One of the mysteries in baseball and softball is why the exact same lineup can score ten runs in one game and then no runs in the next game against the same or similar pitching. I am often baffled when I come to the ballpark on a “hitter’s day”, with a hittable pitcher and the wind blowing out, only to watch a potent offensive lineup fail to string hits together and score runs.
So, what makes hitting contagious? Here are some suggestions for players and teams seeking consistent hitting and run production.
Develop Repeatable Hitting Mechanics
Consistency should be the primary goal for all hitters. Without a repeatable swing, hitters are less likely to put the ball in play to keep a rally going. This blog is dedicated to teaching hitting mechanics that lead to both greater power and improved consistency. Hitters who work hard in the offseason and preseason on their mechanics are more likely to start a rally or keep one going. At some point, there is no substitution for just being a good hitter.
Good hitters are mandatory for contagious hitting, but most lineups are comprised of good hitters, average hitters, and weaker hitters. Weak hitters in any lineup can quickly kill a hitting rally. Typically, these hitters are not blessed with the same physical skills as the better hitters in the lineup. They either fail to develop repeatable hitting mechanics due to poor instruction, or they don’t work hard enough to become better hitters. Like most sports, teams are only as good as the weakest players. Making weak hitters as productive as possible is a characteristic of a contagious lineup.
Take personal ownership of the rally
A sure-fire way to kill a rally is to assume someone else will get the big hit or will drive in a key run. Waiting for other hitters to get the job done typically results in too many “1-2-3 innings”, especially if several hitters in a lineup have the same mindset. Contagious hitting requires every hitter in the lineup to be accountable for contributing to a rally.
Hitting accountability means ignoring the failures of other hitters in the lineup. I’m convinced when a series of hitters all have poor at-bats consecutively, they lose their sense of accountability. Failure somehow becomes acceptable, because everyone else is having the same problem.
Hitters who have the mental toughness to break the chain of failure choose not to be part of the “pity party”. They are determined to succeed in spite of the struggles of their teammates. This type of personal accountability and leadership can be contagious.
Put the ball in play
I often tell my hitters that “Good things happen when you put the ball in play.” Multiple hits are always a simple way to power an offense. However, a lineup is most effective when everyone is doing the little things to keep a rally going. Both strong and weak hitters can draw a walk, lay down a strategic bunt, hit a well-placed ground ball to move runners to the next base, drive the ball to the outfield for a sacrifice fly, or even get hit by the pitch (unintentionally of course!).
The key is to do anything possible to avoid striking out! Strikeouts are a gift to the pitcher and the defense.
Identify the weakness of the pitcher
Every pitcher has a weakness! It can be a lack of control or the predictability of the pitch sequence. Identifying the weakness of a pitcher can actually help make hitting contagious.
If a pitcher is wild, hitters should be patient. The more patient hitters can be with inconsistent pitchers, the more likely it will be they will get a fat pitch to hit. However, this is often difficult for most hitters. No matter how wild a pitcher is, when that first pitch is thrown down the middle of the plate, most hitters give into the temptation to swing at it. It comes down to instilling confidence in hitters that they can be successful with either one or two strike counts.
Pitchers can actually spark an offense if they follow a particular pitch sequence for most batters. For example, if a pitcher has a tendency to throw a first pitch fastball, hitters can increase their odds of hitting success by looking to hit the first pitch hard. Or, maybe a pitcher throws a curve or a change-up every time the count is 0-2 or 1-2. If hitters recognize this pattern, they should look to hit that pitch hard up the middle or to the opposite field. A lineup that can crack the code of the pitching sequence can enjoy contagious hitting without the pitcher knowing what happened.
Finally, when hitters keep the pressure on the defense by putting the ball in play consistently, pitchers can easily get “rattled”. As a hitting coach, it is always fun when my hitters get in the head of the opposing pitcher. Contagious hitting often leads to nervous pitchers. Nervous pitchers make mistakes, which leads to more hitting. This is a cycle that makes any hitting coach smile!
There is nothing more fun than watching a contagious offense. The whole team becomes energized and it even helps the pitcher and the defense. Everyone can play more relaxed when the offense is hitting on all cylinders. Contagious hitting will ultimately result in contagious winning!