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I’ve Lied To You for A Couple Years Now…Joey Votto On His 2018 Approach

 

The Josh Donaldson interview last year was awesome, but I think THIS interview with Joey Votto may be better.  It doesn’t have the same let-the-beast-out-of-cage feeling that Donaldson contributed, but I feel Votto gives us more of a glimpse into the true art of hitting.  What Votto shares confirms what my hitters have been working on this past off season…line drive barrel control.  Precision.

Look, I love teaching my hitters the process of how to increase Ball Exit Speeds and to get the ball off the ground (optimal Line Drive Launch Angles), but as Joey Votto says, it’s not the whole story.  And this is where I’ve been lying to you for a couple years.  Actually, not lying, just not sharing the whole story. 😉

Let me explain…

Joey Votto 2018 Hitting Approach

Joey Votto talking about controlling the line drive, setting goals like getting on base half the time, & using batted ball as feedback for future swing adjustments. Photo courtesy: MLB.com

My friend and professional golf instructor Lee Comeaux knows golf, and brought this idea of “precision” to my attention a few years back.  He understands springy fascia and the spinal engine, which is a PLUS.  Also, over the past few years he’s mentored his teenage daughter to hit .600 in Texas fast-pitch softball leagues.  But most importantly, he comes from a sport where precision is king.  Ask any golfer if they’re as obsessed about Ball Exit Speeds and Launch Angles like we are, and they’ll look at you as if a third eye grew in the middle of your forehead overnight.

What good is Ball Exit Speed if the ball is not going towards the hole?  And Launch Angles matter depending on the distance to the target.  And by the way, the angled club face kind of takes care of Launch Angles for golfers anyway.

Put yourself in a golf mindset for a moment.  Imagine thinking about hitting, like you would golf?  Precision.  In the above interview, Joey Votto mentions the best hitters can hit the ball where they want, when they want.   This may not be 100% true in games, but during Batting Practice most surely.  How many of your hitters can do that?  Not many of mine, but we’re working on it.

Precision.  This is not being talked about or taught in today’s baseball and softball circles.  How to control the line drive.  The height AND width of it.  Why are we so obsessed with the vertical aspect of the field and not the horizontal?  So many coaches out there believe a hitter can’t have power without sacrificing swing quality.  An increase in power doesn’t have to dampen Batting Average and/or increase a hitter’s Strikeouts.

Precision.  How to control the line drive.  It’s not easy, but it CAN be done.  Hitters CAN have a high Batting Average (even though BA isn’t a good indicator of value anymore, according to Sabermetrics), power numbers, and low strikeout totals.  And I think Joey Votto touched on what I feel is just the tip of the iceberg.  Here are the few key things to look out for in the above interview:

  • This idea of Precision. Controlling the line drive.
  • Setting hitting goals and reverse engineering purpose of the swing.
  • The idea of using a batted ball as feedback to make adjustments (not new for golfers btw).

Without further adieu, here are…

 

My Joey Votto Interview Notes on his 2018 Hitting Approach

  • About 0:20 second mark, Votto believes talking Launch Angles isn’t telling the whole story, how complete you are as a hitter, rebuts Josh Donaldson’s “ignore coach if he tells you to hit a ground-ball” comment, all fly-balls are not good fly-balls,
  • About 1:30 minute mark, Votto talks about how hitters like Donaldson, et al. can hit a ball with any trajectory to any part of the ballpark, he uses golfer with a bag of clubs metaphor, doing anything you want at anytime is the story we’re not telling, best hitters can do everything – he brings up Mike Trout (diverse array of skills),
  • About 3:00 minute mark, Eric Byrnes asked Votto how his approach has changed since coming into league in 2007, give away less pitches, anytime he takes a swing there’s intent or purpose to each swing (not being reckless), since he’s aging as a player, Votto isn’t able to make up for swing inefficiencies he could with a young athletic swing,
  • About 4:30 minute mark, Byrnes asks Votto how he is super-human with his walk to strikeout ratio when the league really doesn’t care about inflated K quantities, making a conscious effort to cut down on K’s, goals – looked to Sabermetrics to see how he could hit .340 or .350 last year and math said he had to strikeout a bit less, mentioned a few years prior his goal was to get on base half the time (OBP would = .500), chokes up, the “con” was it led to softer contact at times, ability to foul off tough pitches, buys a better pitch later in the AB, spreading out, seeing ball a little deeper,
  • About 6:50 minute mark, Votto was asked about how he has the highest batting average in his first AB, how important is starting game off with good momentum, separated each AB like it’s their own thing, focusing on one AB at a time, every single game over an entire season, sticking with plan in the long run, Jay Bruce “to hit homer, you have to miss homers”, focus on process,
  • About 8:40 minute mark, Byrnes asked Votto, “I have a 6yo boy at home, what’s the #1 thing you’d teach him about hitting?” Let the ball be your feedback.  Spending too much time on mechanics, ball is going straight in the air, ground-ball, in the air, is the ball coming off 4-seam, on a line with backspin, story about watching Albert Pujols with Cardinals on a line with backspin.

Where PRINCIPLED Coaching Is And How To Get It (Coaching Minds Podcast Interview with Justin Lewis)

Coaching Minds Podcast with Justin Lewis

Photo courtesy: CoachingMindsPodcast.com

You just have to have a Growth Mindset.

I wanted to share an interview I recently did on the Coaching Minds Podcast with Justin Lewis.  Somebody interviewed me for a change! 😀

There are a lot of things we covered in this interview, which lasted almost 2 hours!!  I know that’s a bit long, but I feel it will be of great value to you as a sticky coach.

Also, I’ve taken the liberty to chart some of the milestone topics we covered in the interview with the time-stamps below, so you can jump around if you want and circle back.

ENJOY!

  • Why I don’t have [and frankly don’t want] my own brick and mortar hitting cage, and leveraging the internet (about 3-min mark)
  • What it takes to be a great hitting coach and get productive results with their hitters…the power is in affecting the coach and not so much the player. (about 5-min mark)
  • Where did the beginning of the Hitting Performance Lab come from? (About 8-min mark)
  • Talking about the importance or non-importance of switch hitting (about 13:00-min mark)
  • Olympic 70-foot throwing Shot Putter who said they can only throw as far as his weak side would allow him (about 14-min mark)
  • Justin asked me what qualifies you to come up with your own hitting system?  As a newbie coach, who do you go to for hitting information? How do you pick a hitting mentor?  How do you know if a hitting coach sticks close to human movement principles? (about 18:00-min mark)
  • How to sniff out Bad Science and the Placebo Effect (about the 20-min mark)
  • We discuss if Tony Gwynn could hit for more power? (about 21-min mark)
  • Real versus feel hitting mechanics…making bold adjustments…Mike Trout defending his swing against “chicken winging” by “getting on top of the ball” (about 24-min mark)
  • Talking about softball hitter who was hitting ball well before tweaking mechanics…can we make great hitters better? (about 28-min mark)
  • Breaking down and defining one of my favorite quotes the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote…principles are few, methods are many (about 30-min mark)
  • Question about whether the legs drive the torso, or NOT.  CLICK HERE for the HPL blog post I mentioned here about Dr. Serge Gracovetsky and The Spinal Engine. (about 33-min mark)
  • Talking about the importance of having a mentor…success leaves clues…breaking the One-Joint Rule…saying ‘yes’ (McCutchen) or rolling the head (Harper/Fielder) is not good for impact, but saying ‘no’ head movement is okay (about 41-min mark)
  • Talk about how UGLY Hunger Pence can look, but how effective his hitting mechanics are (about 46-min mark)
  • Talk about my early childhood and where everything started for me in my quest to find the hitting Holy Grail…transitioning from 46-foot to 60-foot mounds…paralysis by analysis for 4 years (about 47-min mark)
  • Discussed the Fixed versus Growth Mindset…“In order to change, we have to change.  In order for things to get better, we must get better” quote Justin gave. (about 54-min mark)
  • Justin asked me how my family life was growing up…fielding ground-balls palm facing the ground…the fear of having my son play tee ball…get the awful out of the way…we didn’t have to teach our toddlers how to walk (about 55-min mark)
  • Justin asked me how I ended up at Fresno State…how to get great jumps in the outfield and what I learned at a Stanford baseball camp…”the hop” and soccer goalies defending a Penalty Kick… (about 1-hour mark)
  • Justin asked me what I studied in college…my answer will SHOCK you (about 1-hour, 4-min mark)
  • What was my path after college getting into training people?  Getting certified in Yoga and other corrective certifications…loving the challenge of tracing back injuries…cultivating my passionate curiosity for human movement (about 1-hour, 6-min mark)
  • Justin asked me where I recommend a newbie should start on my blog…and this is important because there are over 200 FREE blog posts about different aspects of the swing…what makes a good swing experiment (about 1-hour, 11-min mark)
  • Describing what my online video courses are about (about 1-hour, 15-min mark)
  • We talk about Tim Tebow and his Big Leagues prospects (about 1-hour, 17-min mark)
  • Justin asked me about why I decided to do the books and get on Amazon…why I used a Fixed v. Growth Mindset Intro for the Catapult Loading System book, and jam packed the book with testimonials from other coaches getting the same if not better results that I’m getting…the origins of The Science Of Sticky Coaching book…the origins of The UGLY Truth About Hitting Ground-balls book (about 1-hour, 19-min mark)
  • We discuss how other online hitting gurus have a hard time sharing their information…and why they’re hurting the baseball/softball industry doing this (about 1-hour, 26-min mark)
  • Justin asked me what’s next for me with the site business-wise (about 1-hour, 28-min mark)
  • Justin asked me if I want to take on a college or pro-ball coaching job at some point (about 1-hour, 31-min  mark)
  • Justin asked me a couple Rapid Fire questions: what other books would I recommend or gift to people? What advice would I give to my Freshman year in college self? Do I have a daily routine that I do everyday? Something that I suck at that some would be surprised with? (about 1-hour, 33-min mark)

I had fun on the show, and I’d highly recommend you check out the Coaching Minds Podcast with Justin Lewis.  Justin’s a great guy, a fireman like he mentioned in this episode, and very much a Growth Mindset coach.  He’s doing big things with his own hitters, so please go check his Podcast episodes out if you’re a coach, drive a lot, and need something productive to listen to.  Here’s where you can find Justin and the Podcast:

Low Pitch Hacking With Homer BushHomer Bush: Hitting Low In The Zone: A New Baseball Paradigm

I first met Homer Bush over the Socials a year or so ago…

He followed me on Twitter, so I followed him.

(CLICK HERE to check him out on FanGraphs.com)

What caught my attention was that he had an intriguing book out, which we’ll cover shortly.

Homer Bush was not a big MLB guy by today’s standards, 5’10”, 180-lbs, while spending 7 years in the Bigs.

Like I mentioned earlier,

The thing that separated him from other ex-MLB guys, I follow on Twitter, was the growth mindset he showed in his book: Hitting Low in the Zone: A New Baseball Paradigm.

Typically, Big League players don’t dive into Sabermetrics, as readily as they will in the coming years, so it was refreshing to see Homer Bush taking a hard look at ways hitters can exploit inefficiencies at the Big League level by spotting Metric patterns.

Not only do his strategies work at the elite level, but do at the lower levels as well.

I read his book in a week, and thought he did a great job of showing hard evidence of WHY hitters MUST:

  • Learn how to elevate low pitches, and
  • Figure out how to hit with power to ALL fields.

If you aren’t helping your hitters grow, then they’re dying.

Here’s a short bio of Homer Bush:

  • Homer Bush was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 7th round of the 1991 amateur draft.
  • He went on to play 13 years of professional baseball.
  • Homer also played for the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and the Florida Marlins.
  • He was a member of the record setting 1998 Yankees World Series Championship team.
  • He recently authored his first book called Hitting Low in the Zone: A New Baseball Paradigm.
  • Homer is currently Director of Youth Programs for the Texas Rangers and lives in Southlake, Texas with his wife and 2 children.

Without further adieu,

Here is the…

 

Interview with Homer Bush…

Homer Bush: Hitting Low In The Zone

Homer Bush with the Yankees. Photo courtesy: bleedingyankeeblue.blogspot.com

If you were to train me for four weeks for a HUGE tournament and had a million dollars on the line, what would the training look like? What if I trained for eight weeks?

With 4 weeks of training, we’d spend 50% of the time working on proper hitting mechanics–grip & stance, load and swing path.

We’d spend 25% of the time understanding the hitting zone, as opposed to the the strike zone.

And the last 25% of the time, we’d work on your mental approach at the plate as far as focus and building on the positives, so that adjustments can be made from pitch to pitch.

With the additional 4 weeks, we’d just build on these areas with emphasis on repetition.

 

What makes you different? Who trained you or influenced you?

My major league experience allowed me to see hitting at its highest level on a daily basis. When reflecting back, it is clear that all of the elite players that I played with or against were good low ball hitters.

Some of my influences were… Tony Gwynn, Tim Raines, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Chili Davis, Darryl Strawberry, too many to name them all.

 

What are your favorite instructional books or resources on the subject? If people had to teach themselves, what would you suggest they use?

What are the biggest mistakes and myths you see in hitting? What are the biggest wastes of time?

I find that there are several myths…

  1. That the swing is level.
  2. There is no such thing as swinging through the baseball.
  3. Rotating the back hip through the zone is necessary for power.
  4. Everyone has their own way of hitting. Every batter must have similarities in their mechanics at a certain point in the hitting process.
  5. ‘Squishing the Bug’ philosophy is a joke. In my opinion the biggest waste of time is hitting off of pitching machines in indoor academies because they are too erratic and almost impossible to time.

 

Who is good at hitting despite being poorly built for it? Who’s good at this who shouldn’t be?

Yadier Molina, average height, wide body and not very fast (not your idea baseball player build) but very productive at the plate.

 

Who are the most controversial or unorthodox hitters? Why? What do you think of them?

One of the most unorthodox hitters was my former teammate, Tony Batista— unusual, open batting stance but very effective with good power.

 

Who are the most impressive lesser-known teachers?

Besides Homer Bush, Tim Raines

 

Have you trained others to do this? Have they replicated your results?

Yes, when I was coaching in the minors with the Padres, my players improved in every offensive category (runs, hits, team batting average, on-base percentage, doubles, home runs) in just one season of me working with them. I’ve also taught my own hitting clients, youth, high school and college players how to execute my hitting philosophy for immediate and consistent success at the plate.

Thank you Homer Bush for sharing such great insight.

His strategy works for softball, just as much as baseball. And believe me, defensive shifts are on their way to the lower levels(if you haven’t seen them already)

Especially once the metrics get easier to collect and manage with a score-book software, such as Game Changer.

Did you know…

Pitchers are consistently taught to keep the ball down in the zone? (I bet you already knew that),

BUT, did you know…

The Oakland Athletics recently recruited hitters with swing paths that were optimal for balls down in the zone!!!?

What do pitchers do then, when hitters begin to elevate the low pitch?! lol

Remember guys and gals, knowledge IS NOT power…it’s POTENTIAL power.  Please put Homer’s study and research to use.

Here’s how you can stay updated with Homer Bush:

Please direct any questions or comments to Homer Bush below…

Effective Velocity Helped Carlos Pena to Get On-Time & to Swing Effectively

Effective Velocity: Perry Husband on MLBNetwork with Carlos Pena

Perry Husband being featured on MLBNetwork with Carlos Pena explaining Effective Velocity. Photo courtesy: MLB.com

I’ve just put together a NEW online video course called Reaction Time Mastery, where we dig into the FOUR following topics:

  1. Forward Momentum (FoMo),
  2. Vision,
  3. Tracking, and
  4. Timing…

The Reaction Time Mastery online video course will help hitters track pitches crystal clear, accelerate decision-making reaction time, & get ON-TIME without losing swing effectiveness.

Because some of the above topics are slightly above my pay grade,

I enlisted the help of specific proven experts…

A couple Doctors, and a few “Mad Scientists” about their respective topics.

I asked these experts to contribute a 10-minute video or two to the Reaction Time Mastery online video course, and if they were up for it, an interview for the blog.

And here we are, expert interview #1!

For those who don’t know Perry Husband, he was featured on the MLB Network about the work he did with Carlos Pena using his Effective Velocity and Exit Velocity programs (EV):

CLICK HERE for an SBNation.com post about Perry Husband and his Effective Velocity system titled, “The Essence of Velocity: The pitching theory that could revolutionize baseball, if only the sport would embrace it”.

I believe Perry Husband has a truly revolutionary approach for hitters (baseball and softball).  And I wanted to share the following interview, where he answered a few pointed questions from my readers.

Just to warn you though, this post is a BEAST, and for some, may take up to 30-minutes to get through.  But let me encourage you…the information Perry distills about Effective Velocity, is golden.  

So kick up your feet, grab a brew of choice, and get to work.

Perry’s website can be found at HittingIsAGuess.com, and I’ll link to where you can find him on social media at the end of this post.

Enter Perry Husband, and his Effective Velocity system…

 

“What are some great drills to practice vision/tracking?”

Effective Velocity: Sandlot Slugger small ball training

MaxBP/Sandlot Slugger golf whiffle machine. Photo courtesy: TheStartingLineupStore.com

There are many drills that I would recommend to practice vision and tracking, but first I would say it is important to understand ‘how’ to see before you try to get better at ‘what’ to see.

Many of the vision drills that I have been introduced to, involve trying to get the eyes to focus on small details of a pitch, such as a tennis ball with a color or a number that the hitter is to identify.

I have been guilty of teaching players to focus in on small objects such as small beads with numbers and letters on them and many other detail oriented drill work.  Ask the hitter to identify and only swing at certain letters etc…..

However, what I found is that this did not lead to the student learning to identify actual pitches any better.  I am certainly not an expert in vision training, but I will try to explain my findings like this…

Imagine a ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand and the hitter using the eyes like a camera.  The center of the eye picks up infinite detail and the picture of the ball out of the hand is incredibly sharp and in focus.  The hitter sees the seams, the signature of the commissioner and yet……all that intense detail does absolutely nothing to help us know what pitch it is nor where or how fast it will arrive.

The still photo does not tell us the direction, spin, speed, pitch type or even whether it is a ball or a strike.

Now imagine the ball being recorded with an old video camera that is very unclear but shows an out of focus video of a pitch traveling 10-feet.  Which image would you rather have to hit the pitch, a clear photo OR a fuzzy video?

The eye has the ability to work as a camera and a video camera, but which way do you think the small detail training is heading towards?

Upon this discovery about 1990, I began teaching using a very different technique to help hitters learn to use their eyes like video cameras instead of still photography cameras.  Hitting a 95 MPH fastball is not about detail, but rather about:

  • ‘Where’ (initial direction or tunnel) it is going?
  • ‘How fast’ (radar speed) is it moving?
  • ‘Where’ will it move toward (pitch movement)?
  • ‘Where’ will it end up (location in the zone)?  And,
  • ‘When’ (Effective Velocity – or EV).

Now, of course there is spin to help hitters identify pitch types etc…. but the primary information hitters need is basic and quick and not all hitters can see spin well enough or soon enough to have it help them.

I began taking out the small details and began focusing on the bigger ticket items. Once we narrow the focus or rather broaden the focus to see the pitch in a different way, now we can practice the important factors.

Vertical Plane LHP

Effective Velocity: Vertical Plane LHP. Photo courtesy: HittingIsAGuess.com

I introduced a term called ‘Shape’ in my work with Carlos Pena in 2009.  Every pitch has a shape after it travels about 30-feet or so.  You can picture:

  • A curveball with the big loop,
  • A slider with a smaller hump or loop,
  • A sinker shape, or
  • A straight Kershaw four seamer.

Every pitch has a starting tunnel, movement laterally, or down and a final location.  The path the ball takes out of the hand to about 2/3 of the way to the plate is what creates ‘Shape’.

We can’t wait until it is completed all the movement before we have to swing because it takes about 1/3 the flight or about 18-20 feet to swing the bat.

Hitters have a 1/3 of the way to see direction and the beginning of spin and another 1/3 to see spin (pitch type/speed), estimate the final location and then begin the swing.

I named my initial hitting program Hitting Is A Guess, partially for this very reason……….it is most certainly a guess on many different levels and vision is just one of those levels.  I began training hitters to make better guesses………..and this worked very well.

Using smaller objects is one way to begin training the eyes to start ‘drinking’ in the pitch info in the right way.  Like speed reading,  hitters begin clumping sections of the pitch like a whole sentence at once, which helps you see the pitch in shapes.

The shape is key to knowing speed and final location in the shortest amount of time.

My favorite drill set is…

Effective Velocity: Golf Sized Foam Balls

Effective Velocity: Golf sized foam balls

To use small golf ball sized foam balls to train hitters to identify pitch traits sooner and more efficiently, which is part of my Time Training Level 2 hitting program.

This is done from a seated position to get the pitch trajectory as close to games as possible and at a distance of 16-20 feet from the hitter.  The balls are different densities so the same arm action can create multiple pitch speeds.

Pitch traits help hitters identify pitches, which in turn helps them time pitches better.  Reproducing these traits with a baseball is not easily done.  The small foam training balls are much easier to create game-like movements, trajectories, EV speeds and shapes.  They require some practice throws to get a feel for controlling them, but this is the very best way to get the closest to real live pitch traits without being in a game situation.

In my opinion, there is no comparison of  these foam balls to wiffle balls.  The wiffle balls do not fly the same, are harder to create movements, they hurt when you get hit with a ball off the bat at close distances and they break much faster.  I have used these [foam golf balls] for almost 10 years, and have destroyed less than 1% of them over all that time.

The Circle Drill Set is…

Another part of  my Time Training Level 2 hitting program that helps read the first 10 – 15 – 20 – 30 feet of flight.   There are speed awareness drills, early pitch recognition drills and all of them designed to maintain the most efficient swing possible at the same time.

The Time Training program was designed to introduce hitters to the most logical skill sets in the order that makes the most sense, based on my crazy amount of testing hitters, as well as the 3 decades of teaching hitting on all levels.

“How do you get your hitters enough practice at high pitch speeds?  Example … Is throwing 45 from 30 feet the same as throwing 90 from 60 feet?”

Effective Velocity: Pitch Angles

Effective Velocity: pitch angles. Photo courtesy: HittingIsAGuess.com

The previously described small ball training at 15-20 feet (golf ball sized foam balls), 7 inch baseballs at 30-36 feet and simulated BP from the closest to game mound as possible.  Most of the work becomes about game simulations and creating the perfect speed to match a pitcher type.

Simulating game speeds is easy enough, but that it is just the beginning of true simulation and training hitters to ‘hit’.  We learn to ‘swing’ and then we learn to ‘hit’.  Most physical swing designs include both swinging and hitting and this is a mistake, IMHO.

Separating the two things is the only way to truly get the most out of the swing and your approach, otherwise you will always be compromising one or the other.

The real work is in learning to control swing speed, mindset, anxiety control, pitch selection, taking pitches and staying focused on what we really want through a series of pitches we don’t want, dealing with failure and all kinds of other issues.

Hitting is complex, swing design is not.

If you really test all aspects, especially reactionary abilities of hitters, you will come to the same conclusions that I have, which is that learning to swing is very different than learning to hit.  Combining swinging and hitting is really the hardest element.  Effective Velocity efficient pitchers will eventually force hitters to ‘Act’ rather than ‘React’.

Short distance BP does have some drawbacks, especially if you use baseballs at all distances.  A baseball at 60 feet, looks about the same as a 7 inch baseball at 36 feet and a golf ball sized object at 18-20 feet.

I try to stick with these sized objects at these distances to keep the amount of visual info available to the hitter as close to game situations as possible.  It will never substitute completely the live at bats from 60-feet but it simply is not possible to get that type of training all the time for most amateur hitters.

To simulate 100 MPH fastball from 18 feet, the BP pitch needs to be 32.7 MPH………this gives the hitter the same amount of time from release to contact.

  • 90 MPH is 29.5 MPH,
  • 85 is 27.8, and
  • 80 is 26.2 etc……..

To simulate from 35 feet, 100 MPH would equal a 63.5 MPH BP pitch………

  • 95 MPH equals 60.5,
  • 90 MPH equals 57.3,
  • 85 MPH = 54.1, and
  • 80 = 50.9 etc…

You can never replicate all the factors but the time the ball is in the air is the most important element and that is not too difficult.

I recommend also trying to really pay attention to the pitch trajectory.  Standing up at closer distances will create a steeper angle than real game pitches.  Seated overhand BP best mimics the same line as a game speed fastball, at least at the higher levels.  High school and beyond, I would recommend throwing from a seated position.

 

“What are some drills or ways to help kids 8-10yo with their timing?  I have kids that look great at 20 ft front toss but not so good from 46ft?”

Matt Troupe Locked Pic

Effective Velocity photo courtesy: HittingIsAGuess.com

I love the small balls for youth players but I treat all hitters pretty much the same until we get into Level 3, game planning.

I fully explain every concept to youth hitters because they are much smarter than we give them credit for.  The more they understand why one movement is better than another, the more deeply they will try to make it happen.

I honestly treat the younger hitters the same when it comes to the Level 1 & Level 2 Time Training.  It is shocking how good very young hitters are at ‘Acting’ rather than ‘Reacting’ to pitches, once introduced to it.  They simply have not had all the years of bad swing training to get in their way of the more natural method of hunting pitches.

Fear and poor thinking (resulting in poor feelings, resulting in poor swings) are the primary reasons that hitters perform well at close distances and not at game distances.

This is another reason that I like the small ball training.  Hitters have no fear of being hit.  This is another major reason why I named my first hitting program ‘Hitting Is A Guess’.

When you get young hitters to think of it as a guess, they simply make a better guess.  After getting comfortable making an efficient guess (swing) for a period, you try to blend that really comfortable swing into drills closer to real at bats.

You have to practice their ‘Game Swing’ if you want that to get better.  It is easier to get better at their ‘Practice Swing’, but the game swing is a different animal.  Recreate as closely as possible the real speed, distance, visuals, perceived pressures etc…… until they are in control of their game swing as easily as they are for their practice swing.

I put together an instructional league years ago, including a 9 and under team.  And when I say they were beginners, I mean we had to use softy balls to play catch day one, for fear of them hurting each other.

By focusing on making good swings in games, not batting average or results, they made major progress very quickly.  When you take away the pressure of results, hitters get better at transferring their ‘practice swings’ to their ‘game swings’.  You have to practice your game swing if you want it to get better.

What is your opinion of FOMO’s impact on being able to hit the curveball? 

Effective Velocity: Overhead View Lateral Lanes

Effective Velocity: overhead view of lateral lanes. Photo courtesy: HittingIsAGuess.com

I assume that means “Fear Of Missing Out”, not sure on that, maybe forward momentum???

If fear of missing out, this is a major part of why Effective Velocity works and always will, to some degree at least.

Hitters want to cover all pitches, CB, SL, CH, FB, KN and all the rest, and they only have a small 6-MPH Effective Velocity speed range that they will be close to 100/100 (100% on time, 100% swing efficiency).

I believe this has caused most of the poor swing efficiency designs that have caused the severe dip in offense at the MLB level.

My 20+ years of testing proved that hitters have about 5 to 6-MPH Effective Velocity of reactionary ability while being close to 90-100% efficient.  When you test using exit velocity, hitters lose roughly 10% of their maximum exit speed with every pitch speed you show them because they are trying to cover all speeds.

If you test hitters with pitches right down central and get a top speed and an average speed, over 10 swings, most hitters will average about 85% or 90% of their top speed.  Now put them in a 2 strike mentality (they have to swing at all strikes) and locate the same speed pitch as the first round inside and outside randomly and they will lose about 10% of their average speed over 10 balls.

Now go up in and down away with the same speed pitches and the exit speed goes down another 10%.  Add in the off speed pitch that is in the same tunnel as the fastball and the top out tends to drop a bit and the average drops another level.

Most hitters get to 70% all the way down to 40% of their max over a 10 ball average.  This is all caused by FOMO…..or trying to cover all speed pitches.  It simply cannot be done at or near 100% on time with the 100% most efficient swing.

My goal is to get hitters to be 100/100 or 100% on time with 100% swing efficiency or make their ‘A’ swing exactly on time.  FOMO gets hitters closer to 70/70 or 85/85 but rarely, if ever, at or near 100/100.

If FOMO is forward momentum, this is a very different answer and not easily explained.  I have to admit that I am not a fan of the term FoMo all by itself.  I much prefer to look at the overall swing as either efficient or not.

Effective Velocity Zones

Effective Velocity zones. Photo courtesy: HittingIsAGuess.com

FoMo is just one element and does not take into account some of the key elements of exit velocity.  While increasing FoMo will add to the exit velocity in most cases, that is inherent in a great swing design.  The swing is either 100/100 (100% on time/100% efficient……all elements) or some level below that……….and all swing factors are typically affected by a timing change such as CB.

My philosophy requires you to change your paradigm away from sitting in the middle and reacting to all speed pitches, which starts with making the swing efficient as a whole and graduating from ‘Swing School’ to move into timing, pitch recognition and ‘Hunting’.

Effective Velocity works to control Exit Velocity (the other EV) due to the idea that hitters think they can cover all speeds with one approach.

In my teaching, the swing is the same regardless of the speed or type of pitch (at least that’s what we are trying to maintain), so the FoMo will be identical for either swing.  If hitters are sitting on a CB, they might load later or create a longer ‘Hang Time’ during the load, this will lead to the same FoMo exactly.

When hitters are sitting on FB and adjusting to CB, it depends on how early they recognized the CB and how in rhythm they were able to stay.

Bautista is going to load to FB at the fastest speed and adjust to CB if he recognizes it in time.  If he recognizes it late, he will try to hang longer to explode on CB, but this does not always work out.  When he sees it later, the stride may get longer to keep his foot in the air long enough to let the ball get there.  That will cause the FoMo to increase a bit.

This is really a touchy subject because there is a limit to over striding and having the FoMo increase.  There is a point of diminishing returns where the stride getting too long will cut down the turning ability or rotation of the hitter, as well as the ability to release the back side (or both).  A little extra stride length will help, a lot will hurt…….and even that depends on whether the hitter has his max stride length built in to his FB swing.

If that’s the case (which it would be if I helped with the design of the FB swing), then any change in stride length would likely hurt the hitter’s FoMo.

Traditional thinking has hitters getting the foot down early and trying to ‘keep the hands back’ to hit the off speed CB.  Forward Momentum is always affected when the hitter’s swing rhythm is interrupted.  Hitters that hit the CB with forward momentum in tact, adjust to the pitch ‘during the load’, not after the foot has touched down (depending on the method of their load).

When a hitter such as Jose Bautista loads, he is basically loading to FB at the top of the zone (Effective Velocity plus FB), so he is super early in getting his leg kick started.  His foot is in the air at release ——-non-committed to going forward in a hurry.  By the time he gets to the top of his load, he has recognized the pop of the CB over the FB.  If he sees this in time, he can create some ‘hang time’ with his foot in the air.

This allows him to stay in rhythm and hit the CB with the same forward momentum as the FB.  It is not a perfect science but when it works, it is the only way to sit FB and truly hit the CB close to 100/100.

 

Wide stance vs. Narrow Stance in relationship to FOMO. Does wider give more balance and ability to see the ball better, recognize curveball?   Wide stance vs Narrow Stance depends on quite a few factors.  How wide?  Does the wide stance include a stride or not?  Narrow Stance, does it include a tap load or a leg lift?

Effective Velocity: 25 Reachable Points Ball Illustration

Effective Velocity: 25 Reachable Points Ball Illustration. Photo courtesy: HittingIsAGuess.com

I think is about where the hitter is at launch.  I think any stance can work if the next movement includes a load that has leverage and sets up the most efficient movements.

CB is easily recognized no matter your stance, what you can do with it is really the issue.  I prefer a leg lift or a tap so the hitter can create hang time but any stance can work.

Recognizing the CB and being able to hit it at 100/100 are two different things.  The key is figuring out how to load and create hang time.  Every load has pros and cons and the only stance issue for me is whether it takes away from swing efficiency or hang time.  I want max hang time and max efficiency and the stance should enhance that.

No physical swing mechanic is going to allow hitters to hit all pitch speeds at 100/100.  Foot down early, wide stance or small stride to no stride, nothing works to allow you to be 100/100 to all pitches, it is physically impossible.

No hitter has ever done it day in and day out without learning to guess or sit on pitches, at least with elite pitchers at 95 MPH and commanding 2 to 3 off speed pitches.

Design the swing and then…………….and only then………learn to apply that swing at 100/100.

My programs begin at Level 1, swing design, move up to pitch recognition and timing Level 2 which blends the most efficient swing with timing and then game approaches in Level 3, which designs game plans based on the most efficient swing applied to today’s pitcher.

Learn to swing, then learn to hunt pitches, then learn to hunt pitchers.

It is possible for a hitter to get his ‘foot down early’ but not get his ‘mind down’ early.  In other words, if a hitter is prepared to hit a pitch at 100 Effective Velocity-MPH up and inside (Curtis Granderson is a great example of someone capable of this), even though the foot is down early, he can still ‘act’ on the fastest pitch he will see.

This is equivalent to saying that Granderson has an approach that is 90/85 or some semblance of that.  90-95% of his max efficiency of the physical swing and about 75-85% of timing, when he is reacting to all pitches.  At times, I know he is sitting on a pitch, which changes the dynamic and the ratio.  At times, he will be closer to 100% on time with about 90-95% of his swing efficiency.

I don’t believe that any foot down method can be 100% efficient because it takes away from rhythm and FoMo.

The hitting instructors that prescribe these get ready early-type approaches, are saying that this method allows hitters to hit all speeds and that is completely false.  The hitter shortens the stride, gets the foot down early or whatever, this gets the hitter ready to hit the fastest pitch, but then adjust to the slowest off speed.

I reject that idea almost completely, at least at 100/100.  The key element in all this is to learn to ‘ACT’ rather than ‘REACT’.  That is the last word…………..no hitter in the history of the game, including Bonds, Trout etc…. can hit all pitch speeds at 100/100.

There is always give and take, but these type methods will produce 85/85 at best but 85/65 is closer to the truth.

In other words, the swing efficiency is compromised as well as the timing taking its toll on the exit velocity.  This results in the top exit speed dropping as well as the average exit speed dropping significantly.

Neither Trout or Bonds use a foot down method, I am not implying that but I am stating that no method will allow a hitter to hit all pitches at or even near 100/100, while reacting after recognizing the pitch when pitchers are Effective Velocity efficient.

They both incorporate a stride and swing method, Bonds a tap load and Trout a load and hang method, but both stride to hit.  Both also require pitchers to cooperate and throw slower fastballs too.

With that said, there are ways to blend certain approaches so hitters can cover multiple pitch speeds.  I have not published this Level 3 Time Training info but many MLB pitchers create Effective Velocity crossovers  or ie…..FB 95 but located where the Effective Velocity is 90…………the slider at 86 is located close to Effective Velocity 90-MPH so the pitcher is throwing two pitches with the same EV with different radar speeds and in most cases, is not aware.

This gives the hitter (and the pitcher) the illusion that he is covering 95 and 86 but in reality, he is only covering 90-MPH Effective Velocity.

One hitting approach also allows hitters to sit on FB and adjust to obvious off speed pitches, even 20 MPH apart.  However, this requires a bit of help from the pitcher to throw the off speed with the hump that shows itself to the hitter early enough to react to.  When pitches are in a tunnel, hitting pitches hard with big speed differentials goes away to a large degree.

You can find more information from Perry Husband and his Effective Velocity system at the following locations:

Coach Lee Taft

Coach Lee Taft: “The Speed Guy”. Photo courtesy: LeeTaft.com

“Rules are for the Obedience of Fools and the Guidance of Wise Men.” – Douglas Bader

This is the second in a 3-part interview series…

The more I coach youth hitters and athletes, the more I realize that coaching isn’t about coaching (or telling), but listening.  This year, I’ve really grown in asking my hitters and athletes better questions.

My next guest will get into this more in a moment, but for now, it’s my honor to introduce…

Lee Taft, known to most simple as “The Speed Guy”, is highly respected as one of the top athletic movement specialist in the world. The last 25 years he has devoted the majority of his time training multi-directional speed to all ages and ability. He has spent much of this time teaching his multi-directional speed methods to top performance coaches and fitness professionals all over the world. Lee has also dedicated countless hours mentoring up and coming sports performance trainers, many who have gone into the profession and made a big impact themselves.

Here’s Speed Coach Lee…

 

If you were to train me for four weeks for a HUGE tournament and had a million dollars on the line, what would the training look like? What if I trained for eight weeks?

Functional Movement Screen

Functional Movement Screen (FMS). Photo courtesy: FunctionalMovement.com

With only 4 weeks to get you ready we are going to take a three pronged approach. First we will address the needs based off your assessment. I will assess you using the Functional Movement Screen, basic mobility and flexibility to test range of motion in key joints like; ankles, hips, T and cervical spine, shoulder, and wrists, etc…, and Athletic Movement Screen where we would look at acceleration in all direction, ability to get through hips, speed, and overall agility.

The second area we will train is speed and agility. The approach here is to improve explosive acceleration to be better at getting a jump offensively and defensively, overall agility so you can effectively move in any direction and open your hips to make a play.

The final area we would attack is strength and stability. I can make more improvement in your overall stability of the major joints, spine, pelvis in a short 4 weeks than I can in overall maximal strength- but I can make some some neuromuscular changes due to the strength training.

So here we go with a program…

Week #1-#4:

  • Monday’s will consist of corrective/stability exercises, linear acceleration, and total body strength training (based on experience the strength training will be technique based for four weeks but slowly increasing resistance).
  • Wednesday will consist of corrective/stability exercises, lateral and angular acceleration, and total body strength (vary the movement patterns. example; bend, vertical push, vertical pull, etc…so they are different from Monday).
  • Finally on Friday we will follow up with the corrective exercises and test to see improvement/ and stability work, reactionary agility where drills are based on the coaches signal. Athlete will learn to explode in all directions based on a command. Lastly strength training (again, movement patterns will change back to Monday’s patterns).
Lee Taft Speed Training

Photo courtesy: LeeTaft.com

If we move to an eight week program the biggest change will come in the strength training and corrective and stability work. The speed and agility will obviously focus on need and overall athletic movement. The strength training will shift from a basic 4 week introductory program to a 3 blocks…

  1. The first strength block would be 2 weeks and emphasize more of an eccentric approach to build force reduction.
  2. The second block would be 3 weeks and emphasis more maximal strength with a tempo that is much faster than the first block.
  3. In the third block I would emphasize more power development with a fast concentric tempo.

A philosophy of mine is to constantly be willing to change according to how the athletes are doing day to day. Baseball and softball athletes require constant supervision due to the explosiveness of the sport and the high repetition through the shoulder and core regions.

What makes you different? Who trained you or influenced you?

The biggest influences for me were my father and two brothers. They were coaches and teachers. What, I feel, makes me different is my strong background as a teacher. Today it is common to see performance coaches skip steps and coach to the DRILL versus focusing on the SKILL. My approach has always been to identify the skills that need to be improved and attach drills that fit the solution- not the other way around.

I think one of the major difference I have than many coaches is my willingness to watch and learn from my athletes. What I mean is I don’t just start teaching my athletes. I watch them move and allow them to show me what they do well and what dysfunction they have. This approach makes my teaching stronger because I don’t waste time on things that aren’t pertinent to their success.

Many of the training techniques I endorsed years ago were based on innate human movement. There are reasons athletes move the way they do. Much of it can be related to our nervous systems “Fight or Flight” reactions. This means athlete have innate reactions based on if they are being chased or chasing. In either case, the athlete will move into an acceleration posture as quickly as possible to make a play.

An example of this would be an infielder quickly accelerating after a bunt. You will notice how they reposition their feet into an acceleration posture. One foot will drop back (which I coined a plyo step). When this occurs the use of elastic energy increases the acceleration. There are many examples of this fight or flight reaction to help athletes move quicker and more effectively.

My approach of allowing these reactions to occur naturally then supporting the movement with proper posture build a more efficient athlete.

 

What are your favorite instructional books or resources on the subject? If people had to teach themselves, what would you suggest they use?

There are two primary resources I feel novice coaches should use. Complete Speed Training and Ground Complete Speed Training: Lee TaftBreaking 2.

Complete Speed Training is a resource coaches can learn about many areas of speed, agility, strength, power, conditioning, and warming up.

Ground Breaking 2 is an indepth look at multi-directional speed techniques and how to teach them. Both are great products for coaches to gain valuable knowledge into the world of speed and agility and more.

I think it is important for coaches to use resources that solve their needs from a foundational standpoint first. This means, don’t overshoot your knowledge level. Too many coaches try to be jack of all trades when simply understanding the foundational information will take them far.

 

What are the biggest mistakes and myths you see in hitting? What are the biggest wastes of time?

One of the biggest waste of times is when I see dads bring the heavy bat for their 9 year old- I cringe. Far too often strategies that are used at the highest levels trickle down. When a young kid uses a heavy bat the timing of the swing is distorted. The swing, at a young age, needs to be built with timing and feel. When the bat is too heavy, even for training purposes, the swing changes from the feet all the way to the hands. The youngsters try to muscle the swing rather than using proper mechanics.

Thanks Coach Lee!

Here’s how you can stay updated with Speed Coach Lee Taft:

Please direct any questions or comments for Coach Lee below…

Backspin Batting Tee: The Quickest & Easiest Way to Drive the Ball

 

Batting Tees: The Ugly Truth

Meet the Backspin Batting Tee team. Photo courtesy: BackSpinTee.com

This is the first in a 3-part interview series…

One of the most frustrating things for coaches I’m in touch with (myself included) is finding minds that think alike when it comes to applying human movement science to hitting.

In other words, how do we separate the “weeds” from the grass?  Below is an interview I did with one of the three hitting and movement experts, Taylor Gardner and his innovative batting tee.

First a brief introduction…

Taylor Gardner is the inventor of the Backspin batting tee (I carry the Backspin Tee at TheStartingLineupStore.com), that received “Best In Show” Awards at the 2015 American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Convention in Orlando, Florida.  The concept is really simple really, practice hitting the bottom half of the ball (see video above).

At the convention, Taylor had a coach come up to his booth, take swings off his Backspin batting tee, and said that it was nearly impossible to swing “down” on the ball, because of the batting tee design.

 

The “ugly truth” about the batting tee?

BackSpin Batting Tee

Photo courtesy: BackSpinTee.com

…If youth hitters aren’t coached properly, then they’ll default to hitting the top half of the ball, to avoid knocking the tee over.  Taylor’s Backspin batting tee turn this ugly truth on it’s head…literally 😛

Not only did Taylor breath new life into the batting tee, but he’s a student of hitting.  He uses human movement science like we do.  I met him on my Facebook fanpage, and after a couple interactions, I had to interview him for the HPL blog…

 

Taylor Gardner BackSpin Batting Tee Interview…

If you were to train me for four weeks for a HUGE tournament and had a million dollars on the line, what would the training look like? What if I trained for eight weeks?

TG: With 4-weeks of training

…we would have time to adjust any swing path flaws with video analysis so that everyone was seeing the same movements. We would do positional strength test to show if their are any weak points in the swing that might be causing a dropping barrel.

Your grip would be looked at to ensure that at contact both wrist were close to 90 degrees, and then keep that grip (don’t just change it for comfort).

Simple soft-toss from in front would show any basic timing issues, as well as your ability to get in position to the ball on time to use a proper swing path. Bad positioning at landing can cause hitters to change their swings regardless.

I practice a “1st baseman” drill where you train your eyes to step towards a ball before you catch it (Learned from Barry Bonds) to help your body learn how to get to the pitch more efficiently.

Depending on how good your timing, body positions, and swing path were, we could then move onto any movements in the body that might need more exaggeration, for example: if you were very stiff with your legs, and had a hard time getting to lower pitches, we could do variations of tee work and soft toss to exaggerate that one body movement, and these same techniques would apply if you had connection problems with your arms, hands, head movement, etc that may need to be fixed more quickly.

After your technique is sufficient in the 4 week time frame, I would have you learn how to “time” a pitcher and practice different fastball speeds. For example: if you are facing mostly 80mph pitching and slower, we would practice speeds of batting practice (with the new exaggerated movements now set) that were no quicker than .47 seconds out of the pitcher’s hand to the front of the plate (a simple stopwatch would get us close).

If you were facing 90mph then we would train your stride timing to adjust to .40 seconds, but no faster. Pitcher’s don’t accidently throw their fastest pitch 10mph faster….In the 4 weeks we would conquer the technique of the swing first before seeing live pitching. You came to change your swing, and 4 weeks is plenty of time to make physical adjustments, the rest of the time would be focused on the timing and reaction to positions in the zone.

If I had 8-weeks with you,

Backspin Batting Tee

Photo courtesy: BackSpinTee.com

…we would take the same approach, I don’t believe their are quick fixes, unless your swing is already close to doing the right movements, but I would ask you questions about the approach at the plate, and we would keep it as simple as possible. The pitcher throws his fastball 70%+ most of the time, so you can trust that that is what you will see.

You can always buy time (wait) in the swing, but you cannot speed up faster than your body will allow. You would learn to set your timing approach up to hit that particular pitcher’s speed, then time your stride accordingly. Some hitters need to wait longer, or start sooner depending on their tendencies.

Your set up (assuming isn’t an issue) would be able to swing level to a high pitch (considered a pitcher’s mistake in Pro ball) because it is the easiest pitch to get to the bottom half of the ball, and would learn to adjust to the height adjustment of off speed and swing to the pitch accordingly.

Every physical movement that would be instructed would have your own style to it. There is no cookie cutter swing, only movements (and maybe some variations of those movements) that were backed by facts and studied knowledge that can be performed by the human body.

Getting on path with the pitch, hitting the middle/bottom half of the ball at a contact point that is proven for max energy connection into the ball would be taught. How high or low you consistently hit balls (angles) is more important than pulling it or going to opposite field. This has been proven time, and time again.

 

What makes you different? Who trained you or influenced you?

TG: Matt Nokes (Silver Slugger Award Winner, New York Yankees) Boots Day (Montreal Expos, and knew Ted Williams), Jarrett Gardner, Professional Pitching Coach

 

What are your favorite instructional books or resources on the subject? If people had to teach themselves, what would you suggest they use?

TG: DVD-Pyramid Of Hitting. Training tool-The Back Spin Batting Tee.

What are the biggest mistakes and myths you see in hitting? What are the biggest wastes of time?

TG: Hit the top of the ball to make it rise with backspin. Soft-toss from behind the hitter. Your hips are your main source for power. Quick hands. Pulling with the bottom hand, and pushing with the top hand. You can stay “through” a ball longer if you try, the ball only stays on the bat .0007 seconds, no matter how you hit it. Swing down and through a ball. Keep your hands inside the ball. Get your foot down early. You have to have a straight front leg to hit. You have to rotate your back foot for power. “Don’t worry about timing, just react to the pitcher.” Foul off offspeed and wait for fastball. They all are a waste of time, and I can explain how.

Thank you Taylor!

Here’s how you can stay updated with Taylor Gardner and his BackSpin batting tee:

Please direct batting tee or hitting questions and comments below…