Understanding Reaction Time as it Pertains to Batting Practice
It is disappointing to realize that I have screwed up many of my hitting students over the years because I did not consider reaction time, when it came to throwing batting practice. I should have known better, but, being a believer in challenging players to help them improve, I forgot reaction time, over challenged players, and messed up their timing, even though my intentions were good.
Why I should have known better is from my experience as a major league player. Often, in the off season I would bat with pitching machines turned up very fast to develop my hitting reaction time, knowing I would soon face ninety plus miles per hour speeds at the beginning of spring training. However, I would get to spring training and initially swing at those top speeds, when the ball was half way to home plate, because I was too quick. How can that be?
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It is simple – taking batting practice from a machine throwing 70mph from 40 feet away requires the same reaction time of around 100 mile per hour pitch. Most of the pitchers I faced were throwing 90, making me too quick for the average fast ball.
Understanding that reaction times are different, based on the distance away from home plate, is crucial for batting practice pitchers, so they do not “throw” batters timing off, especially players in pony league, high school, college and professional baseball.
Reaction Time Batting Practice Tips to Know
The important thing to know is that 60 mph from 45 feet is equivalent to 80 mph from 60 feet and 60 mph from 40 feet is the same as the reaction time for 90 mph. The thing that is important to note is the distance batters face in games. That 60 miles per hour from 45 feet is the same timing for little league players as that is their game distance, but 60 from 45 feet for the high school player is different, as noted above.
As most coaches throw batting practice from much less than regulation distances once players reach the pony league and high school pitching levels, it is necessary that batting practice pitchers do not over challenge those players, so their timing gets off.
For example, batters facing speeds at 60 miles per hour from 40 feet are ready for a pitcher throwing 90 miles per hour, but the average varsity high school fastball is around 82. Unless players are facing a flamethrower, there is a good chance their timing is off, and especially when thinking of off speed pitches.
With that in mind, a couple of further points:
I often throw the same speed from 45 feet to little league players as I do to high school players, because the distance is regulation for little league players, but much closer for high school pitching distance.
It is generally easier to speed ones bat up when late, then to wait for balls when timing is too quick, which is another reason to not over challenge batters.
It is even more of a reason to vary speeds during batting practice for players of all ages, so their hitting timing is not locked in to one speed.