Timing. It’s an elusive topic in baseball. No matter the level I was playing at, discussions about timing were few and far between. If it was brought up, it was generally just to point out the problem of bad timing, not how to fix it. Why is this the case? Is knowing how to time the baseball simply a natural ability that can’t be learned? Absolutely not! Just like anything else, it can be trained and developed.
Understand and fix your timing issues with the 3 Critical Timing Factors below:
Factor #1: WHERE ARE YOU VISUALIZING CONTACT WITH THE BALL?
Whenever I begin working with a new hitter, this is one of the first questions I will ask. Some will have no answer, meaning they do not visualize or think about it at all. Not visualizing a contact point puts a hitter at a huge disadvantage. There are already so many variables in hitting, why add another with your contact point?
♦ Where should we visualize contact? ♦
Start with your “ground zero” or what you would describe as your “wheelhouse.” Hunt the pitch there. Expect every pitch to be there, and expect to crush it! Another way to describe this mindset is that we are thinking in a “Yes, Yes, Yes” or “Yes, Yes, No” mentality. Meaning I am expecting to swing until I determine it is not the pitch I want. As a hitter, you simply cannot recover from not being ready to hit!
Other players will respond to my question by saying they visualize contact based off of the plate. They’ll say something like, “At the front of the plate.” This is a problem because the plate is fixed, but your body moves. It is always best to determine your contact point off of your body. In general, good contact happens near the area even with your front foot after you land your stride. Good contact with an inside pitch will happen just slightly farther out, and an outside pitch just slightly farther back, but the difference is not drastic. “Hit it out in front” is still the best thought process for the majority of the pitches you hit.
♦ Adjusting your timing could be as simple as adjusting where you are looking. ♦
- If you are late, change where you are visualizing your point of contact. If you are thinking about making contact even with your front foot, for example, change your mindset to visualizing making contact 4 to 6 inches farther out in front.
- If you are early, Change where you are visualizing your point of contact to a spot farther back. Using the same example, if you are visualizing contact even with your front foot, change your mindset to visualizing making contact 4 to 6 inches behind your front foot.
Use the “Contact Point Visualization Drill” to work on Factor #1
Factor #2: ARE YOU IN RHYTHM WITH THE PITCHER?
Have you ever felt like your swing was dialed in tee work and soft toss, but then it completely falls apart the minute a live pitcher is out there? Have someone take video of each type of swing; tee or soft toss, then live pitching. Look for any changes in what you do before your swing against live pitching. Is your stride longer or shorter? Are you starting much earlier or much later than you normally do? Are your feet moving much slower or faster during your stride?
YOUTH COACHES: This is one of the most common issues with young hitters. They will often wait until the pitcher releases the ball to begin any movement. The result will be a late or rushed swing. Many times mechanical issues are simply the result of a rushed swing. Take plenty of time during live batting practice to work on being smooth and controlled in their movements, and getting their body started before the ball comes out of your hand.
Use the “Pitcher Sync Drill” to work on Factor #2
♦ Hitting is a dance with the pitcher. If you want to dance, you must have rhythm! ♦
Our swings should look and feel the same whether we are hitting off a tee, soft toss, batting practice, or in a live game. Simplicity in thinking about timing is the way to go. Trying to make it mechanical will only complicate things further. To be correctly in sync with the pitcher, your forward move (stride) must begin as the pitcher releases the ball. This means that if you are a hitter with a long back move, like a high leg lift, you will need to start that early enough so that at the pitcher’s release, you are able to begin moving forward. Each hitter will vary slightly according to how fast or slow their gather and stride is, and how hard or soft the pitcher is throwing.
The 3 Basic Principles of Rhythm:
- Gather or back move (leg lift, weight shift, etc.) must begin before release.
- Forward move or stride must begin at release.
- All movements should feel smooth, natural and athletic. They should not be choppy, jerky or stiff.
♦ It starts well before you get to the plate. ♦
You don’t need a bat in your hands to start syncing your movements up with the pitcher. While the pitcher is warming up or pitching against your teammates, you can watch his movements and begin to work on your gather and stride. Then continue to sync yourself up while on deck, and trying to get a feel for the rhythm you are going to bring to the plate.
Factor #3: ARE YOU UNDER CONTROL?
At the moment of the release of the pitch, your brain is going to begin deciphering the information it’s getting from your eyes. It will be trying to calculate the speed, location and movement of the ball. As the ball continues to get closer to you, more and more information will become available. If you are not fully under control of your body as this information comes in, you will be unable to use the information to adjust your swing to the pitch. In other words, you’re playing the guessing game with your timing. If you aren’t dead-on with your guess….WHIFF…swing and a miss! So how do we begin making changes? It starts with your mindset.
♦ Start slow and early ♦
It is much easier to be under control and be consistent with your gather and stride, when those movements are slow. If your feet are moving fast through the gather and stride, it will be much more difficult to control those movements. Fast movements will leave you susceptible to inconsistencies in the gather and stride, and ultimately, inconsistencies in the hitting position you get to at the moment you land your stride. Timing will be difficult.
CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO: 6-time MLB All-Star Jose Bautista discussing a SLOW and EARLY start!
Use the “Slow Motion Drill” to work on Factor #3
♦ Where does the control come from? ♦
The 3 Sources of Body Control During the Stride:
- Your upper body “loading” or resisting while your body is moving forward.
- Your rear leg, especially your glute and hip flexor muscles, being very engaged while the body is moving forward. (A lack of strength in these muscles will make it difficult for a hitter to be under control.)
- Core strength and stability. (Core strength and stability should be a regular part of training at all levels of baseball.)
♦ How do we adjust to offspeed? ♦
First, before we discuss this, understand that 99% of the time you must be timed up and ready for the fastball, and adjust to the offspeed. For older, more experienced hitters, there may be times when you sit on an offspeed pitch, but it is typically not going to be a regular occurrence. When pitchers begin changing speeds consistently, and throwing multiple pitches for strikes, it is even more important for hitters to be in control during the stride or forward move. If a pitcher has a decent change up or curveball, you will not always recognize it directly of their hand. Now, if you have good rhythm, as we talked about earlier, you will be mid-stride when your brain begins to decipher the movement and change in speed of the ball. If you recognize the pitch early enough, and you are utilizing the “3 Sources of Body Control During the Stride” outlined above, you should be able to slow your stride and lower half down enough to be able to adjust to offspeed pitch.
Use the “Ride It Down Drill” to work on Hitting Offspeed
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