Six-Station Batting Practice
When setting up a hitting rotation, cover as many of the six elements of offense as possible. The focus should be strictly on offense; do not use a defense. Facilities play a big factor in what a team can accomplish. In this example we use the main playing field, a bunting corner, one full outdoor hitting tunnel, and two portable batting cages (figure 11.2).
The first station is a curveball drill in center field. A portable batting cage is set up behind second base, home plate is in the dirt, and the batter is hitting toward center field. The pitching machine is 45 feet (13.7 m) away throwing curveballs using soft foam dimple balls that travel approximately 250 feet (75 m). The hitter’s goal is to drive the curveball over the center-field wall. We want him to learn to wait for the elevated curveball with less than two strikes and drive it over the wall. The objective is for the hitter to gain confidence by learning to hit the “get me over” curveball with less than two strikes. The percentages indicate that hitters will get an off-speed pitch 80% of the time on the first pitch with a runner in scoring position, and they find themselves with runners in scoring position approximately 25% of the time. Championship teams can execute the two Bs—the bunting game and hitting the get-me-over breaking ball. Start from day 1 with these two skills because they will need to be there late in the season when it matters most.
The second station is in the right-field bullpen. Hitters stand in the batter’s box while the pitchers throw their bullpens. Vision and timing are the foundation of a productive hitter. Getting the opportunity to observe pitchers throwing live is a great way for hitters to practice these skills. When the hitter steps into the box we ask him to have open focus, to look at the pitcher but not focus on a particular point. The hitter is working on timing his load and getting in rhythm with the pitcher. If the pitch is a good one to swing at, he addresses the ball with his belly button, nods to the ball, and mentally completes the swing.
If the pitch is a ball, the hitter tracks the ball with his head and front shoulder all the way back to the catcher’s mitt. We have a saying when it comes to vision: “See it longer, see it less.” We want our hitters to “hawk” the ball (figure 11.3) on takes all the way into the catcher’s mitt, or “see it longer.” On contact, the hitter’s chin should be down and over the contact area, and he leaves it down after contact, hence the phrase “See it less.”
This station is in the bunting corner. We use a pitching machine set in the upper 80s (about 140 km/h) with real baseballs that have Kevlar seams. These baseballs perform like leather baseballs, which helps the bunters get used to how the ball will exit the bat. The bunters work on the four primary bunts and run through a short base on their final bunt of each round. The goal is to create the proper pace and direction on each bunt. The bunting corner is marked off to give visual feedback on each bunt. Creating a competition is a good way to heighten the bunters’ focus. Chart the bunts daily, rank the players from top to bottom, and post the rankings in the locker room.
The outdoor tunnel is station 4 (figure 11.4), our two-strike station. The hitter starts with a 1-2 count and battles until the at-bat is completed. In Major League Baseball batters hit with two-strikes 49% of the time. Given those numbers we work on two-strike hitting every day. The BP pitcher mixes up the pitches, trying to strike out the batter. The batter makes his four two-strike physical adjustments and uses his two-strike approach, “late and on top.”
Learning to put the ball in play with two strikes is critical for the high-scoring offense. The number one predictor for a big inning at the 2008 CWS was a two-strike base hit. We want hitters to feel confident when they are hitting with two strikes. Practicing this situation daily will help reduce the fear of the strikeout and minimize the panic that some hitters have of hitting with two strikes.
Station 5 is on the main field with a BP pitcher. This station can be used in a variety of ways. An example would be the game-day BP routine, which incorporates hitting in various counts, changing speeds, executing with runners on base, and finishing each round with a bunt. In practice and on game day we chart batting practice and post the results in the locker room. This system helps hitters focus and lets them know that the coaches are paying attention to their ability to execute the skills that we think are important.
We vary the distance that the BP thrower is from the hitter to simulate the varying velocities of pitchers. For example, we know that a BP pitcher who throws approximately 51 miles an hour (82 km/h) and from a distance of 33.5 feet (10.2 m) from the hitter equates to a 92-mile-per-hour (148 km/h) fastball in terms of reaction time. By varying the distance of the BP pitcher from the hitter, we can work on rhythm and timing. (See the chart to calculate velocity from your BP pitchers.)
Example: 92 mph (148 km/h) fastball with the BP pitcher throwing 51 mph (82 km/h)
Multiply 60.5 by 51 = 3,085.5 (18.4 m by 82 km/h = 1,508.9)
3,085.5/92 = 33.54 feet, the distance that the BP pitcher should be from the hitter to simulate 92 mph (1,508.9/148 = 10.2 m)
(A * B) / C = D
A = mound distance, 60 feet, 6 inches (18.4 m)
B = Radar velocity of BP pitcher, 51 mph (82 km/h)
C = Radar velocity of pitcher to face, 92 mph (148 km/h)
D = Feet (m) from hitter that BP pitcher should stand
This station has base runners occupying every base and following a baserunning script. The base runners assume their primary leads at each base and start into their secondary leads when the pitcher’s front foot lands. Lines are painted on the infield grass to help players execute their primary and secondary leads properly. When the ball is put in play the runners execute a four-step reaction. They are expected to get a read off the bat every third pitch. The runners at first and second react as if the next base is unoccupied. All runners react to pitches in the dirt. The runner at third reacts to the infield playing in with less than two outs and with the contact play on. Base runners rotate up one base when the hitter finishes a round. Incorporating a sliding pit into this station once a week is a good way to keep base runners sharp on this