So here are some things you can do.
- Making BP more game realistic
Driveline has written a lot about this. Here is a good article https://www.drivelinebaseball.com/2019/04/randomized-blocked-training-balancing-different-types-hitting-practice/
Basically, those method means you challenge hitters in BP by mixing in breaking balls and throw hard and well located instead of soft down the pipe. Reaction time is a critical factor as hitters have less than half of a second on 90+ MPH fastballs and really much less if you factor in decision time.
This means both bad reaction time and pattern deficiencies can cause batters being late and you need to practice that. The best practice is obviously live at bats against elite pitchers like they do on driveline but there are alternatives if you don’t have that like the good old pitching machine or simply throwing from a shorter distance. For example at driveline they are doing short box hitting against a pitcher throwing like 70s from 50 feet.
Here is a conversion chart for reaction time. Just measure how hard you can comfortably throw and then calculate the right distance
It should be noted that some studies suggest that there are other factors at work than reaction time so a short box equivalent 90 is not quite the same
This means it is probably better to throw harder if you can and not just shorten the distance.
You also need to work on different locations. Pitches in games don’t just come down the pipe to practice all 4 corners. It is best to do so in a randomized manner but it is OK to work on a single location exclusively first but then make sure that you don’t cheat. A common cheat is to adjust stride direction, which is something you don’t have time for at 90+.
A beginner drill is for example the Tee 4 corners drill which you can use in warm up. Instead of just hitting balls down the pipe you place the ball on the corners (low/away, low/in, up/in, up/away) and then you hit 4 or 5 balls of each location. To make it tougher you can also locate the ball an inch or two out of the K zone to improve your bat path variability. Don’t go farther than that though or it can hurt mechanics. The progression for this would be front toss (ideally overhead) with the batter knowing what is coming and finally in a randomized manner.
- Decision making
Plate discipline is very important. Swinging at balls creates more swings and misses and weaker contact. However while the focus of plate discipline for a long time was patience and seeing pitches it is equally important to not take mistakes by the pitcher. Against MLB pitching a hitter might see one mistake pitch per at bat and if he takes it or fouls it off he might not get another chance.
Improving plate discipline isn’t easy. It isn’t really about patience or a good eye but about the ability of your brain to project the second half of the pitch flight based on visual cues of the first half. This is because due to the speed the decision needs to be made a little past halfway.
There are some ways to train this. I would suggest to work at one edge at a time. For example if a hitter chases high pitches work on high pitches and ask him to pay great attention how a too high pitch comes out of the hand. The too high pitch for example will come out of the hand a little more horizontal while the high strike will have a gentle downward angle. Work until you master that edge and then go to the next one. Start with fastballs then breaking balls.
What you can also build a frame or ring that is standing halfway to home plate and if it passes it is likely a strike. This works best for fastballs and you have to do some angle calc to make it work (if you have a rectangle a little smaller than the zone (because of the widening pitch angle) the lower edge must be like 1.5 to 2 feet higher than knee height to account for the downward angle. Peter Fatse has created such a device https://twitter.com/fatse_baseball/status/1051833974811779072
Carlos santana for example mentioned that he imagines a circle halfway home in games and it worked for him. Those devices help you to see the correct tunnel of a strike. For breaking balls it is a bit more complicated though. A good way to go about this is to only swing at breaking balls that are in the upper half of the imagined circle. A good curve drops about a foot compared to a fastball and the average zone is like two feet high so this should be about correct. So if a fastball has to be about 3.5 feet off the ground to be a strike on the lower end at 30 feet a curve needs to be at least 4.5 feet high. You don’t really have to swing at any low tunnel breaking balls but the hard thing of course is to recognize them.
So a way to practice this would be to put a 4 feet high or so bar halfway to home plate and let a pitcher or machine throw curves or sliders so the batter sees the necessary height of a breaking ball. The numbers are of course only an approximate example and not exact numbers.
Another way to practice pitch recognition with less effort is using vision apps. A good app I have tried is the uhit app https://decervo.com/ You see a virtual pitcher throwing and you need to tap the screen if it is a strike before the ball crosses home plate. After some time you learn the vectors out of the hand.
- Power and batspeed
Batspeed is extremely important. It is directly correlated to power but it also helps the hit tool along with swing quickness to get around good heat.
A good way to improve is getting stronger. I won’t get into that much but you should do heavy compound lifts and also some explosive lifts. A good resource is for example the book “starting strength” by Mark Rippetoe https://startingstrength.com/ or for more advanced athletes the westside barbell system. For younger athletes BWEs and some lower impact plyometrics also work well.
Another method that is very effective is overload/underload training. It really was made famous by driveline but it was used in track and field by the soviet union since the 1970s at least. I have actually created an OL/UL program before driveline hitting was out http://batspeedfitness.com/?p=31 and I personally went from 65 mph batspeed to low 80s within like 2 months or so (it was zepp and swing speed radar though so likely it was 57 to 73 mph in reality?) but I would recommend the driveline program as this is much more sophisticated than my system.
Good drills are also med ball drills like this one at baseball rebellion
A personal favorite of mine is the tire drill which I have created myself. You can see it here, it works on separation and power generation
Hammer throw releases with a Kettle bell are great for turning and hip extension
A good drill to work on dissociation and elastic energy is this drill where you stand backwards and then first open the hips and then the upper body
- Improving launch angle
LA is a big topic in these days. It has been widely accepted that angles between 10 and 30 degrees produce the best results. EV is still more important but good angles can maximize your output for your athletic talent.
Some say there is a contact cost of LA but I couldn’t really find a strong effect.
To improve LA and especially good EV at optimal LAs it can help to improve attack angle. I won’t go into the mechanics that are behind this in this article (have done so in other articles or maybe will in the future) but at sensors like blast or zepp can help to control for AA. Most believe an AA of around 10-15 degrees is ideal.
Also important especially for low pitches is the vertical bat angle. VBA varies from like 15-20 degrees to 40-45 depending on pitch height. The best low ball hitters have a VBA of around 45 degrees. I talked about this in this article https://community.fangraphs.com/finding-keys-to-elevate-the-ball-more/ but basically a too flat VBA can cause roll over and topspin on low pitches even with a positive AA (for higher pitches a lower VBA is slightly better though).
It can also help to mark LAs in a cage with ropes
or build a wall out of screens in on field BP.
This are some methods to train for hitting. Again you of course need to asses the athlete and see what he needs whether it is flexibility, strength, mechanics or specific power and then train the athlete accordingly.