This is from a chapter in my book Hitting With Torque: For Baseball and Softball Hitters. Systematically preparing hitters for a new season is critical to the success of individual players and the team. A disciplined approach during the first weeks 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 hitting coaches is to actively observe hitters taking swings. Coaches should resist the temptation to make swing changes during this initial stage. Rather, coaches should first look at the swing holistically.
Here are some of the questions coaches should answer in the observation phase:
- Does the swing look smooth or is it disjointed?
- Is the swing powerful or weak?
- 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?
It is also important to understand HOW to make initial observations. Tee swings and front toss swings are the best ways to really observe all aspects of the swing. When hitters are swinging at live pitches or balls from a pitching machine, it can be difficult to observe the “real” swing.
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 technologies has changed the way good hitting instructors 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 several devices to accurately measure bat speed. They are valuable tools to track the direct relationship between hitting mechanics and hitting metrics.
Here are some of the basic metrics hitting coaches and players should measure:
- Bat speed
- Hand speed
- The time it takes a hitter to make impact with the ball after initiating the swing
- The angle of the swing before and after impact
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 are too far forward. What if the metric for the angle of the bat before impact with the ball is in an acceptable range, but the 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 hitting practice, coaches should measure and record 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. More importantly, it helps coaches devise individual hitting plans for preseason.
The camera never lies! One of the best ways to improve the swing of a hitter is through video analysis. Super slow motion video provides coaches with detailed insights into the swing. It is also visual proof for hitters who are unable to feel what they are doing wrong.
Whenever I am stumped why a hitter is struggling, I take a video. The solution usually becomes readily evident. The ability to break down a swing using video allows coaches to see deficiencies in the swing that the naked eye could never pick up.
Video technologies allow detailed review, illustration, and even narration. 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 a simple example of the many ways hitters can easily see what is difficult for them to feel. It is also hard for stubborn hitters to dispute visual evidence.
Some video programs also allow coaches to compare two swings. Side-by-side comparisons of swings are helpful to show progress over time. Comparing the swings of two different hitters can also help players visually see how others have successfuly made proposed adjustments. I also like to compare my hitters with elite and professional players.
Observation, measurement, and video analysis should ultimately lead hitting coaches to draw both broad and detailed conclusions about the swing of a hitter. These conclusions should result in adjustments that are geared toward improving the target metrics, especially bat speed. If adjustments to the swing do not lead to bat or hand speed improvement, then the adjustments are simply not merited.
Unfortunately, some hitting instructors are reluctant to use video analysis and measurement devices. This 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 with the hitting coach as the hitter. I wrote more about this in Hitting Accountability.
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 priority of good hitting coaches 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 players reach their hitting potential. That’s the plan!
About Paul Petricca
In addition to writing this hitting blog, Paul is a hitting coach and the author of the books Hitting With Torque: For Baseball And Softball Hitters and his new children’s book Going Going Gone!. He is also a public speaker and provides unique customer engagement training through his company Torque Consulting. Paul teaches a Customer Relationship Management class to undergraduates at Wheaton College (IL) and MBA candidates at Loyola University Chicago, and DePaul University.
3 Thoughts on Are You Prepared To Hit This Season?
This is a fantastic article. I’m currently playing softball in a Miami Beach league. Are there specific apps that you can recommend that would measure bat speed (I’d like to compare my bat speed with a 26 oz bat compared to my 27.5 oz bat) and illustrate one’s swing pattern (though I guess using an iPhone video in slow motion can accomplish this).
Thanks for your time
Thanks. Using a Blast or Zepp sensor and app to measure bat speed is your best bet.
I would suggest the Zepp sensor. After purchasing the sensor, the app is easy to use. Good luck!