More Than Swinging

Baseball players, if they’re honest, most likely have love-hate relationship with hitting. Hitting is by far the most fun thing to practice. The feel of connecting with a ball and seeing it jump off the bat hard and far is arguably the best feeling in sports. Baseball players love to hit.

But, if they’re honest, there is also a part of baseball players that hate hitting. It’s so freaking hard! Success at the highest levels is roughly 3/10. The best hitters at the lower levels are still only in the 4-5/10 range. There is a ton of failure, and every hitter knows that frustrating feeling of being able to crush balls in batting practice but then not have any success in the game.

Another thing that is fascinating in baseball is the phenomenon of the “5 o’clock hero.” This saying comes from college/pro ball where teams are taking batting practice at 5 o’clock before their 7 o’clock game. There are some hitters that look like absolute monsters in batting practice. They are literally crushing baseballs all over the park and over the fence. But then, they aren’t even in the starting lineup for the game! Or, they are in lineup but their performance in games is drastically different than in BP.

How is it that a hitter can be so good in practice, including having what looks like a perfect swing, and then struggle so much in the games?

The reason is that being a successful hitter is about more than just the swing. It’s called HITTING, not SWINGING. To be a successful hitter, you have to think about more than swinging.

STePS to Hitting Success

There are four STePS to hitting success. These steps are sequential – meaning that they have to be followed in order. They build on each other and you can’t move on to the next step until you are successful in the previous step.

The four STePS to hitting success are:

S – See the Ball

Here’s your Captain Obvious point of the day: you have to see the ball in order to hit the ball. I know this sounds absurdly obvious, but it’s honestly easier said than done. It’s very easy to get distracted or not even know how to pick up the ball right out of the pitcher’s hand. Seeing the ball well right out of the pitcher’s hand is a skill that needs focus and practice.

Seeing the ball starts with identifying the release point “window” of the pitcher. This window will vary from pitcher to pitcher, so a hitter can’t assume that it’s going to be the same every at bat. Some pitchers will even vary their release points throughout the game. The hitter’s primary responsibilities while in the on-deck circle are to find the release point window and lock in his timing (more on that below).

The first step to hitting success is See the Ball. If a hitter is not picking up the ball effectively visually, then nothing else matters. That is where you start.

T – Timing

Assuming that a hitter is seeing the ball well, the next step to hitting success is timing. The primary goal of the pitcher is to keep the hitter off-time on their pitches. That’s why different pitches have different speeds. That’s also why an low/outside fastball plays very differently than an high/inside fastball.

Hitting is all about timing. If the hitter’s timing is off, then nothing else after that matters. The best swing in the world will not play if the hitter’s timing is off.

The essential element of timing is that the rhythm of the gather/load phase never changes. It must always be slow and controlled. The only thing that changes is when the hitter starts his rhythm. Every pitcher is going to vary in their delivery mechanics, so it’s the hitter’s responsibility to sync up his rhythm based on each particular pitcher’s delivery. This should happen in the on-deck circle before every at bat in addition to identifying the pitcher’s release point window.

One more important note regarding timing is that it’s better to be too early rather than too late. It’s possible for a hitter to be early in their timing and still barrel a baseball and do damage. If a hitter is late, then he will be forced to rush everything in his swing and his chances for quality contact are very low. Hitting a baseball hard and far is all about how a hitter gathers force and then transfers that force into the baseball with his swing. If a hitter is late and rushed, then he cannot gather the force necessary to hit a ball hard. If the hitter is early, then he can still keep his gathered force built up by keeping his hands back and sinking into his legs before launching his swing.

If a hitter’s timing is off, start there before worrying about any other reasons why the hitter may be unsuccessful at the plate.

P – Pitch Selection

Assuming that a hitter is seeing the ball well and is on time, the next step is pitch selection. In order to be successful, a hitter must be swinging at the right pitch. Mike Trout (or insert your favorite MLB hitter here), as good as he is, still can’t hit a slider in the dirt. Pitch selection and approach require their own article (or several), but the bottom line for this article is that a hitter must have excellent pitch selection in order to be successful. The best swing in the world will not be successful if the hitter is swinging at balls out of the zone or he has a bad approach in terms of what pitches he is looking for.

If a hitter is seeing the ball well and is on time, but it still struggling, the next step is to evaluate his pitch selection. Does he have a good plan based on the situation, the pitcher, and the count? Or is he just up at the plate swinging at anything that “looks” like a good pitch?

In order to be successful at the plate, a hitter has to see the ball, be on time, and swing at the right pitches. If something is breaking down in any of those areas, start there before worrying about the next step – the swing.

S – Swing

Now we get to the swing. This is often the first place that players (and coaches) jump to when a hitter is struggling at the plate. “Hey Coach, do you see anything wrong with my swing” is a question that is extremely common. It’s not a wrong question because there very well could be something wrong with the swing that needs to be fixed. The swing is the most common thing to talk about and focus on. That comes from a good place because a hitter ABSOLUTELY needs a good swing in order to be successful. But, it’s a waste of time focusing on the swing if a hitter is failing at any of the previous three steps.

If the hitter is seeing the ball well, on time, and swinging at the right pitches, THEN it’s time to think about mechanical breakdowns in the swing. We cover how we teach the swing in our Hitting Timeless Truths articles, but the main point to take away from this article is to make sure that hitters and coaches are focused on the right things in the right order to achieve hitting success.

It’s Called Hitting For a Reason

To be an elite hitter at any level, a hitter must follow these four Hitting STePS in order. Hitters should always be working on their swings, but it’s vital to remember that it’s called hitting, not swinging. If the swing was actually all that mattered to be successful at the plate, then batting averages would be a lot higher and there would be a lot more good hitters. The 5 o’clock heroes would always be absolute dudes in the game. The reality is that success in the batter’s box (aka when it actually matters) comes down to more than just the swing. In order to be successful, a hitter must: SEE the ball, be on TIME, swing at the right PITCH, and then have a good SWING.

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