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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Off-season hitting - an overlooked drill

This time of year, hitters are gearing up for the upcoming season probably by focusing on their hitting mechanics and taking a ton of swings.  One valuable drill that tends to be overlooked is standing-in on pitchers.  "Standing-in" involves a hitter standing in the batters box and doing everything they normally would do during an at-bat except swing.  One of the tough things about this time of year, especially if you are indoors, is getting your timing down as a hitter.  Even if you are receiving live batting practice, you probably are not being thrown pitches from the full distance or from a pitcher throwing with full mechanics and full velocity.  Pitching machines can simulate velocity, breaking pitches, and distance but they don't generally allow hitters to practice their rhythm or timing all that well.  This is why early in the season pitchers usually have the advantage.  They have been able to practice virtually everything during the off-season even though they may have done it indoors.  The only adjustment they make is just taking everything outside once the season starts.  Hitters, on the other hand, can swing hundreds of times a day using tees, soft-toss, short toss, and pitching machines but it is not nearly the same as facing live pitching outside in a game-like situation.  Although hitters are not swinging the bat, standing in allows hitters to get a game-like view of pitches being thrown in order to work on their rhythm and timing.  If done correctly, standing in can decrease the adjustment time once they get outside.

Here are 10 tips to get the most out of it:

  1. Ask permission.  Most pitchers have no problem with batters standing in because it helps them also.  However, some may not want you to stand in until they have worked on what they need to work on especially if it's a mechanical thing.  Having a batter stand-in is a bit of an added distraction for pitchers so don't stand-in until they are ready.
  2. Wear a helmet.  Obviously.
  3. Play games in your head.  I indicated in many posts how important the mental side of a player usually has a big factor in making a player go from good to great.  This drill is no different.  Mentally, a player thinks he is in a real game.  The crowd, runners on base, big game pressure, etc. are all a reality in the player's mind even though he may be in a gym somewhere.  Pretend you are in different situations.  Runner on second, no outs and look for a pitch to move the runner over.  Runner on third, infield in, less than two outs.  Look for a pitch up in the zone to drive to the outfield.  Two strikes, have to put the ball in play.  Never just go through the motions.  You are practicing the mental side of your game as well.
  4. Know what's coming. Early on when you are standing-in, know what the pitcher is going to throw.  You get a chance to see that pitch from start to finish without the need to hit it.  You can take that info and use it against other pitchers.  
  5. Don't know what's coming.  Obviously, this is what you are going to do in a game so it's to your benefit to practice this way for at least some of the pitches.  Ask the catcher to give signs instead of having the pitcher announce what pitch he is throwing.  Like a game, focus on the release point and try to pick up spins, etc. to identify the pitch.  Tell the pitcher if he is tipping off his pitches too soon.  He needs that feedback too.
  6. Zoom in.  When the pitcher is standing on the mound, look at the entire pitcher equally.  As the pitcher starts his motion, narrow your vision/focus (zoom in) to eventually see only the ball and hand at his release point.   Practice this visual drill because it's essential come game time.
  7. Focus on rhythm and timing.  This is the big reason for standing-in.  It enables the hitter to focus on the timing of their load, the stride, and the firing of the hips, hands, and bat.  The batter works on the rhythm and timing of all this but just doesn't swing.
  8. "Use all fields".  Make sure your mechanics, rhythm, and timing are not just geared towards pulling the ball.  Doing #3 correctly helps with this. 
  9. Track the ball to the glove.  Pete Rose used to follow the ball all the way back to the catcher's glove when he took pitches.  Check out the second pitch he sees in this clip of his record breaking at-bat.  This is a good habit because it allows you to see how the ball moves during the last 10-15 feet of the pitch.  Many times a pitch will look like a strike coming in but will move quite a bit in the last 5-10 feet and end up being a ball.  This information is missed if the batter keeps his eyes directed in front of home plate when he takes the pitch. 
  10. Get some variety.  Stand in on multiple pitchers.  Righties, lefties, 3/4 arm angles, over the top throwers, etc.  Stand in on them all.  You're going to see all types during the season.

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