Last night, Ronnie Deck and I sat until after midnight discussing hitting. Ronnie spent the last year as the bullpen catcher and coach for the Baltimore Orioles big league team. I wanted to pick his brain about what they do in their system and about their hitting progression.
We talked about different hitters and their routines, but one topic in particular stuck with me. The Orioles hitting coach, Terry Crowley has been a big league hitting coach for over 20 years. Ronnie said that during their front toss drills and short bp, they spend 70% of their time working middle in. The reasoning made a lot of since to me.What so many hitting coaches, including myself, first work on, is staying inside the ball, and staying “on” a pitch middle away in order to stay through the ball. In this, we can create a lot of good bat paths and kids can hit the ball to the opposite field. I would venture to say that this is what most college and lower level pro teams first work on too. But what many coaches have created are the “slowing down” of player’s bats to stay on pitches away and off speed pitches. What has been taught by hitting coaches, even at the pro level, is that 70% of pitches you see are away or off speed. The game is ever changing, and pitching coaches know this. What we are seeing now, is more hitters struggling more than ever on the pitch in. Most of them can’t get to it successfully, and those that do, cheat with their hips and front side to get there, hooking the baseball.Here was my revelation . . . If we can get players to focus on staying through the inside pitch, and have confidence of getting there, they do not have to cheat on a pitch in. This makes it easier to stay “on” a pitch away. All hitting coaches know, that most hitters have a fear of getting beat in. When this happens they begin spinning off balls, and now they are weak on both sides of the plate.I ran this by my hitting mentor, Mitch Hannahs this morning. Mitch is a JUCO coach that every year has pro teams calling on the phone trying to get him into their system as a coach. He has the best instincts of any hitting coach I’ve ever been around. He agreed with this. In fact, he said this fall, for the same reasons (kids staying inside balls well, but barrels dragging) that he really emphasized barrel whip and throwing the bat head out front more than ever before. Stating, “That so many kids feel good about guiding the ball with good mechanics that forget how to deliver the barrel.” Teaching the kids how to get the barrel head out front while working in, will produce that whip. One of the things that he did was put bats that were “barrel heavy” in their hands to get them the feeling of throwing it out front.Take in note, all hitters are different and need different things while being taught. The way they are being taught will depend on what type of hitter they are and what their strengths and weaknesses are. I am not talking about cloning all hitters here. Any coach that does so, has no business teaching. This is simply a generalization based on the weaknesses of most hitters.
Once a hitter gets the concept of path, I agree that working in, to build confidence on getting to and through the correct contact point, without having to cheat on he ball in, will make it easier to stay, “on” pitches away. At the same time, we will make hitters more explosive and less like mechanical robots. A very good point that will elevate my teaching.