Baseball hitting experts are not made overnight
Angels manager Mike Scioscia wrote in the foreword to my hitting book that the only thing more difficult than hitting may be the coaching of it. So true. The advancement in video technology applications makes accurate analysis easier now for many. But knowing the finer things to look for still makes accurate analysis difficult and a learned process. Baseball hitting experts have trained eyes from working with hitters and from observing many hours of video. Even those trained do not have all the hitting answers as other things determine hitting success besides the fundamentals. Timing and mindset have a big role in hitting success, too.
Also, hitting analysis is often subjective, with one coach seeing one thing and another something different. Even after a diagnosis of the mechanical issues, a trial and error process is often necessary to begin to fix any hitting flaws. Some things, like stepping in the bucket and having a big uppercut are visible by most people. But, at the advanced levels of baseball, swing analysis is hard because players are efficient with the basics. And, it only takes one little mechanical flaw to lead to a lack of success, and even the trained eye may not find those tiny mistakes.
Also, only observing a player during a game or two is rarely enough time to discern hitting fundamental faults. One thing that helps analysis is when tendencies exist. Coaches can surmise certain things with the hitter’s swing mechanics, and timing are off. For example, too many ground balls may suggest slow hips and the casting of the bat and too many pop-ups may come from a collapsing back side. But, then again, those results may come from other issues. As implied, swing analysis is never easy without study.
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Even at the youth levels, a certain amount of training is necessary for coaches to decipher hitting flaws. Following are some of the things that the untrained eye does not see that baseball hitting experts notice.
Baseball hitting experts notice the little things
Direction and Coordination
The first angle baseball hitting experts prefer to watch hitters is from the pitcher’s mound. They want to observe batters from this angle to notice the alignment of the feet, shoulders, hips and head. Any movement that opens up the front foot, hip or shoulder before beginning the swing is a sign of the player pulling off the ball. That opening up usually leads to a slow bat and rare good contact. Yet, at batting practice speeds that movement off the ball may result in all pulled balls with the opposite occurring in games. The untrained eye does not notice that slight misdirection off the ball. With the best hitters, the whole sequence of the upper and lower body turn looks effortless after a closed start.
The front angle of sight helps coaches see if the hips open completely, which gives batters the chance to drive balls to all fields. Many hitters turn more with their shoulders than their lower half, and it takes coaching experience to notice the difference.
Another thing that baseball hitting experts observe from this angle is the batter’s posture throughout the baseball swing. Any postural change leads to the hands and bat barrel changing course enough to miss the sweet spot on the bat.
Finally, the front observation post allows coaches to see where balls go according to the pitch location. Observing players pulling balls that should go up the middle is an indicator of swing problems, for example. Most coaches are happy to see any balls hit hard, whereas the trained hitting coach expects balls to go in the direction of the pitch location.
* When observation is not possible from this front angle, coaches can watch from behind the batting cage.
Stay Back and Hitting Position
After observation from the front for any directional and postural issues, coaches watch batters from the side. Noticing if hitters stay back without lunging at pitches is an absolute that is more recognizable from this side view. Observation of the launch position, bat angle and baseball swing path is possible from there, too. Anytime the knob of the bat pops into view from this side angle after the stride foot lands, the swing is wrong.
Weight Transfer and Finish
The next concern for the hitting coach is the weight transfer from the back to the front side. Without the proper shift of weight, batters pull off balls and do not drive pitches with full power to all fields. Finally, seeing if the hitter can finish the swing with two hands on the bat until the bat is completely through the contact zone is a sign of staying back and the proper hip rotation.
Of course, there is so much more to hitting than the above. Baseball hitting experts also have to notice and analyze the grip, levelness of hips and shoulders, stride length, head and eye actions, and balance from beginning to end. As implied, years of study are necessary to diagnose the finer hitting mechanics. Those without that knowledge are usually better off remaining quiet to let the hitters figure things out. Non-experts are often wrong, and do not have the knowledge to help players fix things even when their analysis is correct. Player confusion comes and they regress instead of improve.
Jack Perconte has dedicated his post major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years and writes of his experiences with over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth. Combining his playing, coaching and patenting experiences he continues to help create better baseball and sporting experiences for both athletes and their parents with his writings. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” and “Raising an Athlete,” with his third book “Creating a Season to Remember” in the works. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. Plug in Jack Perconte at YouTube and find over 80 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos or watch them here.