Core Savvy Coach Matt Page leads the way in the 2014 Pre-Season NAIA All-American class.
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I would say that the biggest issue at the amateur level is that no one teaches kids to develop a routine. Having a routine is so important to success in baseball because our bodies respond to repetition. In this article I want to break down what a solid batting practice and pre-game routine for a position player. Let’s start off with what a successful batting practice routine looks like.
BP Routine -
I will go through a typical routine. Note that every Coach has a different routine, this is just the format I have seen most in my personal baseball career. The first round of batting practice is generally 8-10 swings. During these first 8-10 swings you should be focusing on seeing the baseball deep and going the other way. The reason we want to get used to seeing the ball deep is to get our eyes accustomed to letting the baseball travel. When we consciously force ourselves to go to the opposite field we naturally wait longer. The key to this first round of batting practice is stay rhythmic and relaxed. Do not get jumpy.
During your second round of batting practice your coach will most likely put in some form of situational hitting. On my teams, we start the second round with three hit and runs. After three successful hit and runs we then go into three swings moving a runner from second to third with less than two outs. These first six swings of the second round should be to the right side of the field on the ground or deep enough for a baserunner to tag up. The final three swings of the second round of batting practice are simulating scoring a runner from third. After this round, you should begin to feel your hands get going and comfortable.
The third and final round of batting practice is where you now can work on anything you want. During this final round you should still be hitting with a purpose. What I mean by “hit with a purpose” is have a plan. For example, pulling home runs, going gap to gap, hitting the ball up the middle, going oppo and moving a runner over are all plans you can use for your third round.
Pre-Game Routine -
The pre-game routine is the one I find amateur players have the most trouble with. The purpose of a pre-game routine is to get ready for todays game. The first thing I tell all my players about a successful pre-game routine is to allow yourself ample time to do individual stretches. Execute your personal stretches before you do anything else. Everyone’s body is different, some guys may need more time than others. Your stretching routine should not change to allow your body to become accustomed to your plan.
After you are done stretching, guys have a variety of things they do next to prepare. Some choose to hit until they cannot feel their hands and others sit down on the bench until game time. You can choose to do whatever you want during this time, but one thing I will say is that the guy who is sitting on the bench relaxing before the game usually won’t be playing baseball much longer. Find something during this time to keep you engaged. Pepper or classic games like flip are a good way to stay in a baseball mentality during this pre-game down time.
The best hitters in the world are fastball hitters. The ability to recognize and swinging at fastball strikes is what separates the good hitters from the great ones. What is the trademark of a great hitter? Great hitters are aggressive and they swing at strikes. They usually don’t swing at bad pitches and seldom get caught out on their front foot. Great hitters have a well developed mental strike zone through thousands of repetitions.
The goal of every at bat is to look for a pitch to drive. The process of getting good pitches to hit comes through an understanding of the fastball counts.
What are fastball counts?
Fastball counts are the counts in an at-bat when the hitter can confidently expect a fastball from the pitcher. Their are six fastball counts.
You can reasonably expect to see a good pitch to hit in these counts because the pitcher is behind.
The 0-0 count is the one that I find amateurs have the most trouble with. Their are a lot of different philosophies when it comes to the 0-0 count. Personally, I believe that no pitcher in the history of baseball has ever wanted to get behind a hitter 1-0. Every pitchers mentality is to get ahead with strike one. This does not mean you are 100% swinging at the first pitch. What I like to tell players is to treat the 0-0 count like a 3-0 count. In both the 0-0 and the 3-0 count, the pitcher is going to try and bring something into the strike zone. I tell my players to be as selective as you would on a 3-0 count, with a green light to swing (look for one pitch). Too often at the amateur level the 0-0 pitch is taken for strike one and it is the best pitch of the at-bat. To instantly raise your Batting Average figure out what the pitcher is getting over for strike one and jump on it.
The 2-0 and 3-1 counts are the best hitters counts. When a pitcher is 2-0 or 3-1 he cannot get back even with the hitter on one pitch. What this means is that the pitcher must throw a strike in the 2-0 and 3-1 counts. Since the pitcher cannot get back even with one pitch, these two counts are the only times when the hitter can afford to take a strike if he does not get the pitch he is looking for. I tell all my players to shrink the strike zone in these counts and look for one pitch only.
In an at-bat a hitter will usually only see one good pitch to hit. If he sees more than one good pitch to hit, he's lucky. How well a hitter handles the one good pitch he sees will determine the outcome of the at-bat. Understand the six fastball counts and you will see a lot of success throughout you career.
The primary source of power in hitting is your hips. Coaches have many different philosophies when it comes to where the power in hitting is generated from. At Core Savvy Baseball we teach the rotational hitting style which means the hips are the most essential part of producing bat speed. For years, I have heard coaches across the nation talk about the importance of a hitters backside. Not once in all those years did I hear a top hitting coach talk about the importance of a hitters hips.
Let's get into what exactly the hips do in the rotational swing. First and foremost, the hips are vital to pull a hitters backside around.
Their are three kinetic links that make up a hitters backside :
1. Back Shoulder
2. Back Hip
3. Back Knee
These three links that make up a hitters backside must be pulled around and through rotationally by the three links on the frontside of a hitter (front shoulder, front hip, front knee).
I have heard top hitting instructors say everything from "hit the ball with your back shoulder" to "hit the ball with your back knee" in order to help players understand that they must get their backside around. The part that most coaches commonly leave out is the hips. The reason for this is because most amateur coaches do not fully understand how to teach a hitter to utilize his hips. Most amateurs today have swings that are back shoulder and back knee oriented, meaning they have completely left out the most important part of the the swing (the hips).
So how do we use our hips to generate power? The most important part of getting your hips going is what we call having good "counter-rotation" (hip-cock). You have been watching MLB players use this technique for years and probably did not even know it. Take a look below at All-Star Bryce Harper. Notice how well he counter-rotates all three links (front shoulder, front hip, front knee) but most importantly look at his front hip. This is the hip-cock necessary to produce the monstrous bat speed Harper possess.
"I never saw a good hitter who didn't have good hip-cock" - Ted Williams
Below is another great example of proper hip-cock by Robinson Cano. Look at how well Cano counter-rotates his hips to create torque. Once Cano's front foot hits the ground his hips will explode up and through the baseball, pulling his bat along for the ride. Cano actually counter-rotates all three links to generate power, which is the best way to do it.
Look at Cano's front shoulder and front knee. Notice how they are both counter-rotating back with his hips. This is exactly what good counter-rotation looks like. If you do not counter-rotate your hips it does not matter how well you counter-rotate the other two links because you will end up with bat drag.
If any of our readers have been fishing, you would know that you need to have a rhythmic counter rotation to properly cast out. When we throw a baseball, we first counter rotate (to build up energy) then we release that energy towards our target. The same rule applies to how we use our hips as hitters. We must cock our hips back before we begin our turn forward. If you do not get any hip-cock it will be almost impossible to get your hips going when it is time to begin your rotational turn. Without proper hip-cock, hitters will almost exclusively be disconnected and have an arms-first swing which diminishes bat speed (linear swing). Like I mentioned before, if you do not hip-cock you will have a ton of bat drag because of the missing link in the middle of the chain.
Take a look below at what a swing looks like with zero hip-cock (missing middle link). Notice how much bat drag the hitter has. Although the hitter loads his hands and weight shifts back fine, there is still no counter-rotation from his hips to generate torque. All the hitter has left to generate bat speed are his arms.
Poor bat speed is probably the biggest issue at the amateur level. The reason for this is because most kids are never taught to hip-cock properly in order to create bat speed.
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