I originally posted this a year ago before the 2016 season. Preparing hitters for a new season the right way is critical to the success of individual players and the team. A disciplined approach, especially during the first week of practice, will provide a strong foundation to help hitters peak when the season begins.
If you are a hitter, are you ready to stand in the batter’s box to face live pitching? If you are a coach, are you preparing your hitters for success over a long season? Taking swings every day at practice without a clear hitting plan is not enough. Hitting success demands a systematic approach that includes observation, measurement, video analysis, and adjustments.
The first step for a hitting coach is to actively observe the hitter taking swings. It is important for a coach to resist the temptation to make swing changes during this initial stage. Rather, the coach should first look at the swing holistically. Does the swing look smooth or is it disjointed? Is the swing powerful or weak? Then, a coach can begin to observe the individual components of the swing. How solid is the set-up? Where are the hands at set-up? Is the load (weight transfer) slow and powerful? Does the hitter use the body or arms to generate power? Are the arms extended at impact with the ball? Does the hitter let the bat finish naturally? These are just a few of the questions that need to be answered before advancing to the next phase of a comprehensive hitting plan.
It is also important to understand HOW to make the initial observations. Tee swings and front toss swings are the best ways to really observe all aspects of the swing. When a hitter is swinging at live pitches or balls from a pitching machine, it can be difficult to observe the “real” swing, because there are too many variables, including the speed and direction of the pitch. For example, if a hitter is fooled by pitches or if the pitches are consistently on the fringes of the strike zone, the swings observed may not be accurate representations of the actual hitting mechanics. There will be plenty of time to observe and analyze the swing of a hitter against live pitching—just not at this point in the process.
The introduction of swing analysis apps for computers and mobile devices has changed the way good hitting instructors are able to effectively improve baseball and softball swings. A swing may “look” fast, but it is impossible to be sure unless it can be measured. Over the years, I have used a swing speed radar to accurately measure bat speed. It has been a valuable tool to track the direct relationship between improved hitting mechanics and increased bat speed.
Today, the basic swing speed radar can be complemented with devices that attach to the bat to measure additional metrics with easy-to-use mobile apps. Bat speed, hand speed, the time it takes a hitter to make impact with the ball after initiating the swing, and the angle of the swing before and after impact, can now be measured together instantly. In addition, some apps allow a coach and hitter to see the animation of the actual path of the hands and bat.
These hitting metrics give coaches valuable clues as to WHAT is happening during the swing sequence and WHY it is happening. If time to impact is fast, but bat speed is slow, then it likely means the hands of the hitter probably begin too far forward. Or, if the metric for the angle of the bat before impact with the ball is in an acceptable range, but the appropriate angle is not maintained after impact, this should cause a coach to quickly focus on obvious areas that could cause this imbalance.
In business, Quality Control Specialists have an old adage–“If you can’t measure it, it’s not quality!” The same holds true for hitting. If a coach is unable to measure and track the key metrics of a swing over time, it will be very difficult to determine whether hitting adjustments are truly effective.
During the first practice each season, coaches should measure the key swing metrics of all hitters. These metrics not only identify how hard hitters worked in the offseason, they serve as a baseline to gauge improvement before the season begins. More importantly, it helps coaches devise individual hitting plans for preseason.
The camera never lies! I believe the best way to improve the swing of a hitter is through video analysis. Not only can a super slow motion video provide coaches with detailed insights into the swing, it is visual proof for hitters who may have a difficult time feeling what they are doing wrong.
Whenever I am stumped why a hitter is struggling, I take a video and the solution usually becomes readily evident. Super slow motion videos allow a coach to see deficiencies in the swing that the naked eye could never pick up.
Like the apps to measure the metrics of a swing, there are many great mobile apps that allow for detailed video review and illustration. The drawing tools are especially helpful to illustrate what is actually happening or not happening during the swing sequence. If a hitter is overstriding, a coach can draw a simple line where the front foot starts and another line where it lands. This is just one simple example of the many ways a hitter can quickly and easily see what is difficult for them to feel. It is also hard for a stubborn hitter to dispute visual evidence.
Some apps also allow coaches to compare the swings of two hitters. It is often helpful for a hitter to see a side-by-side comparison of their swing with another player or even compared to a professional.
All the observation, measurement, and video analysis should ultimately lead a hitting coach to draw some broad and also detailed conclusions about the swing of a hitter. These conclusions should result in adjustments that are geared toward improving the target metric readings, especially bat speed. If adjustments to the swing do not lead to bat or hand speed improvement, then the adjustments are simply not merited. If the angle of the bat before and after impact continue to be out of whack, then the adjustments should be considered to be ineffective.
Unfortunately, some hitting instructors are reluctant to use video and measurement devices, because it makes them accountable for what they are teaching. If bat speed remains the same or only increases marginally after several lessons or workouts, the blame should rest as much on the hitting coach as the hitter.
Beyond The Numbers
Of course, there is more to being a successful hitter than perfect metrics or a beautiful swing. The mental and physical make-up of a hitter are also very important. The job of a good hitting coach should be to make sure the metrics of the swing complement the intangibles and natural gifts of a hitter.
The combination of science, hitting analysis tools, key swing adjustments, and God-given talent, will help all baseball and softball players reach their hitting potential. That’s the plan!