The Stride

Just before you swing the bat you should stride forward. This doesn’t mean that you take a big step forward. During the stride your weight is still on your back leg but moving forward and yours hands actually move in the opposite direction toward the back of your body of the catcher. Some hitters lift their foot off the ground and move it forward while others just take the weight off their front foot and slide it forward. The stride shouldn’t be too long. A few inches or more is fine. If your stride is too long you will have no power in your swing. As I mentioned, as your foot strides forward your hands will be moving backwards and once your front foot plants your hands will be in a cocked position. Keep your head still and your eyes focused on the pitch. Your weight is still mostly on your back leg. As your foot plants your weight starts to shift forward and your body becomes ready to take the swing. Practice your stride until it is perfected. Here’s Don Mattingly showing how to take a proper stride…

Routine, Rhythm and Recoil

Your routine is what you do when you enter the batter’s box. It’s just something to get yourself ready both physically and mentally to hit. Many players will tap their shoes with the bat, take a couple swings of the bat or even tap the plate with the bat. After going through their routine they will establish a rhythm.

One sometimes overlooked aspect of hitting is rhythm. You might remember the late great hitting instructor Charlie Lau mentioning that tension is one of the main enemies of good hitting. You need to get rid of tension at the plate. One way that many hitters do this is through movement of some kind. Some hitters rock back and forth slightly while others might wiggle their hips or move their elbow around. This movement loosens and relaxes your body which makes your reaction time better and your swing more fluid. Obviously you don’t want to have too much movement and you don’t want to do anything that will cause you to not see the ball coming out of the pitchers hand. A simple rock back forward and back might work the best.

Recoil occurs as the pitch is being released from the pitchers hand. It’s the shift of weight more toward your back leg in preparation for swinging the bat. For many hitters this is a subtle movement while for others it is more exaggerated. Some hitters will even lift their front foot off the ground as they rock back.

Here is a great video that puts all these factors together and gives you a good idea of how to approach the plate…

Where To Stand In the Box

Where should you stand in the batter’s box? That’s a good question. The batter’s box is six feet by four feet so there’s plenty of space to position yourself. Your main criteria should be to cover the plate. When you stand in the box the barrel of your bat should cover the entire plate when your arms are extended. If you’re too far away you won’t be able to hit outside pitches. Too close and you’ll get jammed with inside pitches. Once you have the proper distance from the plate you’ll need to make some adjustments based on your hitting abilities. Having difficulty with outside pitches? Then a slight move closer to the plate might be in order. Inside pitches getting you out? Then you should move slightly away from the plate. Whether you move toward the pitcher or toward the catcher many times depends upon the type of pitch you expect. Start in the middle of the box to begin with.If you’re facing a hard thrower then perhaps move slightly back toward the catcher. A breaking ball or knuckleball pitcher might require a slight move forward in the box.

Here’s a good video on how to position yourself in the batter’s box…

Stance

If you watch baseball then you’ve probably seen dozens of different stances right? So, obviously the stance isn’t that important to hitting well right? Wrong.
You’ll notice that professional hitters all tend to have distinct stances at the plate, but when they swing their stances all tend to be the same when the ball reaches the plate. Your best bet is to use a stance that is comfortable to you and refine it so that there are no deficiencies in your swing. If you haven’t really formed a stance yet then start with a good balanced stance to begin with. Here are the basics:

  • Feet shoulder width apart
  • Slight bend at the knees
  • Upper body leaning forward very slightly
  • Weight of your body on the balls of your feet
  • Feet pointed forward toward the plate

These are the basics for the square stance which is probably the most commonly used stance. There are variations of this stance such as the open stance and closed stance. The square stance is a good basic stance that will allow you to hit pitches that are thrown both inside and outside the plate. The square stance has some disadvantages in that younger hitters tend to step into the pitch and move their front foot back resulting in an open stance. Sometimes this can be overcome by moving back slightly from the plate.

The closed stance is similar to the open stance except that the front foot is mover a little closer to the plate. The pitcher will see a little more of your back when you use a closed stance. A closed stance is good for hitting up the middle or to the opposite field especially with outside pitches. But, it’s weakness is that is is more difficult to hit the inside fastball. When using a closed stance be sure to turn your head all the way to the pitcher. If your head is turned slightly away then you’ll only be seeing the ball with one eye.

The open stance occurs when the front foot is mover further from the plate then the back foot. An open stance will allow you to get your hips through the swing faster and will help you make contact with inside pitches. Of course, outside pitches will be more difficult to hit. This can be remedied somewhat by striding slightly toward the plate during your swing.

Here’s a great video by Harold Reynolds that shows the basic stance…

 

Grip

Ok, you’ve chosen the correct bat size and weight for your needs so now you need to know how to hold it properly. The grip is very important because an incorrect grip can inhibit the flexibility in your wrists and keep them from rolling over smoothly when swinging or result in an insecure grip on the bat. A bad grip will result in poor hitting.

As with other aspects of hitting your grip is a personal preference but there are certain fundamentals that you need to be aware of. First of all, your dominant hand will be the top hand so if you’re right handed then your right hand will be on top of the left hand on the bat. Pick up the bat and lay the handle across your top hand where the bottom of your fingers meet your palm. If this isn’t comfortable then move the bat very slightly toward the fingers not toward the palm. Close your grip with your thumb at your top finger. Place your bottom hand on the bat with the handle at the same place where the fingers meet the palm but slightly more toward the palm this time. There should be very little or no space between your hands. Too much space between your hands and your wrists will not roll over properly. Many will say that your knuckles should line up but ideally the second knuckles of your top hand should be just about between the second and third knuckles of your bottom hand.

Should you choke up on the bat? Choking up occurs when you move your hands up the bat handle. Most commonly hitters keep their hands near the knob at the end of the handle. Choking up a little will shorten your swing giving you better bat control. Barry Bonds and Pete Rose both choked up on the bat when hitting. Also, you may not normally choke up but during certain hitting situations you may want to in order to control the bat better.

Keep your grip relaxed. The great hitting instructor Charlie Lau said, “The most important thing about finding your grip is to remove tension. Anything you can do to take tension away helps, because tension destroys a hitter.” So, don’t grip the bat too tightly.

Here’s a good video showing the basic grip…

Choose The Right Bat

The main tool of the trade in hitting is the bat. You need to choose a bat that best fits your hitting style as well as your physical size and strength. Unless you’re a professional you’re probably going to be using non-wood bats. Aluminum and graphite bats allow for a larger size bat with less weight. Many people feel that hitting with an aluminum bat is easier because the ball comes off the bat faster. Because of this, making the later transition to wood bats may be more difficult for many hitters. Keep in mind you’ll also need to choose a bat that meets the requirements of whatever league you are playing in. Regardless what type of bat you use the principles of hitting are the same. Let’s go over some of the basics of bat selection and focus on wood bats.

First of all you’ll need to know the characteristics of bats. Wood bats are measured by weight and length and are usually made of Maple or Ash wood. The length is measured in inches and run anywhere from about 26″ up to 35″. Weight is usually expressed as a minus number such as -2 or -3. The weight of a -2 bat that is 33 inches long would be 31 ounces. Take the length of the bat and subtract the number, in this case 2, and that will give you the weight of the bat. So, a 29 inch bat that is -3 would weigh 26 ounces. For an easy way to find the right length and weight bat to use check out this video…

Check out this video of Bryce Harper using a huge 36-inch, 47-ounce Marucci batting the batting cages..

The Mental Game

I know you’ve heard the cliche’ that baseball is the only sport where you can fail more often then you succeed and still be considered great. Or, you can be successful 30% of the time and be one of the top hitters in major league baseball. Well, the cliche’s are true. If you average only three hits per ten at bats you are going to be very successful. That might seem obvious but failing seven out of ten times can be difficult mentally. You’ll need to acclimate yourself to failing more than succeeding. You’ll also need to look at hitting a couple different ways. First, look at every at bat on its own and decide what approach is the best for that at bat. You will either fail or succeed. Second, look at your at bats over time. Is your batting average where you want it to be? Are you hitting with the power you think you should be? You can have a successful at bat during a game but still be hitting poorly over time. Likewise, you can have a bad game and go hitless yet still be hitting over .300 for the season. Just remember to keep things in perspective.

If you do have a bad at bat don’t get down on yourself. Try to determine why you were not successful and work on that aspect of your hitting during practice. The nice thing about hitting as that you’ll get plenty of chances to learn what your doing right or wrong. Each unsuccessful at bat is a chance to improve. Look at it that way and you’ll find it a lot easier to stay positive.

Check out this video. It will help you learn to view your performance the proper way…

Developing Mental Toughness for Baseball

 

The Little Things

People today tend to want everything all at once. They want it all, and they want it now. Well, in baseball it just doesn’t happen. In fact it’s the sum of all the little things that add up to being a better player. Hitting is no exception. Sure, you can go out to the cages today and work on your “swing” but there are probably a dozen smaller components of your swing that you need to be aware of as well. Working on those smaller components will add up over time to produce an overall better swing and hence more successful hitting. So, pay attention to the details and practice them correctly. Do this and you will become a better hitter faster.

You’ll find that there are a number of different approaches to hitting. And, as with politics today, people will be adamant that their approach s the better one. The nice thing is that, unlike politics, you can actually test the ideas. The main thing is to find what works best for you and use it. If someone introduces a new idea, try it. If it feels right and you hit better then adopt it. If not, then discard it. In the end your swing belongs to you and will be unique to you. Sure, there are basic fundamentals that you need to follow but you need to feel comfortable with your approach to hitting otherwise you will never feel right at the plate.

The Beginning

If you’re reading this then you want to improve your hitting skills. Maybe you watch guys like Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Bryce Harper and think you’d like to hit like they do. Is it possible? Yes, it is. You don’t have to be big physically to hit well – look at Ichiro Suzuki. If you can see the baseball and have good reaction time then you have the potential to hit well. Your physical makeup will only determine whether you hit for power, for average, or for both. Either way you can be a successful batter.

The key to success is acquiring good fundamentals. You need a solid base of fundamentals to build upon. If you don’t have that then you’re not going to succeed. You also have to realize that you always have to practice. Do you think that Miguel Cabrera was taking batting practice one day and decided he had perfected his swing so he wasn’t going to take BP for the rest of his career? No. He goes out nearly everyday and works on hitting and he will do that for the rest of his career. You will need to do this as well if you plan on becoming a great hitter.

So, work on your fundamentals first. Get comfortable with them and work on consistently applying them in every at bat. Once you have those down you can work on the more subtle aspects of your swing.