Many baseball and softball hitters believe incorrectly that as soon as the season begins, all the hard work on their swings is over. This is a fatal mistake that often leads to slow starts and extended slumps. Of course, hitters and their coaches should avoid making drastic changes to the swing during the season, but great hitters are always making subtle mechanical improvements to their personal swing sequence.
As a hitting coach, it is difficult for me to observe the “real” swings of my hitters until they are in the batter’s box in live games. The goal of every hitter should be to use the same hitting mechanics in games as they do in the batting cage. Unfortunately, many hitters struggle with this.
Frankly, I can have the most impact on some hitters when they struggle during the season. Hitters who are not receptive to some of my instruction and advice during the preseason quickly become interested in my opinion when they fail to enjoy the success they expected during the season.
Here are four of my eight hitting keys that some hitters struggle to take from practice into games:
Hands Back: Even though I can objectively prove to my hitters with a swing speed radar that by merely moving the hands back toward the catcher a few inches, bat speed will increase dramatically, some don’t trust this advice in games. They move their hands in towards their body in an effort to be “quicker to the ball”. This only leads to a slower bat and less power. I’m convinced that most hitters don’t want to accept this very simple fix to their swing, because they want to look “cool”. They see professional hitters with their hands and bats in all kinds of crazy positions before the pitch is thrown. What they don’t see is how all professional hitters move their hands back toward the catcher at some point before the pitch is thrown. They can get away with some pre-swing bat movement, but amateur hitters cannot!
Powerful Load: Hitters who adopt a leg lift that is slow and powerful will enjoy both increased power and consistency. Hitters who decide not to lift the front leg at all will be at the mercy of pitchers who are able to effectively pitch on the corners of home plate. They will have to reach for outside pitches and will be forced to swing earlier than necessary for inside pitches. I tell my hitters that hitting success begins with a slow and powerful leg lift (load). Without this important hitting key, the entire swing sequence is negatively affected. In my book, Hitting With Torque: For Baseball and Softball Hitters, I detail why lifting the front leg is imperative to be a complete hitter.
Back Elbow Rotation: The most common cause of inconsistency in hitters, especially fastpitch softball players, is the collapsing of the back elbow as the swing sequence is initiated. When hitters move the back elbow close to their bodies as the swing begins, the bat quickly loses the important 45-degree power angle. This angle is critical for consistent hard contact with the ball. The back elbow should be totally still as it rotates around the body. This rotation without lowering the back elbow will ensure the angle of the bat is maintained until the arms move toward full extension at impact with the ball.
I recently had a candid conversation with a college softball hitter who was hitting almost every ball in batting practice weakly in the air to the opposite field. She knew that I isolated her inconsistency to the way she was folding her back elbow into her body as soon as her bat began to move, but she was hesitant to make the simple change of keeping her elbow still until the arms are extended into the ball. Apparently, her hitting coach at home instructed her to keep her elbows close to her body, without telling her “why”. I can clearly articulate why hitters should not keep their elbows close their bodies. Unfortunately, this hitter will continue to struggle hitting the ball squarely until she makes this adjustment.
High Finish: In practice, I encourage my hitters to let the bat finish where “it” wants to finish, which is high and away from the body. Average hitters will often manually change the path of the bat (higher or lower) before the swing is fully completed. Not only does this affect the flight of the ball, it also decreases bat speed and power. Some coaches and hitters erroneously believe that where the bat finishes is not important. They contend the ball is already gone, so it doesn’t matter where the bat finishes. I believe the velocity and trajectory of the ball off the bat has everything to do with the path and finish of the swing. Ask any professional golfer the key to a successful swing. They will always point to a balanced, powerful, and high finish to the swing. When hitters focus on the end of the swing and trust the rest of the swing sequence, the results are typically very good!
- Don’t be content, even if you are leading your team in hitting.
- Continue to search for small ways to generate extra power by using your body more effectively.
- Strive for more consistency by continually working on perfecting every hitting key, which will lead to a repeatable swing.
- Transfer your batting practice swing to games.
- Never be satisfied!
Pictured above working hard on her swing is Courtney Grasz, an outstanding hitter for Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois. Her success at the plate over her college career is directly related to her talent, work ethic, and her strong desire to never be satisfied.