Hitting development goes far beyond simply hitting baseballs off the tee, front toss, and “groove me fastballs” batting practice. In my opinion, true hitting development covers the following key areas: 1) Swing Mechanics - Movements 2) Bat Speed & Power 3) Pitch Recognition - Discipline 4) Game Performance and 5) Mental Conditioning.
4 Game Performance
No one wants to create hitters that are great at 20 mph front toss or 40 mph batting practice yet struggle in games. A great practice hitter who simply does not produce in games will not stay in the lineup long. Therefore, creating training environments that contribute to game performance is essential. In an effort to enhance game performance there should be a combination of blocked and random/variable training. Example: blocked training would be hitting a round of batting practice with all fastballs or fastball - curve - fastball - curve. Random or variable training would be a round of batting practice that is completely random.
Blocked training usually results in high success rates for hitters - 60% or more. This is good for simply reinforcing good habits and creating consistent line drives and hard barrel contact. However, live pitching is difficult and good hitters succeed at 30% success rates. It only makes sense for hitters to invest more time in training environments that simulate live pitching - this means high difficulty random/variable training with 30% - 50% success rates more comparable to what a hitter would see in games.
Using pitching machines to hit velocity and to simulate game-like pitching is a great way to train hitters for the game environment. Angled Batting Practice helps hitters figure out how to use their body - spine angle, hip hinge, and side bend. This will help hitters learn how to stay connected and properly deliver the barrel to the baseball.
Rapsodo and HitTrax are great tools to monitor growth and progress during training. The hitter does not have to “wonder” if what they are doing is going to translate to game success. These tools show how the hitter’s performance would translate to on-field outcomes.
Using Blast Motion Baseball Sensors and/or Diamond Kinetics Sensors reveals the information about the swing leading up to the outcome. Train hitters to optimize their bat speed, distance in the zone, approach angle, and much more.
5 Mental Conditioning - Peak Performance
At the highest levels of baseball everyone has talent but what separates the best from the rest lies in the player’s ability to control their attention, energy, and focus from pitch to pitch. Hitting is the ultimate game of failure; therefore, great hitters must be able to grow and learn through failure. Quality At-Bats are a great way to judge success as a hitter versus using the traditional batting average. Hitters can track how many times they did something positive to help the team on offense. Quality at-bats might include hitting the ball hard, achieving a walk, or scoring a run via a productive out. It is important to establish proper criteria that contributes to offensive success!
Hitting journals and hitting logs are useful tools for hitters to evaluate themselves after a game. For example, in a classroom setting after a weekend series hitters would be able to reflect on what went well or what did not go well during their at-bats. This includes analyzing their approach, the situation, the swing decisions they made or did not make (too passive or too aggressive out of the zone) and finally their state of mind during the at-bat.
Brian Cain has some great resources on mental performance training for baseball. Personally, I use his mental program with all of my players and it has been a game changer. As the late Ken Ravizza stated, “You have to be in control of yourself before you can control your performance.”
Hope this helps.
See you on the diamond!