Complete Hitting: Complete Hitting is the idea that as a hitter, you are able to accomplish everything that is asked of you at the plate. A complete hitter must be able to not only pull the inside pitch but let balls on the outer half get deep in the zone to drive to the opposite field. A complete hitter must have the ability to hit balls in every zone so there are no holes in the swing. A complete hitter must be able to hit both fastballs as well as off speed pitches by having a balanced approach at the plate. A complete hitter must be able to hit behind the runner and execute on a hit and run when the situation calls for it. A complete hitter must be able to bunt the ball successfully when called upon and know where the ball should be placed. A complete hitter must be able to drive in runners from scoring position and always know what their job is. Finally, a complete hitter has to understand the mental aspects of hitting and how to use the information the opposing pitcher provides to create a better opportunity for success. Remember, even hall of famers fail 7 out of 10 times they walk up to the plate. To become a complete hitter you must dedicate yourself to working on aspects of hitting each and every day. It doesn’t matter how good you are now or what level of baseball you are playing, you can always become a better hitter by putting time into the specifics. In baseball natural ability can only take you so far and there are so many things asked of us as hitters, it takes this kind of dedication to truly be good. Becoming a complete hitter is what every player should strive towards and aspire to be!
1. 9 zones 9 swings: When we break down the strike zone into sections, there are nine zones that pitchers work on throwing to and all of these are strikes. The zones are
- Up In Up Middle Up Away
- Middle In Middle Middle Middle Away
- Low In Low Middle Low Away
Each one of these zones has a specific swing that is slightly different from the others. It is absolutely necessary to work on hitting to all nine zones in practice with Dry Swings, Tee Work and Soft toss to become a complete hitter. If you don’t work on hitting to these zones in practice, you WILL NOT be able to do it come game time.
a. The Inner Third: When making contact with pitches on the inner half the barrel is connecting with the ball out in front of the body angled towards the pull side. The knob of the bat must lead the hands toward the ball and stay in between the hitter’s body and the baseball thus giving us the phrase “hands inside the ball” which I’m sure many of you have heard. After contact the hands must also be extended through the baseball to the pull side, this will provide for the most amount of distance on the ball. When attacking a pitch low and in the swing is more drastically “down to” and “up through” the ball than a pitch up and in. The reason for swinging “down to” the ball and “up through” the ball is because of the angle of the pitch and what we are trying to accomplish as a hitter. We want to generate backspin on the ball so it will carry through the air, but we want to hit solid line drives as well. The pitcher on the mound is throwing on a downward angle towards home plate, so if we swing down to the baseball because our hands and bat are starting above the strike zone, then connect with the middle to bottom third of the baseball and swing up through it, the result is a line drive with backward rotation providing for a longer flight path and carry. On the pitch middle in we are still “down to” and “up through” the ball but not as drastically as the low pitch. On the pitch up in the strike zone the swing is more level but still “down to” and “up through” the baseball. On the high pitch the hitter must still concentrate on hitting the middle to bottom third of the ball as this provides for the best possible flight path.
b. The Middle Third: When attacking a pitch down the middle the hitter must let the ball get slightly deeper in the zone to drive it up the middle. Ideally we want contact with the ball to occur in the region even with our front side to slightly out in front of our body. The same principles of “down to” the ball and “up through” the ball apply here but after contact with the ball on pitches down the middle, the hands must extend through the baseball towards center field.
c. The Outer Third: When attacking a pitch on the outer third of the plate, a hitter must let the ball get deep in the zone in relation to the body and drive the ball off of their back leg to the opposite field. If a hitter makes contact with a ball on the outer third out in front of the body, the hitter loses power because of an inability to extend through the baseball to the opposite field. The end result of making contact with a pitch on the outer third in front of the body is called “rolling over” which causes either a weak fly ball or a slow ground ball to the pull side Again, the same principles of “down to” the ball and “up through” the ball are applied with pitches on the outer third.
So as you can see each zone has a slightly different variation of the swing. We must make contact with these pitches at those points to achieve the full potential of the swing. Making contact at these points enables a hitter to extend through the baseball properly getting the most distance and drive out of the swing.
2. Situational Hitting: Situational hitting is important to becoming a Complete Hitter and there are many situations in baseball where executing properly can be the difference in the ball game. Examples of situational hitting are Hit & Runs, Bunts, Hitting behind runners and driving a fly ball to the outfield with a man on third and less than two outs. Learning how to execute these techniques and what situations to use them in is important to you becoming the best hitter you can be.
a. Inside out Swing: The inside out swing is another great tool to have in your repertoire as a hitter. Major leaguers like Derek Jeter and Placido Polanco do this better than anyone in the game. The inside out swing is the ability to keep your hands drastically inside the ball and hit a pitch on the inner half to the opposite field. There are many situations where this is useful including hit and runs and when it is necessary to hit behind a runner to move them over. This is a very difficult swing to master and it takes lots of practice to get good, but learning this technique is important to becoming a complete hitter. Knowing how to do this properly will up your value as a player and make you more important to your team.
b. Hit & Run: The hit & run is something that most coaches love to use, but often can’t because their players aren’t able to accomplish the task. A hit and run puts pressure on the defense by having the runner on 1st base steal causing the middle infielder on the opposite side of the hitter to cover 2nd base leaving a hole so big you could drive a truck through it. This hitter’s job is to hit the ball on the ground to the opposite field through the hole opened up by the middle infielder covering the bag. This enables the runner to go from 1st base to 3rd base successfully leaving a 1st and third situation for the next hitter. The ideal counts to call a hit & run are 2-0, 2-1, 3-1 because these are traditionally fastball counts where the pitcher is looking to throw a strike. If executed properly the hit & run is an unbelievably valuable tool to have in your arsenal. On a hit & run there are two places the hitter can NEVER hit the ball, up the middle and in the air. If the ball is hit up the middle then the middle infielder can turn an easy double play because he was covering the bag and if the ball is hit in the air, the runner who stole is left hung out to dry and gets doubled up back at 1st. To execute with consistency players must work on hitting the ball on the ground to the opposite field. During BP at every practice, every hitter should step to the plate with a plan and a portion of that plan should be hitting the ball on the ground to the opposite field. This will give you as a coach the flexibility to call on any player in a hit and run situation as well as give the players the confidence and ability to execute when it is asked of them during the game.
c. Hitting Behind Runners: Hitting behind runners is another important aspect of the game of baseball and essential to playing winning baseball. There are times that every hitter should be able to move a runner over without bunting by hitting behind the runner. This is something that should also be worked on in practice but generally the problem here lies with players not knowing or understanding when they should be doing this. Hitting behind a runner is not something a 3rd base coach will have in his repertoire of signs so the hitter must know and understand when he should be looking to execute this. Another important aspect of this is a hitter’s pitch selection. In this situation the hitter should be looking to let a ball on the outer half of the plate get really deep in the zone. Many hitters don’t understand how to execute in these situations so coaching them in these finer points is necessary for them to become better baseball players and for your team to win more games.
d. Runner on 3rd with less that 2: Often times with a runner on third base and less than two outs, hitters do not execute getting the run in. The easiest way to score that run from third is by hitting a fly ball to the outfield, having the runner from third tag up and trading the out for the run. Often times in these situations hitters are not only too anxious but have terrible pitch selection at the plate. If asked what they are looking for in these situations, most youth athletes will tell you a fastball. Even if that fastball is right down the pipe and you crush it, you may end up hitting it right at an infielder resulting in an out with that runner still sitting on 3rd. In these situations, ideally as a hitter we want to look for a ball up in the zone that is easily driven to the outfield. This will give the team a better opportunity at scoring more runs, resulting in more wins. This will also result in each individual player on the team with higher RBI totals over the course of their careers and the confidence that given the opportunity they know how to drive in runs. Hitters should work on this situation at practice as part of their everyday routine during BP.
e. Bunting: Bunting is something that every hitter should be able to do but so many can’t. As a coach this drives me insane because it is so often overlooked but yet such an important aspect of the game. Bunting is not difficult but like anything else, it must be worked on to achieve consistency. Many hitters have terrible form when it comes to bunting and it is attention to detail that enables the execution. When bunting, the bat should always be angled upwards at a 45 angle. This will help the ball to have a downward trajectory and prevent it from popping up in the air. The arms should be extended but not locked with the top hand thumb and pointer fingers pinched together resting behind the bat to prevent injury and provide give. The bat should also be out in front of our bodies to give the ball a better chance at staying fair. When bunting the handle of the bat should control the direction. When bunting down the third base line the bat head should be angled outward to push the ball in that direction and the handle should be pulled inward towards the body. When bunting down the first base line the handle of the bat should be pushed outward angling the barrel towards first base.
E1. Sacrifice: Often times players forget what their job is in sac situations even though it is self explanatory. Your job is to SACRIFICE yourself so the runner can get into scoring position. This means that it doesn’t matter how early the bunt is shown, especially due to the fact that most of the time everyone in the park knows the bunt is on. The most important thing to do is EXECUTE and get the bunt down properly. Show early and make sure you get into a solid bunting position with a properly angled bat and in a quality bunting stance. This will allow the hitter to focus on the task at hand and the path of the ball. There is absolutely no excuse for not being able to get a bunt down and it can be the difference in the game. Work on it in practice and get good because the older a player gets, the less tolerant a coach becomes with the inability to execute in key situations.
E2. Push Bunt: The push bunt is a fantastic tool to have in your game and it can enable a slow runner to bunt for a base hit. The placement of a push bunt is key and good timing is important as well. The push bunt should be placed past the pitcher between the 1st and 2nd baseman in a territory referred to as no man’s land because there is no player in range to make the play. The hitter should get into position to bunt when the pitcher gets to his load position and keep his arms in close to his body. As the ball is coming towards the plate you extend your arms into the ball and step towards first base pushing the ball into that hole we previously discussed. When properly executed, regardless of speed, anyone can beat this ball out to 1st.
3. Squeeze: The squeeze bunt is one of the most important reasons that every player should know how to bunt. A squeeze play can be extremely effective if used in the right situations but often there is only one opportunity to execute so it must be done right. The hitter should be squaring to lay down the bunt as late as possible but still concentrating on form to provide the best opportunity at success. The squeeze should be practiced during BP every day and by practicing it, players will feel more comfortable executing during the game.
3. Mental preparation: Mental preparation plays a huge role in success and failure at the plate. There are a few different techniques that can be used to mentally prepare for at-bats and they are used in different situations. Mental preparation is important to incorporate into your game because it can be used in every at-bat to make you a more successful hitter.
a. Visualization: Visualization techniques are used by hitters at every level of professional baseball to make them better. When you are hitting off a tee, taking dry swings or hitting soft toss, visualizing a pitcher on the mound and seeing him in his wind up before executing your swing makes every swing you take more realistic. This gives you an opportunity to see success more often and translates into more game swings taken in practice. When using visualization it is important to make it as real as possible so don’t just see any pitcher on the mound, see a 6’1” 195 lb lefty with an 87 mph fastball, cutter and big curveball. By focusing at this higher level you will maximize the drill.
b. Analyzing a pitcher: Many baseball players are told by their coaches to watch the pitcher before the game begins and to watch the pitcher during the game but many of those coaches aren’t explaining to their players what to look for and how to use the information they are getting. Due to this lack of communication between coaches and their players, the players don’t realize how much this information can help them. At the professional level every hitter uses this information to increase their chance of success each time they step up to the plate. Before the game begins the players should be looking for a number of things from the pitcher. They should first be looking for a release point so they can find the arm slot better when they step up to the plate. They should be looking for what pitches that particular pitcher has in his arsenal, as well as which of those pitches he can consistently throw a strike with. They should also be watching the catcher set up and figure out where this particular pitcher likes to work. As the game progresses the pitcher will continue to give you more information. Many pitchers fall into specific rhythms in which they like to work. They use their set of pitches in a certain way and many pitchers go into the game with a plan for working certain types of hitters. Some pitchers have more complicated plans, while other pitchers will work righties one way and lefties another way. If you are able to get an idea of what the pitcher is trying to accomplish and what his plan is, it can make the difference in your at-bats, your teams at-bats and can potentially make the difference in the game. For instance, if you notice throughout the game that the pitcher is trying to lock the hitters up on the inside part of the plate in 2-2 counts with a fastball, when you get up to the plate in the 7th inning of a one run ballgame with a runner on second base and happen to find yourself in a 2-2 count, you can look for the pitch on the inner half and drive it to left field for a game winning hit. The bottom line is that every pitcher provides us with a tremendous amount of information about what he is doing but it is our job as hitters to figure out what his game plan is and use it against him. Utilizing this technique can make the difference in a player, a game, a team and in a season. The more you learn about analyzing pitchers, the better player/coach you will be.