Having an approach

Growing up as a baseball player, I always focused on mechanics whenever I wanted to get better.  When I got into high school I had 2 different hitting coaches whose hitting philosophies were completely opposite of one another.  One focused on the mechanics of having good hands and hitting the ball where it was pitched, and the other was all about teaching how to hit for power.  I was able to take bits and pieces from each coach and combine the two.  As a result, it led to me being able to hit any pitch out of the park to any part of the field.  I remember having teammates in high school asking me how I was able to hit the ball so far to opposite field.  To be honest, I had no idea.  I just saw the ball and swung how I was taught by my 2 hitting coaches.  I couldn’t explain how or what I was doing to them.  I was able to do this all throughout high school and college baseball.  When I got to professional baseball it all changed.  Every pitcher we faced had 3 plus pitches with good command of at least 2 of them; So unless he made a mistake, hits were tough to come by.
 One day I was in the weight room stretching before a game and Matt Joyce (who was rehabbing with us at the time) came up to me and asked me what my approach was at the plate.  I looked at him with a confused face and he said, “You know, what are you looking for up there?”  I said, “Well sometimes I look…” and he cut me off right there and said, “SOMETIMES?! That’s why you are struggling because you are going up there with no plan besides hoping the pitcher makes a mistake and leaves a fastball right down the middle.”  Matt Joyce went on to share his approach with me.  It was so simple and it made so much sense. I couldn’t believe playing all of these years at major programs that no one had ever taught or spoke to the team as a whole about having a good approach.  I actually think coaches do talk about it fairly often but it isn’t explained well enough or with enough emphasis on how important it is to your game.
Here is an example of an approach that is super simple, will help your vision at the plate, improve your timing, and give you more power to all fields.  Look fastball middle to middle away and think about trying to drive it right over the pitchers head.  That’s it. Now you’re probably thinking, “Come on Matt give us something a little better than that.”  Let me explain in more detail about why this simple approach works.
  •  Look fastball- it is much easier to look for a fastball and react to an off speed pitch, than it is to look for an off speed pitch and react to a fastball.
  • Look middle to middle away and drive it over the pitchers head- This is going to help with your timing. If you are looking for a fastball inside, you have to load and be ready to make contact about a foot in front of your front hip. If that pitcher pitches the ball middle or middle away you are going to end up reaching for it and most likely hitting a rollover ground ball for an easy out.  Now if you are thinking about driving a pitch middle to middle away over the pitchers head, your brain is going to time your load and swing to hit the ball right in front of your front hip.  Now if they throw you a pitch down the middle or outside, you should be getting your barrel to it right on time.  What about inside pitches? If we recognize the pitch is inside early enough, we can use our hips and speed up our hands to catch that ball further out in front and still drive it.  Next time you are throwing batting practice, tell your son or daughter that everything is going to be outside. Throw 4 – 5 in a row outside and then sneak one inside and watch how easy they get their barrel to it.
  • Vision- Now that you are looking to hit the ball deeper, you get to see it a little longer.  When you cheat to hit an inside fastball, you usually step forward and your head moves forward with your body.  This cuts down the distance you get to see the ball.  If you can stay back by thinking about driving the ball up the middle, you now increase the distance you get to see the ball.  This will make hitting bad off speed pitches a lot easier as well as laying off good off speed pitches.
  • Increase power- If you make contact just in front of your front hip, your arms will still have a nice bend to them. The motion of our arms going from bent to fully extended creates power and bat speed.  If you can make contact in the middle of that motion, chances are the ball is going to be hit well.  You don’t see professional boxers trying to punch each other with their arms straight the entire time.  They build speed into their punch by bending their arms first and then extending them toward their target.
To clarify: When I talk about letting the ball travel or seeing it deep, I’m talking about hitting it just in front of your front hip.  I am not a big fan of letting the ball get much deeper than that because we lose our ability to extend through it.  That will be another topic down the road. 
 I really hope you guys enjoyed reading this and were able to take something away from it.  Please feel free to comment with any thoughts or questions you might have.  I’m open to suggestions for future blog posts.  What do you guys want to learn?  What do you hope to see on my baseball blog?  I look forward to hearing from you.