This week I bring you some insight into hitting that may challenge your current ideas and contradict some of the things you are teaching to your players. I say this because I have become aware that some of the phrases and ideas I would tell myself have actually been a hindrance to my success. I have spent hours, upon days with baseball great Willy Upshaw this season. He has helped turn my approach right side up.
Have you ever heard, “Let the ball get there, hit it deep”? This phrase is usually used to encourage the hitter to let the ball travel all the way to the strike zone before swinging. It is used to keep someone from jumping out and being too early. On that premise, “let it get deep” sounds like a good idea. However, what does “deep” actually mean? Where is this ideal contact point? Answer, just out in front of your front foot. That is a general range, and the contact point will vary based on pitch speed, type, location, and the hitter’s timing. If not understood properly a player may interpret deep means not making contact till the ball travels all the way to their back leg, or their waist. Next time you watch baseball highlights study where the best big league hitters are striking the ball. Even on pitches away, they are still delivering the barrel head. The problem with letting the ball get too deep is that the barrel never gets a chance to accelerate through the hitting zone. Consistently letting the ball travel too deep can create several bad habits: lagging the barrel behind the hands, slicing balls the other way, pulling the bat through the zone instead of driving the barrel head to the ball, and being unable to handle the inside fastball.
If you have read any of my previous articles you know I emphasize aggressiveness and an attack mentality at the plate. The key is to direct all the energy and swing to that contact point in front of your body. You can’t attack a ball that is already past your belly button; that is too late. Let it get deep is a passive phrase which will make a hitter get too defensive and indecisive.
Hitting the ball out front does not mean trying to hit the ball out of the pitcher’s hand or lunging forward. It means being disciplined, ready to attack the ball, and letting the ball travel to the hitting zone. Letting the ball travel to the hitting zone is fine as long as it is clear where the hitting zone is. When you attack the right zone, you won’t lunge forward with your body, because you will be using your hands to deliver the barrel to the contact point. You also won’t be late, because you still will be attacking the ball before it travels too far back towards the catcher. Then you will be able to get extension towards center field because the barrel is releasing out in the front of the zone.
Attack the Zone.
Have you ever heard, “Stay back; keep your weight back.” Coaches use this to keep kids from lunging forward and getting out on their front foot. Yes, lunging is bad, but so is getting stuck on your backside, never using your legs or transferring power in the swing to the contact point. Again, “stay back” is a passive mindset, which cannot be taken to the plate. There is a way to balance those extremes: Attack the Zone.
Getting the weight back is part of the preparation to hit. Readiness. Load. However, that weight has to go somewhere. It goes to the zone, to the contact point. There should be a weight transfer as the legs drive, the hips rotate, and the hands deliver the barrel to the ball at contact. When you try to force a player to stay back, you actually interfere with a natural and powerful swing. Imagine telling a pitcher he has to leave his back foot on the rubber as he follows through. He couldn’t. You have to release the power both the throwing motion and the swing.
When you start to understand where the contact point is, then you can begin to let your power and weight transfer to that point. It is not a lunge or a drift. It is an aggressive drive to the zone. Take everything to that spot.
Attack the Zone
A good friend of mine got to spend some time with Ken Griffey Jr. when he was with the Mariners. They talked for about an hour on the bench during a spring training game, and the whole conversation with this future hall of famer is summed up in one sentence. Be ready to hit fastballs down the middle.
This statement is pure genius in its simplicity. When you are ready to hit fastballs, you won’t be late. When you look to attack the middle of the plate, you will stay off pitches off the plate and breaking pitches that break out of the zone. When you stay focused on the middle of the zone you won’t chase as many pitches. The middle allows for human error and movement on the pitch. If you swing at a pitch just off the middle of the plate, it is still a strike. But if all you are looking for is a strike, the ball just off the strike zone is a pitch that you will chase. “Aim Small, Miss Small” (The Patriot). The more consistent you are at attacking the middle of the zone, the more disciplined you will be and the more dangerous at the plate you will become. When you take your swing to the middle every time, you are putting your swing in position to make small adjustments from there. Always start with fastball middle, and adjust from there.
Attack the Zone