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Baseball Tips

Hitting


General
It has been said that hitting a baseball well is the single most difficult sports skill to master. Even in the pro’s, the best hitters only get a hit 3 out of every 10 at bats. One definite thing about hitting is that to do it well requires knowing the proper mechanics involved and practice, practice, practice. Some general principals of hitting are to study the pitcher (get a feel for his speed, does he have curve/change-up, does he do anything different when he throws it, etc.). Keep your eyes on the ball through contact. Know the strike zone and get a good pitch to hit. Know the situation (count, score, runners, outs) and what it calls for. Be aggressive, the hitter should load and stride on every pitch and be up there thinking hit, hit, hit, so that he is ready to explode with the hips and hands if it is a strike. If the pitch is not a strike don’t swing.

Bat
Since good bat speed is a critical element to good hitting, it is important that the bat not be too big or heavy. A good test to determine if a bat is too heavy is to grab the handle of the bat with one hand and hold it straight out to the side, parallel to the ground. If it starts to shake or the bat head starts to drop in less then 12-15 seconds, then the bat is too big. Most boys in the 9-14 age range do best with the 20-24 ounce bat.

Grip
The grip on the bat should be comfortable in the hand, ideally the middle knuckles on each hand would line up. This helps in executing the proper swing. The grip should be fairly loose up until you ‘load’ particularly with your top hand. Don’t choke the bat with such a tight grip that it tenses up all the muscles in your arms and shoulders.

Stance
Usually for younger players the Parallel or Squared stance is recommended. This means that the batter has both feet equal distance from home plate. The batter’s feet should start a little more then shoulder width apart. The batter should be close enough to the plate that he can comfortably reach down and touch the outside edge of the plate with his bat. This will insure that he can reach the outside pitch as well. At this point weight should be equally balanced between the front and back legs. Both hips and shoulders should be parallel to the ground. Batter should have a slight bend in the knees. Hands should be just off the back shoulder with the bat angled at about 45%. Where he stands up or back in the batters box will depend mostly on the speed of the pitcher and whether he has a breaking ball or not and if the situation might call for it.

Load & Stride
Once the pitcher begins his movement forward with the pitch, the batter should then ‘load’. What this involves is a slight movement inward and backwards (about 2 inches) of the batters hands, shoulders, hips and knees. The batter’s weight shifts from a 50/50 to a 40/60 front to back ratio. During this load it is important to not move the head and to keep your eyes on the ball.

The stride consists of a short (5-7 inches) step with the front foot either directly towards the pitcher or at a slight angle towards home plate. You want to lead with heel and land on the ball of your foot. You still want to keep your front shoulder in and your hands and weight back during your stride. Picture it as stepping on thin ice. It is important to not swing until your front foot has landed, as you want to hit against a firm front leg.

Swing
After the batter has completed his load and stride, and upon picking up the pitchers release point and picking up the ball and has concluded that the pitch coming at him is a strike, the batter then initiates his swing. The swing involves rotating up on the ball of your back foot (this is known as squishing the bug). The hips begin to rotate and the hands (bat knob) go towards the ball.

You want to avoid an upper cut swing by swinging down on the ball. As you start your swing you’ll want to keep your hands above the ball and the fat part of the bat above your hands. Your head should remain still with your chin going from your front shoulder to your back shoulder when finished with your swing. At time of contact you want to have your bottom hand palm facing down and your top hand palm facing up. This will increase the chances of a line drive, which provides you with the best chance of reaching base. As you come in contact with the ball your arms will form a V with the bat to which you should be looking down through to the ball hitting the bat. Swing through the ball as if you’re hitting more then one ball and follow through after contact.

Special Situations
When facing a very fast pitcher, you may want to place your stance further back in the batter’s box to give you more reaction time. You may also want to start your load and stride a little earlier then usual. It is important to learn to hit to all fields, for against a very fast pitcher, you will probably be looking to hit balls to center and right fields.

Hitting the Curve, firstly involves recognizing that it is a curve. Study the pitcher when he warms up and when he faces other batters to see if he has one and if so, does he throw it any differently then his fastball (lower arm slot, cocked wrist, etc.) The curve ball has a different spin then a fastball, so the earlier you pick up the spin of the ball the better. If you keep your hands and weight back properly you should still be in a good position to hit the curve. Also, quite often at the younger age, it is very difficult for the younger pitcher to throw the curve for a strike, so you may want to lay off of it until you fall behind in the count.

Bunting
Bunting has become a lost art. At each level up the ladder, runs become harder and harder to generate and sometimes teams must ‘manufacture’ runs. Bunting is a great tool in manufacturing runs. Sometimes you may want to bunt for a hit, sacrifice a runner over into scoring position or ‘squeeze’ a run in through bunting. When bunting, you will want to move up in the batter’s box towards the pitcher. This will keep your bat in fair territory and also assist you in bunting any breaking balls before they break. Generally when bunting for either a sacrifice or Squeeze lay you will want to square around. This means turning your feet and shoulders so that you are facing the pitcher. Don’t step on the plate or you’ll be called out if you get the bunt down. The top hand should slide down the bat somewhere around the mid point and ‘cradle the bat’ with your thumb on the top with the fingers underneath. To protect your fingers from getting hit, don’t wrap your top hand fingers around the bat. You want to hold your bat at the top of the strike zone with the bat angled up and out in front of you. You want to have your arms extended with a slight bend at the elbows. Since your bat is already at the top of the strike zone, if the pitch is higher then your bat, let it go (unless it is a squeeze play). If the pitch is lower, then bend at the knees to bunt the ball and try to avoid dipping the bat head as this will increase the chances for a popup and could result in a double play. The batter simply wants to ‘catch’ the ball with the bat and wants to avoid slapping at it. The best bunts are those down the lines about 20-30 feet.

 

Pitching

General
It has been said that good pitching will usually beat good hitting. The teams that have been the most consistently successful, have been those with good pitching. At the youth level, one of the most important attributes is the ability to throw a good fastball in the location you want to. Establishing a good fastball with good control, must preceed the development of a offspeed pitch, as generally the offspeed is set up by being ahead in the count and having the batter anticipate a fastball.



Basic Pitch’s
The basic fastball grips are the two seam and four seam fastball. The two seam fastball is griped along the two short seams. If thrown with the correct motion, this pitch will tend to sink and tail away slightly. The four seam fastball is gripped across seams. This pitch will provide for a harder straighter pitch. The four seam grip is the grip that ideally should be used by the fielders to generate a hard straight throw.


Two-Seam Fastball ....... Four-Seam Fastball
The second recommended pitch to develop is the change-up. Four time NL Cy Young winner Greg Maddux has used this pitch extremely effectively over his career. There are multiple grips that can be used. One of them is the circle change (Maddux’s ) grip where the pitcher forms a circle with his thumb and pointer finger and places it on the side of the ball and then he places his next 2 fingers on the top of the ball. His pinky finger rests underneath. Many young pitchers hands will not be large enough to throw the circle change and may have to throw the 3 finger change where he grips the ball deep into his hand with his 2ed, 3rd and 4th fingers on top of the ball with his thumb and pinky underneath. Another is the football change where the ball is gripped land thrown like a football.

Once the young pitcher has developed a good fastball and change-up, then he can develop the curve. The curve should be thrown with the same arm slot as the fastball and change, but with a different grip and hand location. The curve is gripped with the pointer and the middle finger, with the middle finger along the bottom of the horseshoe shaped seam. Instead of releasing the ball with your hand behind the ball like you would with a fastball, you should release it with your hand to the side of the ball, over the top, with a pull down of the ball.

Set-up
With no runners on, the pitcher will generally be is the Wind-Up position. The pitcher should place his heels on the rubber about 6-8 inches apart. The pitcher should hold his glove in front of him so that the batter and base coach’s will not be able to see what grip he is using.

When receiving the sign, you should be in a comfortable position with your knees slightly bent and your shoulders and hips square to the plate. Your first movement will be a short step back and slightly to the side with your left foot (for Right handed pitcher, for lefty reverse all future left/right references). Try to keep your head and shoulders still during this step back. Your hands may move up towards your chin or eyes. It is important to keep balanced during the remainder of the wind-up as any excess momentum one way or the other will impact the pitcher’s control. Once the left foot has stepped back the right foot moves to become flush with the rubber. The pitcher pivots his body so that his body is now facing third base (first base for lefty). While pivoting, the pitcher lifts his front leg, such that his theigh is at least parallel to the ground. This is what is refered to as the ‘Balance Point’. The pitcher’s weight should be directly over the rubber such that if he stopped in this position he would not fall one way or the other. Once in the balance point the pitcher will want to now bring his front leg down near the surface of the mound and then out towards the plate. As the pitcher begins his movement towards home plate, his hands separate thumbs down. At time of front foot landing with a slightly bent knee and on the balls of the foot and at only a slight angle to the plate, his elbows should be at shoulder height. The throwing arm should be cocked (about 90 degrees) with the fingers on top of the ball facing the shortstop or centerfielder. After the front foot lands, the hips open to the plate, which allows the body to bend forward. The lead arm rotates inward and down, the throwing arm continues smoothly through with the throwing elbow above the shoulder with the hand behind the ball, not under. The throwing arm should follow through all the way around and should finish around the lead foot ankle. The back leg should then come around and land even with the lead leg and the pitcher should now be a in a good fielding position.

With runners on base pitchers will use the ‘Stretch’ position. The stretch is the same as the wind-up, except it skips the small step back and pivot and picks up right before the start of the balance point. All other aspects of the wind-up will apply to the stretch as well.

 

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