How To Make Hitting Contagious

How To Make Hitting Contagious

One of the mysteries in softball and baseball is why the exact same lineup can score ten runs in one game and then no runs the next game against the same or similar pitching. I am often baffled when I leave the ballpark after a “Hitter’s Day” turns into a “Pitcher’s Day”. The pitcher is hittable and the wind is blowing out, but a potent offensive lineup fails to string enough hits together to score runs.

So, what makes hitting contagious?  Here are some suggestions for 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 website and my first book Hitting With Torque: For Baseball and Softball Hitters are 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. Unfortunately, making major swing changes during the season can be difficult.

Consistent hitters are mandatory for contagious hitting. Most lineups are comprised of good hitters, average hitters, and weaker hitters. Weak hitters in any lineup can quickly kill a rally. Typically, these hitters are not blessed with the same physical skills as the better hitters in the lineup. Many also fail to develop repeatable hitting mechanics due to poor instruction, or they choose not to work hard enough to get better.

Like most sports, softball and baseball teams are only as good as the weakest players.  Making weak hitters as productive as possible is a characteristic of good coaching and a contagious lineup. In my article Hitting Accountability , I describe in detail how coaches need to be accountable for the development of their hitters, especially the weaker hitters in the 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 drive in a key run. Waiting for someone else to get the job done typically results in too many 1-2-3 innings. 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 am convinced when a series of hitters all have poor at-bats consecutively, they lost their sense of accountability. Failure somehow becomes acceptable, because everyone else is having the same problem.

My youngest son plays in a very competitive 12″ slow-pitch softball league. His coach is Joe Riccardi, who is a volunteer coach of a fun group of young men. Joe is also a pastor at Park Community Church in downtown Chicago.

Coach Joe is not only a student of the game, he knows how to motivate his hitters. At a game I attended, his lineup of really good hitters was slumping. Toward the end of a close game, he asked every hitter the same question before their at-bat. “Are you in or are you out?” Each hitter had to verbally give Coach Joe a positive answer before he let them hit.

This question seemed a bit harsh at first, but Coach Joe knew his players would welcome the challenge. They needed him to jolt them out of their collective funk. It worked! His hitters responded by rallying to win the game by a large margin. Coach Joe convinced each hitter to be accountable for the success of the team.

Hitters who have the mental toughness to break the chain of failure choose not to be part of a “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 always 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, or hit a well-placed ground ball to move runners around the bases. They can even get hit by a 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. My article Don’t Choke—Choke Up details an old, but effective strategy to improve individual hitting productivity.

Errors are also contagious. Putting the ball in play at any cost will put pressure on the defense. We all have seen offensive rallies triggered by one or more errors. Even a weakly hit ball can lead to an error. PUT THE BALL IN PLAY!

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 they will get a fat pitch to hit. This is simple advice, but it is often difficult for some hitters to practice patience.

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!

Get the bug!

There is nothing more fun than watching a contagious offense.  The whole team becomes energized including the defense.  Everyone can play more relaxed when the offense is hitting on all cylinders. Contagious hitting will ultimately result in CONTAGIOUS WINNING!

About Paul Petricca

In addition to writing this hitting blog, Paul is a hitting coach and the author of the book 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.

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