As a hitter, your most advantageous count is three balls and no strikes. But how do you know when you should swing on 3-0 and when you shouldn’t? [Read more...]
Wait, who wants to LOSE power when they’re hitting?
Nobody of course, unless you’re attempting a sacrifice bunt!
But there are common problems among hitters — even the pros — that can sap you of your power. Both players and coaches should be aware of these minor, correctable flaws. [Read more...]
For years, the knock on perhaps the greatest player ever to suit up in a Major League uniform was that Alex Rodriguez never performed to his capabilities in the playoffs.
In the autum of 2009, however, that has changed, as A-Rod hit .365 with 6 homeruns in 50 postseason at-bats, a .500 OBP, and a 1.308 OPS in leading the New York Yankees to a World Series Championship.
So what’s changed?
He’s the same player … from the neck down. But above the neck is where Alex Rodriguez has improved — he’s now relaxed and focused, using many of the techniques learned while working with mental coach Jim Fannin.
In the last post you had the chance to hear me speak with Jim Fannin about some of those techniques, and the challenges of mental preparation for baseball.
Here are some of the tips or “takeaways” from the interview:
- No matter what the situation, the essence of your craft does not change. In other words, you use the same physical technique and concentration in “regular” and “pressure” situations
- Big games: sometimes you need to “spill” some energy — maybe jump up and down a few times to expel your energy if you feel a little too jacked up
- Batters: lock in to the release, forget about the pitcher
- Batters: Pick up the baseball within 6 feet after release, and then be sure to track it within the last two feet
- Batters: start learning to pick up the ball and the pitcher’s release in the on-deck circle
- Batters: EXPECT to hit the ball solidly – confidence is key
- Pitchers: prepare to retire the leadoff batter by getting the heart rate up and throwing the last few warmup pitches as if they were “game” pitches
- Pitchers: mentality should be to retire the leadoff guy every inning
- Pitchers: if tense, stressed, or nervous, slow down your heart rate by walking off the mound, taking a breath, unhinging your jaw, and focus on throwing through the target (see the target not the batter)
- The ultimate for all players is to have the same mindset in all situations
- Every great player uses the tools of visualization
- Visualization is applicable to every level down to little league
- Every human being spends 56 hours — 50% of their waking hours — daydreaming. Daydreaming is a form of visualization, but it is generally random and chaotic.
- Controlled visualization is proactive and specific – you are daydreaming about what you want.
- Most people visualize about what they don’t want — so you want to visualize what you want
- Coaches: the great coaches and teachers — no matter what the sport — are painting a picture of total positivity in the student’s mind.
- Coaches: using “don’t” in your instruction is completely ineffective – so eliminate it from your speech! Replace the “don’t” with a positive image
- All players who struggle with their mental mindset can improve — but they have to want to do it
If you want to listen to the podcast, you can find it here:
Jim Fannin On Baseball podcast
You can also subscribe to the OnBaseball.com podcast through iTunes.
There is a simple, old school hitting philosophy that continues to make a lot of sense for hitters at every level: wait and weight.
This “reminder” has been used by some of the greatest hitters in MLB history. For example, Wade Boggs, Don Mattingly, Rod Carew, and George Brett have all, at some point, admitted that “wait and weight” was something they kept in their mind while in the batter’s box. A fairly impressive group, wouldn’t you agree?
So what is “wait and weight”?
“Wait” is waiting for the pitch to get to you — another way of saying “let the ball get deep”.
“Weight” is keeping your weight back while you’re “waiting” for the pitch. Some coaches say “keep your weight on top of your back foot”.
In other words, one of the fundamental keys to successful hitting is to stay back — refrain from committing to swinging — as long as possible. The longer you can wait for the ball, while also keeping your weight and your hands back, the better your strike zone judgment will be and the better chance you’ll have of hitting the baseball.
Of course, if you see a pitch you like, don’t wait so long that the ball ends up in the catcher’s mitt! There’s a fine line, and it takes hours and hours of practice for you to learn how long you can wait. Next time you are in BP, try it: wait just a millisecond longer than normal before starting your swing. Keep trying to wait longer and longer on each pitch — particularly pitches that are “middle – out” — before committing (pitches on the inside part of the plate require you to swing earlier, or you won’t get the barrel on the ball). Get to the point where you’re almost missing the ball on purpose because you’re waiting so long. Eventually — and this won’t happen in one session — you’ll start to learn how long you can wait before starting your swing.
Trust your hands — they’re faster than you think, particularly when you keep them back and in unison with your weight.
Learn to breathe? Who needs to “learn” how to breathe? Didn’t we figure that out about three seconds after emerging from the womb?
Well, yeah, but, not really. [Read more...]
What do you do when you’re in the on-deck circle? Any of the following?
- Swing a weighted bat
- Stretch out arms, wrists, back, legs
- Take practice swings
- Apply pine tar to the bat
- Adjust batting gloves and socks
- Check out the people in the stands
- Nibble on sunflower seeds
- All of the above
The first five options are somewhat helpful, but only part of what you can be doing in preparation for your upcoming at bat. First and foremost, you should be aware of the game situation — at the very least, know how many outs there are, the score, and the runners on base. Also, if one of the baserunners heads for home, you must be ready to clear the basepath of the bat and to give the runner proper direction (slide, stand, go around, etc.). But you already knew that, right?
While you’re lugging around two bats with donuts and spitting sunflower seeds, you can also be watching the pitcher. And the catcher. And the infielders and outfielders. Check where the fielders are playing; for example, is the third baseman playing back? Are the middle infielders cheating toward second for a double play? See what they’re doing before you get up, and what they do when you get up. Their positioning may affect what you try to do during the at-bat, and when/if you become a baserunner.
You can also take a look at the catcher — how he’s positioning himself behind the plate, and where he’s catching the ball. Is he in the same spot all the time, or moving around back there? Will you be able to see him move toward his proposed target, out of the corner of your eye, while you’re up at the plate? And is the pitcher hitting his spots, or is the catcher doing a lot of reaching for balls? This information could indicate whether the pitcher is tiring, or having trouble with his command (remember, most pitchers will fall back on the fastball when they can’t find the strike zone). And while you’re watching the catcher, take note of the umpire’s calls. Does he have a “high” strike zone or a “low” one? Is he giving the pitcher the corners? Has the strike zone expanded, or reduced, since the beginning of the game? How he’s calling at this point in the game is important if the count goes to two strikes against you.
Finally, observe the pitcher. No, actually, study him. Watch his face, his hands, his unique tics / movements. Does he do something different when a curveball is coming, as opposed to a fastball? Maybe he slows down, or throws different pitches at different arm angles. He might squint, or dig his fingers into the glove, or touch his hat, or otherwise unconsciously “telegraph” his pitches.
Also watch his body language and facial expressions. Is he looking confident, weary, confused? Is he allowing emotions affect his performance? Can you use this against him?
How is he following through? Is he wildly off to one side, leaving the other open for an easy bunt hit?
What kind of pitches is he throwing? Is he relying solely on breaking stuff, hard stuff, or mixing it up? Does he fall into patterns? For example, has he started everyone off with a fastball? Is he high or low in the zone? Can you tell if his pitches are breaking horizontally or vertically?
After or while gathering all this extraneous data, you will want to get in your batting stance, preferably in the same angle you will be when at the plate. Some parks (and umpires) allow you to take your practice swings directly behind the backstop — if so, by all means take advantage. Otherwise, get into your stance, as close to the batter’s box as possible, with a good view of the pitcher. As he goes into his windup, find a comfortable spot of his upper body to focus on, then look for his arm slot — which will eventually lead to his release point. Try to develop a synchronicity between his rhythm and yours. This is the time to get your timing down: when he goes back, you go back. Though you are in the on-deck circle, you want to visualize being in the batter’s box, and emulate an actual at-bat as closely as possible. Start with your stance, and as he moves, you make the same movements you would as if you were already at-bat, all the way to the stride and the swing. This will help you “time” his pitches, and give you the best possible preparation before you dig into the box.
Any more ideas on what you can do to prepare for an at-bat while waiting in the on-deck circle? Please share them with us in the comments below.
Every hitter I speak to — regardless of age — wants to hit the ball farther more consistently. Singles hitters want to hit doubles, doubles hitters want to hit home runs, and homerun hitters want to hit balls further and more frequently over the fence. Often, batters think they need to change their mechanics in order to hit the ball farther. They may go so far as to spend hundreds of dollars on gadgets that promise to increase your power, or DVDs promoting “rotational hitting”, or private lessons from the local hitting “guru”.
While it’s very possible that a batter’s mechanics may need some tweaking, before you go spending money on a magic elixir, try a different approach: getting deep.
Deep means two things to a hitter, and all the GREAT hitters do it. First, it means let the ball get deep. In other words, let the ball get as close to the catcher as possible before committing to your swing. Second, it means get into deep counts — such as 2-1, 3-0, 3-1, even 3-2. Learning to do these two things alone will put you in a better position to hit balls with authority — also known as, getting your pitch to hit.
Let the Ball Get Deep
The longer you wait on a pitch, the better look you get at it. While it’s true that the most direct route in hitting a homerun is to hit a ball far out in front of the plate, and pull the ball to the shortest part of the outfield fence, using that kind of strategy all the time will result in far more swings and misses, and weak grounders, than fly balls over the fence. Those kind of hitters may help the team once in a while, but overall are not very productive. Dave Kingman was one of the last “dinosaurs” who hit this way — a typical season for him was 35 homeruns and a .205 batting average. If he didn’t hit a homer, he wasn’t much use to his team.
A better approach is to let the ball get deeper, allow it to come right into your “kitchen”. Trust your hands — they’re much faster than you think — and learn to get the meat of the bat (or “sweet spot”) on the ball. It’s easier than it sounds, and requires you to learn when to throw the bat head out early (on inside pitches), and when to wait a fraction of a second longer before dropping the bat head (on outside pitches). You will hit a pitch on the inside corner out in front of the plate, and meet an outside pitch when it is on top of the plate — or even past it, depending on where you stand in the batter’s box. 90% of inexperienced hitters have no trouble hitting the ball too early, but only the best hitters are able to trust their hands and wait on those outside pitches.
There is an old school fallacy that says hitting with power to the opposite field is more difficult because it requires great strength. In fact, that’s not entirely true; if you have strength to correctly pull the ball with power, you have the strength to do the same the other way. The fallacy is based on two premises: 1. that your weight goes with the swing (out in front), so that you’re actually lunging into the ball; and 2. that your swing has more length, and therefore more momentum, when it meets the ball out in front. In the first premise, a batter gets into that predicament by being fooled on an offspeed pitch — all his weight is on his front foot, but the timing is just right to get the weight into the ball and power it over the nearest fence. In other words, more luck than skill is involved.
The second premise — momentum — has some logic behind it, but can also be dispelled. To hit a ball optimally, you want the bat to hit the ball when your hands are transferring the most torque, leverage, and speed your body can muster. That said, would you rather hit the ball when your hands are speeding up, or when they’re slowing down? Obviously, when they’re speeding up. If you hit the ball too far out in front of the plate, there’s a good chance you’ll meet the ball when your swing is slowing down. Considering that, you can understand why waiting a fraction of a second longer won’t necessarily require you to have more strength. The key is to get to the ball when your hands are moving fastest.
Another benefit of letting the ball get deep is that you get a full, long look at the action of the pitch. All pitchers worth their salt put some kind of movement on the ball (intentionally or not). In addition, few pitchers can get the ball to move more than 3-5 ways consistently. For example, a pitcher may have a fastball that tails in and down a bit, a changeup that falls away, and a curve that starts high and drops down. The longer look you get at these pitches, and their late movement or action, the better chance you have of figuring out when and where to meet the pitch with the sweet spot of your bat. A good strategy is to think this: if the pitch is middle-out, go to the opposite field. This gives you that extra fraction of a second to wait on a pitch, let the ball get deep, and then when you’ve decided to commit, throw the hands through the hitting zone. To see this approach in action, pay attention to MLB hitters Albert Pujols, David Wright, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Mike Piazza, Ryan Howard, and (usually) Carlos Delgado. All these men do a great job of letting the ball get deep, and regularly hit balls over the opposite-field fence. They also hit for high averages.
Get Into Deep Counts
Letting the ball get deep goes hand-in-hand with getting into deep counts. When you regularly wait longer on pitches, and get good looks, you tend to swing at less pitches. Because you give yourself more time before committing, you can more easily identify balls and pitches that are difficult to handle, and you let them go. While the very best pitchers will challenge hitters early in the count with strikes, most of ordinary hurlers nitpick around the zone, and try to get hitters to swing at bad pitches (it helps to study a pitcher and find out early in a game whether you’re dealing with an aggressive pitcher or a nitpicker). If you’re up against an average pitcher, and you take pitches, you’ll often find yourself in good hitting counts, such as 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1, and 3-2 (that’s right, full count is good for hitters because the pitcher has to throw a strike to get you out). When you’re ahead in the count, especially 2-0, 3-1, and 3-0, you have the advantage of looking for a pitch that you can not only handle but drive. Half of power hitting is technique, the other half is getting and swatting YOUR pitch. In addition, by getting into deep counts you are accomplishing two more things: first, you’re wearing out the pitcher; and second, you’re seeing more of his pitches. Knowledge is power, and the more you know about what a pitcher throws in certain situations, and how his pitches move, the better prepared you are to hit. As you see more and more of a hurler’s pitches, the easier it will be for you to recognize which ones you can best handle, and anticipate when they’re coming.
So, before you go wasting money or tweaking your hitting mechanics, learn to get deep. If you still can’t go deep when getting deep, THEN consider mechanical adjustments. You will lose nothing by learning the approach of great hitting, and gain dramatically when/if you do fix your mechanics.
Despite the MLB’s influx of muscleheads, the truth is, you don’t need to be musclebound to hit for power. This has been covered here before, so we won’t waste space.
While excellent mechanics will do more for your swing than your “max” bench press, there’s no question that strong hands, wrists, and forearms will also help your bat speed and power. Guys like Don Mattingly, Cal Ripken, and Henry Aaron were fairly slender, but had Popeye-like forearms. Combine strong, quick wrists with a good weight shift and hip rotation, and you’re on your way to hitting with gap power and homerun power — regardless of your overall size.
Luckily, expensive equipment is not necessary for building up these “bat speed” muscles. In fact, there are some very beneficial exercises that can cost nothing at all. Further, you don’t need much space; most forearm and wrist exercises can be performed while sitting in a chair — even in the passenger seat of a small car.
Oh, and these are good exercises for pitchers, too. Most of these exercises for the forearms and wrist can be helpful to your curveball, and they also build up the muscles around your elbow, which may help prevent injuries.
Another thing, your hand and wrist strength can improve dramatically over a fairly short amount of time. And, because these muscles tend to recover more quickly than larger muscles in your body, you can do these exercises every day — though 4-5 times per week will probably yield the best results.
Sit at a table and lay out a newspaper on a table, opened up to the middle page. Place it just barely within reach of your fingertips with your arm lying down on the table, elbow at edge. Using your fingertips, and keeping your forearm flat on the table surface, pull the newspaper into your palm, crumpling it, until you’ve pulled in the entire page. Repeat until you finish the entire section, then switch to your other hand. The only bad part about this exercise is that your hands get full of ink; luckily it will wash off easily with soap and water.
This may be the singlemost effective piece of equipment for building forearm and wrist strength for baseball and softball, as it involves all the muscles you use in your forearms to swing a bat. You can buy the equipment and see examples on Amazonand at this site. Starting with the weight on the ground and rope completely unraveled, hold the dowel / handle end with an overhand grip (knuckles up) in your fingers in front of your chest, arms straight out and parallel to the ground, elbows locked or nearly locked. Slowly ravel the rope by twisting the handle with only your wrists and hands until the weight is lifted to the very top. If you do it right, and the weight is heavy enough, you should feel tension or even a burning in your forearms and wrists. Start with 1-3 lbs. of weight and work your way up in 1-2 lb. increments when you can do three sets of ten easily.
Now, if you have access to a drill, you can save yourself quite a bit of money and build one of these gadgets yourself for about five bucks (like we did in the old days). Cut a broomstick in half or buy a dowel at the hardware store and cut it down to about 12-18 inches in length. In the middle of the dowel, drill a hole all the way through, then thread a length of rope (about 3 feet) through it. (You can steal your sister’s jump rope or get the guy at Home Depot to cut you a length of “utility rope” — just make sure it’s strong enough to hold a five-pound weight and skinny enough to fit through your hole.) Tie a good knot to secure the rope to the dowel, then on the other end, tie a small weight (you can buy loose plates at most sports stores).
Squeezes – rubber / tennis ball or grips
Next to the wrist rolls, this is one of the most effective means of building your forearm muscles. I like the Heavy Grips brand, because the handles are welded to the spring (and thus won’t start slipping around after using them a while), and they come in varying, measured resistance. If you’re in high school or older, and serious about forearm strength, get the whole set of 100 – 350 lbs. and follow the recommended exercise routine from the manufacturer (I have, and experienced good results).
If you don’t have the money for the Heavy Grips, you can still squeeze your way to success by using one of the pink rubber balls you get at the dollar store (oldtimers called them “spaldeens”), or from squeezing a tennis ball (like Ted Williams did).
You may already do push-ups as part of your routine, so it won’t be a big deal to mix in a set of “fingertip” pushups. It’s exactly what it sounds like — pushups done with your palms off the ground, holding up your weight with your fingertips. Try them right now, and you’ll feel the muscles in your fingers and hand helping out immediately.
Pull – Ups (under and overhand)
Hanging from a bar is a great way to stretch and loosen your arms and back muscles. Going the next step and pulling yourself up to do a chin-up / pull-up works nearly all of the muscles from the waist up, front and back — including your forearms. Be sure to do both overhand and underhand pull-ups, so that you work all muscles. If you don’t have access to a good bar, there are several types available from Amazon, including some that are installed inside a doorway.
Wrist Curls (dumbbell or barbell, under and over)
If you have access to a dumbbells or barbell, this is an easy exercise to incorporate into your routine. In a sitting position, rest your forearms on your thighs (or kneel behind a bench, resting your forearms on the bench), parallel to the ground, and hold the barbell or dumbbell in your fingers, palm(s) up. Keeping your forearms flat on your thigh / bench, pull the weight up using only your wrists. After a set of ten, drop the weight a bit and reverse your forearms so that you have an overhand grip. Do another set of ten, again using only your wrists.
You probably are already familiar with this exercise — it’s the one that is also known as a “concentration curl” or and it makes biceps bigger. In addition to impressing the girls by flexing “your muscle”, these exercises will help build strength in your forearms as well.
If you already do “preacher curls” or simply “curls” with a barbell or curl bar, then make sure you do twice as many sets using an overhand grip — a.ka. “reverse curls”. You’ll likely need to take off some weights, as you’ll be isolating your forearm muscles and won’t get much help at all from your biceps. These don’t do much for your “muscle”, but will help your batting average.
When you’re just sitting around, doing nothing, and have no access to weights or grips or even a tennis ball, you can still do something: isometrics. With your right arm bent at the elbow (forearm 90-degree angle from your bicep) and palm up, push down on your right palm with your left hand. As your left hand pushes down, push back / resist with the right hand by pushing up. Push and resist for about 10-15 seconds, rest, and repeat in the opposite position (left palm up, right palm down). You can do similar exercises for your wrists by holding your fingers back and pushing against the “hold” using your hand and wrist.
Bucket of Rice or Sand
If you live near a beach, fill a bucket with sand. Plunge your hand into the bucket and squeeze the sand with your fingers into your palm. You can do the same thing with a big stockpot filled with cooked and cooled rice. Steve Carlton used to squeeze a pot of rice after every start.
Historically, sluggers have been dead pull hitters, mainly because redirecting a pitch over a wall 300-325 feet away is an easier task when you’re only aiming for one wall, therefore zoning one area (inside, a foot in front of the plate), and getting full leverage of the bat to the baseball. Interestingly, there’s always been a bit of machismo involved — as it takes some muscle to power a baseball 300+ feet — yet, ironically, it takes more strength to hit the ball over the opposite-field fence (or a 400+ foot centerfield wall, for that matter).
Today, however, the sluggers such as Delgado, Wright, Ryan Howard, and Albert Pujols are both stronger and smarter than the Dave Kingmans and Harmon Killebrews of yesteryear. The modern hitter recognizes that the advantages of hitting to the opposite field far outweigh the disadvantages.
First and foremost, hitting the other way allows you to see the ball much longer — and thus makes you less susceptible to sliders, change-ups, and similar “trick” pitches that break late. Watch Shawn Green in particular, and you will know exactly when he is considering opposite-field hitting by the pitches he takes — they almost always will be sliders dropping in the dirt off the plate for a ball. Green’s big swing and reaction time has slowed down some as he’s aged, so he needs to guess more often to pull the ball for a home run. Therefore, you’ll sometimes see him swing and miss wildly at a breaking ball — that’s when he’s guessing fastball in and looking to jerk it. More and more, though, he’s been waiting on pitches, getting into good hitter’s counts (1-0, 2-0, 2-1) and dropping outside-half strikes into left field for base hits.
On the other hand, Carlos Delgado’s bat hasn’t slowed much, but he’s been hitting to left field his entire career. Remarkably, opposing defenses have often employed the “Boudreau Shift”, lining up three infielders to the right of second base. Perhaps their reasoning is that they’d rather see Delgado punch one to left than look to pull one into the rightfield seats. However, Carlos Delgado has the muscle to hit the ball over any fence, in any direction, so the shift only further motivates him to wait longer and decide whether the baseball is in a good hitting zone. He also has much larger holes to aim for.
Youngsters would do well to study the approach and swing of David Wright, who is very similar to Derek Jeter in that he tends to frequently “inside-out” pitches. That is, he pushes his hands forward through the hitting zone, but leaves the barrel head back. While this style might rob you of some power, it enables you to wait a little longer, and still get solid wood on almost any pitch. The only pitch that will be difficult to handle is a very hard sinking fastball running in on your hands — but few pitchers throw such a pitch with good velocity and success. Hitting with an “inside-out” swing, you almost always will be hitting the ball to either center or the opposite field, as a function of the bat angle. While Jeter uses this approach on nearly every swing, Wright most often employs it when he has two strikes against him. This is a good strategy for a power hitter, as the outfield will tend to play him deeper, and the inside-out swing will usually produce less powerfully hit balls that drop in front of the outfielders for hits.
Compared to some of today’s ultra-intensive hitting books — some of which break down batting mechanics to specific timings, angles, and checkpoints — this thin paperback may seem vague and unscientific. At the time it was written, however, it was considered state-of-the-art, and provided the basis for nearly all other hitting theories that followed.
One of the main philosophies that Williams brings forth in this book is the strategy of understanding what areas of the strike zone you can handle, and waiting for pitches in those zones. In other words, he found a correlation between the best hitters and their focus on pitch selection. Although many coaches think Williams’ theories cause a batter to be less aggressive, there are just as many who think patience is key to a batter’s success. One needs to look no further than Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s organizational hitting philosophy to see that the preachings of Ted Williams are still followed today.
Personally, I’ve read this book from cover to cover dozens of times, and pick up something new every time. It’s not often that one of the greatest athletes — in any sport — gives away all of his secrets, and this book holds back nothing. Though some of the ideas in this book might not apply today, the majority of the teachings are timeless, and presented in an easy-to-understand format. I recommend it fully as a necessity on the shelf of baseball players of all ages. Click on the image and you can get it for about ten bucks — a marginal investment that will provide a return over and over for years to come.