The use of pinch runners and pinch hitters is a staple for managers to use at all levels of baseball. These substitutions usually occur late in the game. What we don’t consider, as coaches and/or strength coaches, is how to ensure players are prepared to enter a game (usually late) and be expected to be at “game speed”. A coach can implement effective pre-game stretches, but this doesn’t mean that the player will be prepared for a 9th inning appearance.
The following are a list of scenarios which could place a player at a higher risk of injury.
1) Pinch runners / hitters may not have been active for up to 4 hours.
If the first pitch of a game was thrown at 7:05, chances are that team stretch took place roughly 2 hours prior to the game. Then take into account when pinch runners are used (typically late in the game). Using logic, that could be at least 4 hours when the player last did any type of active warm up!
2) Weather considerations.
The colder the weather, the more time it should take a player to prepare themselves for game speed.
3) Injury history considerations.
If a player has a history of hamstring injuries, having that player pinch run is putting them at a greater risk of a reoccurring injury.
4) The pinch runner / hitter is an everyday player.
Often times everyday players are given a day off. Even though the player has been given the day off, a manager may still use that player. Let’s face it, baseball can be a grind. If a guy has played 40 consecutive days, when he is not in the starting lineup, chances are he may take full advantage and coast through team warm ups. Next thing you know, he strains a muscle in a late inning running or hitting situation.
5) The pinch runner / hitter is NOT an everyday player.
In professional baseball, there are very few days off as there is a game almost every day. Position players rarely sprint on off days, and the few sprints they complete are prior to game time. Non-starters may go weeks without sprinting in a game. Chances that they replicate a game speed sprint aren’t likely, so it becomes imperative to stress this issue and educate players.
Below are a few tips to ensure that the risk of injury for a pinch runner or hitter are reduced.
1) Keep bench players active during the game.
Vary who plays catch with the corner outfielder, rotate players on foul ball duty, or just send them down to pole and back (high school and college setting would be appropriate).
2) Build a mobility/dynamic routine players can perform in the dugout.
There are several ways that you can package mobility drills together in order to prepare a player to enter a game, but a few things must be constant. Those constants are; glute activation, hip mobility, thoracic mobility (especially hitters), and dynamic hamstring stretches. Below is a sample video (roughly a minute) of a few drills pinch runners and hitters can do prior to taking the field.
3) Let the player know as early as possible they may be entering the game.
Having been a former coach, I know that this one can be especially tough. The game situation can change in a blink of an eye, and it is difficult to foresee everything that may present itself in a game. With this being said, a player that may pinch run or pinch hit could be given a heads up an inning prior. No harm or foul if the player prepares himself and doesn’t appear in the game.
4) Have non-starters complete more sprints throughout the week.
I rarely conditioned position players as a coach due to the demands I placed on them in practice. Since being at the professional level as a strength coach, I now see the importance of sprinting non-starters during the week. The sprints can be as simple as 8-12 30 yard sprints once or twice a week.
Today’s player interview features Steve Cishek, closer for the Miami Marlins. Steve has been a long time Cressey Performance athlete, and he was generous enough to share some of his thoughts regarding his career path. In the 2012 season, Steve went from reliever to being named the closer for the Miami Marlins. Steve posted a 2.69 ERA and 15 saves while logging 63.2 innings.
Section 1: The Road to the Big Leagues
Jay – Steve, after spending over four seasons in the minor leagues, could you touch on some of the key components in how you moved through the system and eventually got the call from the Marlins?
Steve – When moving through the system you have to learn how to make adjustments. I learned a lot from the pitching coaches I had and they helped me with making the adjustments. However, when you are on the mound, they cannot make the adjustments for you, you are on your own. Each time you get moved up, the better the hitters get. So, finding a way to succeed was based on trusting your stuff and making the necessary adjustments.
Jay – What advice would you give to current minor league players that are in the same position as you were five years ago?
Steve – To develop a routine and work harder than the person next to you. I understand that when you are on a team the person next to you is a friend and basically family. However, you need to push yourself and not give in to other peoples’ laziness. I noticed as the season went on some of my teammates would get over it and would get lazy. I didn’t want to get dragged down that path.
Section 2: Playing in the Big Leagues
Jay – Steve, when making the transition to the major league level, what was the biggest adjustment you had to make in facing major league hitters?
Steve – I learned that to pitch in the big leagues you absolutely have to throw strikes. Coaches hate pitchers that are scared to attack hitters. I used to be scared to get hit in the minors, so when I finally trusted my stuff and said forget it, I went after hitters and tried to get early contact outs.
Jay – Having gone from reliever, to set-up man, and most recently becoming the closer for the Marlins, how have you altered your approach in preparing to pitch?
Steve – I developed a routine that I do every day in the bullpen. This way I know I am mentally focused every single game. So, when I was pushed later in the bullpen, 8th, or 9th inning, I would do the same routine that I did as a long relief pitcher. My routine worked for me so I never wanted to change it.
Jay – If you don’t mind, take us through a typical day at the park.
Steve – for a 7:00 p.m. game… I show up between 1:00-1:30. I eat lunch and relax. At 2:30 I go to the weight room and foam roll and warm myself up using Eric Cressey’s pre-workout routine. I then play catch at 3:00 followed by the team stretch at 4:15. I then condition and shag batting practice until 5:30. Eat dinner, shower, get dressed, and visualize pitching in a high intensity environment, hitting my spots and having success. I also lift on certain days between 1:30 and 3:00; upper body one day and lower the next. I won’t lift upper body until after the game. After most games I do my shoulder workout routine.
Section 3: Off-Season Training
Jay – In being a long time Cressey Performance athlete, how has your off-season training contributed to your physical development as well as your mental preparation?
Steve – My off-season training is vital to my performance during the season. Working out at Cressey Performance is the best place I can possibly train. Otherwise, I would not drive an hour and a half there and back to train there. Eric’s workouts are specifically designed to help in areas of weakness or areas that gave me trouble during the season. More importantly, my offseason training helps me mentally as I know if I put in the work, then I know I am prepared for the season. I know that I did everything possible to set myself up for success, so I have nothing to lose. Also, training at Cressey Performance is like being on a baseball team with the attitude of the guys, so it makes training a lot more fun. Training by myself would be brutal.
Jay – As January approaches, you plan to begin throwing once again. When first picking up a baseball after a long season, what are some of your initial goals in preparing for spring training?
Steve – I just plan on getting my arm strength ready to throw bullpens every other day in the spring. Matt Blake helps out by giving us throwing programs he designs that will get our arm strength to where it needs to be for a long season. This year not only do I need to get my arm ready, I also need to work on my change-up to use against left-handed hitters.
Jay – Steve, let’s talk about bullpens. We know that being indoors can get monotonous. What is your approach to throwing bullpens that allows to be best prepared for facing hitters at the highest level of baseball?
Steve – Early on when I throw, I’m just trying to get my body in a rhythm, staying smooth and hitting my spots, and not try to blow it out. Once I start mixing in my slider and changeup, then I try to amp it up. I won’t face hitters until live batting practice in spring training, but by that time I hope to be 10 bullpens completed.
Section 4: Advice for High School Athletes
Jay – Steve, you were a two sport athlete in high school. In today’s world of sports, kids try to specialize in a particular sport at an early age. Could you give us your take on how being a multi-sport athlete helped you to develop and play collegiate baseball, and eventually professional baseball?
Steve – Playing multiple sports is great because it makes you more of a well rounded athlete. For example, if you are playing basketball, you are getting far more agility work than you would in baseball. So, when you are playing baseball, you can react quicker to a ball, or while stealing a base, etc. Also my competitive edge in basketball gave me a burning desire to win in baseball. Any way I can compete I do it because mentally it trains me to desire to achieve success.
Jay – In having been asked to play several roles for the Marlins’ bullpen, what message would you give to high school players for how to handle accepting different roles for the team?
Steve – For me, I thank God for the opportunity just to be playing baseball. It is great to set goals and get to the position you want to be in. But, more so, I am thankful to the Lord to be able to play baseball and use the gifts given to me to glorify Him. So, no matter where I am on the field, I humbly accept it and I go at the game as hard as I possibly can. I’ll do anything to help the team. So, understand that whatever position you are given, that’s where the coach believes you can better help the team. So, be thankful.
Jay – Steve, you spend around three hours commuting daily to and from Cressey Performance during the off-season. It is obvious that you take your physical preparation very serious. If you could do high school athletics over again, what are some changes you would do in regards to your strength and conditioning approach?
Steve – I would change everything I did. I did not lift, long toss, run or anything. I just played whatever sport was in season. I didn’t know how to work at anything until college. I am thankful I went to Carson-Newman because they showed me what it takes to have success in college. The amount of work was overwhelming, but I had a burning desire to get better to help the team and I wish I had that same desire back in high school.
Jay – In regards to college recruiting, you chose to attend Carson-Newman. Many high school baseball players face some tough decisions when committing to a college. What were your priorities when choosing to commit to Carson-Newman that may help high school players in making their decision?
Steve – In my position, I was looking for a liberal arts school that would give me scholarship money and had a coaching staff that placed school and family before baseball. Coach Griff definitely made it a point at Carson-Newman that our education was important. The first thing he told us that if we missed a class we run 5 miles. I liked the discipline he instilled in us as players and being so far away from home, I knew I could trust the coaches at Carson Newman which made it a 2nd home for me.
One mark of being a great coach is the ability to run an efficient practice. The last thing that players want is a marathon practice. During my days as a coach, I had three weeks to prepare my team from the first official practice date until the opener. Needless to say, that’s not much time when you have to cover the following; first and thirds, bunt coverages, cut relays, base running, pitcher’s picks, run-down responsibilities, and then throw in individual instruction! With this being said, conditioning gets thrown on the back burner a lot of the times due to time constraints. This may not be earth shattering, but combining low-level instructional aspects of the game with conditioning may help a coach to keep practice times to less than three hours (although I preferred a 2.5 hour practice). Put yourself in the shoes of a high school athlete that just went through a long practice and now they have to run basic sprints. It’s not the most exciting thing to do, so why not combine the training into practice? The following are some considerations for coaches in being efficient in structuring their conditioning into instruction.
This may have been my favorite while serving as a coach. I wanted my players to chew up the base paths and be on the aggressive side at all times. We EXPECTED base runners to advance on balls in the dirt. We did this by having aggressive secondary leads and anticipating the catcher’s knees hitting the ground. You can preach this all you want, but without actually doing it outside of a game situation, I wouldn’t expect your players to pick this up. This is also a great drill for catchers to work on blocks and recoveries.
1) Divide your team equally at each base
2) Have two or three rotating catchers
3) 1 coach on the mound with a bucket of balls
One player at each base will get their lead based upon the coach simulating coming set. The coach will then deliver the pitch and at that point players will get an aggressive secondary lead. The base runners shift their focus from the pitcher to the catcher, and anticipate the catcher having to block a ball. If the ball is in the dirt, the player advances. If the ball is received, they simply get back hard to the bag.
Vary the type of deliveries on the mound: Left-hand hang and read, slide step, mix picks, etc.
Rundowns for Conditioning
When I first started to teach rundowns, I wanted to instill the basic fundamentals before I entered into rundown responsibilities during specific situations (i.e. picked runner at first, second, third, or any other crazy situation you have seen in high school baseball). No matter how you teach the actual rundown (follow throw, peel back, verbals, etc) you can structure this into your practice.
1) Three separate lines that are 90 feet long – Use cones if you are inside or in the outfield.
2) At least two position players at each cone/base.
3) Outfielders will be used as the base runners.
4) 1 ball per line.
The base runner will start about 15 feet out from the cone/base. The position player will start with the ball nearest the base runner (simulating a picked base runner). From there, each line will execute a rundown utilizing whatever cues you give your team. I always preferred for the opposite position player to close the base runner down, dictate when the ball is given up by using a verbal and a glove flash (I’ll leave that up to you).
Save this drill for a rainy day where you are either inside or in the outfield. Even if your infield is under water you can still work on infielder drills while accomplishing some conditioning as well.
3-2-1 Base Running
As I stated earlier, sprints often are boring to players and become monotonous. Incorporate base running instruction with sprint conditioning and you will give your players more intent, all while accomplishing an interval style conditioning session. 3-2-1 is very basic: 3 singles, 2 doubles, 1 triple.
1) Have your entire team line up at home plate.
2) 1 coach in front of the mound, first base, and at third base.
Singles: Each time a player runs a single, the must peek out of the box to locate where the ball is in play. The coach in front of the mound may signal a few things. Each will indicate whether the player makes an aggressive round at first, or runs through the bag. You can accomplish a few things in regards to instruction: If the player is peeking out of the box to locate the ball and is the player taking the proper turns at first base or running hard through the bag on a ball on the infield.
Doubles: In the doubles round the team will run two doubles and execute proper turns at first base. I used a cone between first and second base to simulate staying within the base path. Once the player gets within 15 feet of second base, consider instructing them to start picking up the third base coach. Consider consequences for not executing picking up the coach. Again, this is a way to reinforce the little aspects of the game that add up.
Triples: In the triples round the team will run one triple and execute the same things as in the doubles round. Make sure your players peek out of the box, make proper/efficient turns at first base, and pick up the third base coach as they approach second base and third base.
In simulating an interval-like effect, let each player reach first base before allowing the next player to start their sprint. Allow players to walk back to home plate before beginning the next sprint.
These three drills are a great way for a coach to be efficient in accomplishing instruction and sprint conditioning. As coaches, we are always striving to figure out ways to motivate players, keep practice upbeat, and become better as a team. Coaches do not have to set the world on fire with the most recent sprint conditioning model put out by the top strength and conditioning experts. Yes, there are times when conditioning should be on point, but given the nature of coaching high school baseball and the limited amount of time coaches have with players, combining drills with conditioning is a necessity.
Today’s guest blog features Adam Maddox, a former collegiate baseball player at the University of Central Missouri. Adam knows what it takes to grow a playoff beard. While playing for the St. Joe Mustangs in 2011, Adam’s mustache played a critical role in his record setting no-hitter.
Although the list of baseball superstitions is a long one, at the top you can always find the glorious “playoff beard.” Facial hair goes with playoff baseball like Babe Ruth goes with the Hall of Fame. In honor of No-Shave November, I’m going to shed light on this postseason tradition.
These performance-enhancing beards (PEBs, if you will) allow teams and players to take a new identity into the playoffs. For example, let’s look at this year’s World Series Champions, the San Francisco Giants.
Any non-baseball fan would have assumed that the Giants had picked up a homeless man from the streets of California to play right field for them this postseason. Baseball enthusiasts know that homeless man as Hunter Pence. His fiery leadership shown in the dugout helped spark an incredible postseason run for the G-Men. Without his beard, however, it would have just been leadership. The beard made it fiery.
Pence’s beard isn’t the most well known of the Giants’ PEBs, though. We are all well aware of Brian Wilson’s gorgeous piece of facial fur. His beard even has its own Facebook and Twitter accounts. With his beard, Brian Wilson looked like Gerard Butler’s stunt double in “300”. However, instead of chanting “This is Sparta”, Giants’ fans everywhere embraced the “Fear the Beard” battle cry on their way to the 2010 World Series crown. Sergio Romo hopped on the beard train as well, picking up right where the injured Wilson left off as Giants’ closer. End result: World Series Championship.
These beards give these players identities and confidence few clean-shaven men can rival. A solid playoff beard (i.e. Brian Wilson) sends a message to opponents, albeit sometimes a frightening one. A subpar PEB (i.e. Hunter Pence) also sends a message. The message is simple: I am homeless, crazy and will do anything to win.
So during this year’s No-Shave November, remember those who have not shaved before you. Remember Brian Wilson and Hunter Pence. Remember Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage. Remember Al Hrabosky and Dennis Eckersley. Heck, you can even remember Jim Joyce (just don’t remember the blown call). But more importantly, remember why they did it: to be remembered.
Adam Maddox graduated from the University of Central Missouri, majoring in public relations. Adam can be reached via Twitter @AdamMaddoxPR.
Today’s player interview features Cubs outfield prospect, John Andreoli. John is a native of Massachusetts and attended college at the University of Connecticut. He was drafted in the 17th round by the Cubs and has spent two seasons playing in their system. John was selected as a Florida State League Post-Season All-Star in just his second year while playing for the Daytona Cubs.
John comes from a family full of athletes and coaches. His intellect as a player has allowed him to be successful in baseball. In working at Cressey Performance, I have had the opportunity to meet John and discuss baseball on a daily basis. These conversations culminated to this; an official interview where John has answered questions about hitting and making the transition from college to professional baseball. Regardless of the level of baseball, this insight from John is beneficial for all of those whom play the game.
Q: Mechanically speaking, do you have a linear, rotational, or extension based approach to hitting?
John: When looking at my swing mechanics, I believe that I have a linear, rotational, and extensional approach to hitting. As hitters we learn from a very young age that you have to stay on top of the ball. From a mental standpoint this is a necessity. What I have come to learn over the past year is that in the high intensity of a game, our body naturally over emphasizes our actions. If a hitter does not concentrate on staying on top, the high pressure of the moment will cause a long and upper cutting bat path.
Alongside linear, a good swing from any hitter involves both rotation and extension. When a hitter drives the baseball, he gets into his front side with his lower half. This process of weight transfer from the backside through the front side is where the swing is rotational. Once contact is made, the swing becomes an extensional approach. The longer a hitter can stay on the plane of the ball with a top hand/ bottom hand position, the more success he is going to have. Once a hitter loses this top hand/ bottom hand feel, his chances of creating backspin on the baseball greatly decrease.
Q: What changes did you make mechanically when transitioning between college and professional baseball?
John: As I transitioned from the college to professional level, there were two main adjustments that I have had to make. The first is to change my mental approach in the batter’s box. In facing better competition in every level one progresses, the mental approach to an at-bat becomes that much more important. I had to realize the type of hitter I am (middle of the field), and what type of pitches bring me the most success.
Drill: Whether it is in front toss of BP, cut the plate in half (Middle in/Middle Out). Take turns of strictly looking for a pitch in one of the two zones – taking the pitch if it is in the zone you are not looking for. This works on developing an approach and hitting pitches we have prepared ourselves to hit.
Secondly I had to slow the process (from start to finish) of my swing down. In my high school and college years, the metal bat helped me get away with a lot. I was a very herky-jerky, tight, full effort hitter who found myself going to get a lot of pitches instead of letting it come to me. The process of slowing down a hitter’s swing is one in which 99% of big leaguers have mastered. Every swing has its different timing (leg kick, no stride, toe tap), but all good hitters get their foot down and are in the hitting position at the same point. One of the keys that have worked for me is to concentrate on getting my foot down when the pitcher gets his foot down. Obviously if a hitter gets his foot down too late, he is going to get beat, but if he gets his foot down too early he creates a start-stop motion which results in no rhythm and less bat speed.
Drill: Swing with a heavy bat for a good portion of your off season training. These bats are usually around 35-38 oz and will force a hitter to slow down his swing, taking away the ability to “muscle” the bat.
Q: Do pitchers attack hitters differently in professional baseball versus college baseball?
John: I believe that pitchers from professional and college baseball attack hitters the same. Depending on the type of pitcher, some pitchers will try to establish the inside part of the plate. Others will work to build the zone off of the outside corner. In both of these situations a hitter just has to lock in on the pitcher’s command for each pitch on that given day, and adjust his approach according to what we will see. For example, if we are facing a sinkerball pitcher who is trying to throw fastballs on the inner half, we have to adjust. In this scenario we want to see the ball up in the zone (lower strikes will drive into the dirt) and take Zones 1 and 2 out of our hitters zone (These pitches will naturally run off the plate)
By Zones 1 and 2, imagine the plate being broken down into 6 Zones of hitting
Inside Black – Zone 1 – Zone 2 – Zone 3 Line down the Middle – Zone 4 – Zone 5 – Zone 6 – Outside Black
*Note* This would be the opposite for a lefty
Q: Speaking in terms of approach at the plate, when does your preparation for the at-bat start?
John: I believe that the preparation for an at-bat starts as soon as you get to the ballpark. In most situations you have scouting reports on what type of pitcher is throwing that given day. In knowing how he pitches right/left hitters, we can start to go through our routine in preparation for what we will be seeing that day.
In a scenario where you have no scouting report on the pitcher throwing, I like to get out on the field early and see what kind of stuff he has. I believe you can tell what kind of mentality a pitcher has from how he approaches his warm up. If the bullpen is visible, a hitter can see what type of pitches he throws, where his arm slot is, and how quick/long his motion is out of the stretch. In addition, a hitter should use his teammates at-bats as a personal scouting report. What does he like throwing to right handed hitters (I’m right-handed)? What is his out pitch? Does he fall into a similar pattern in certain counts? Does he lead at-bats with the same pitch? Is he missing spots? Is he working inside/outside?
Q: Describe your thought process in a hitter’s count (3-1, 2-0) compared to a two-strike count.
John: When I am in a hitter’s count, I am looking for one pitch in one spot. The main thing here is to not be over anxious in these counts. Especially when it is 3-1, you see many hitters become too aggressive and go out of their zone. Hitters need to take their walks. When they don’t hitters end up miss hitting a lot of pitches and get themselves out. The key here is to know what pitch you want to hit, to put a good swing on it when you get it, and not be afraid to take a pitch. In both scenarios, a hitter can take a strike and still be in a hitters count (2-1 hitters count, 3-2 hitters count – pitcher needs to throw a strike). In knowing this, a hitter needs to let a pitcher come to him and make sure the pitcher pays when we get what we want.
The two-strike approach is completely different than the 3-1, 2-0 approach. When a hitter has two-strikes, he has to go into battle mode. First thing is that he MUST look fastball. If a hitter falls into the assumption that he may see a 1-2 curveball, that is all he is going to be able to hit. When we look fastball and adjust off-speed, we as hitters have the ability to hit any pitch. Also we have to look fastball middle away. Our fastest reaction as hitters will be to a fastball inside, and therefore we must use this as protection. Most pitchers are going to throw sliders/curves that work as chase pitches away from hitters. In looking middle away, our eyes will recognize these pitches easier and will increase our chances of fighting them off or putting them into play.
Drill: Front toss or BP two strike round. Take this same battle approach (looking middle away) and learn to recognize and fight off pitches. If it is a debatable strike, we should fight it off and not leave it up to the umpire.
Q: When working in the off-season, what does a typical cage session look like for Jon Andreoli?
2 Rounds of 10-15 Warm-up off tee – 60%
2 Rounds of 5-5-5 Outside/Inside/Middle
1 Round of 6-8 Low tee
Add. Drills: Two Tee Drill, Top/Bottom Hand w/Short Bat, Step Back Drill, High Tee Drill, Hitting off a tee w Fungo (Extension)
Work in these drills after Low Tee – Usually 1-2 a Day
Rounds of 8-10
2 Rounds of Top Hand Drill w/Short Bat
1 Round of Bottom Hand Drill w/Short bat
Add. 1 Round of Top Hand Drill w/Short ball
2 Rounds of 5-5-5 Outside/Inside/Middle w/Reg bat
Add. Drills: Heavy Bat, Step Back Drill, Swing with Fungo, Offset Drill
6 Rounds of 5
1 – 2 Bunt for Hits, 2 Sac, Squeeze
2 – Middle Round
3 – Hit-Run, 2 Get the Runner over, 1 Get the Runner in (Infield In), 1 Get the Running in (Infield back)
4 – Two Strike or Middle-Opposite Field Round
5 – Zone Round (3-1, 2-0 Approach)
6 – Middle Round
Q: Finally, how has your off-season at Cressey Performance helped to enhance your successes as a hitter?
John: If you are serious about baseball and want to reach your potential and more, Cressey Performance is where you want to be during the off-season. In going through my first full season of 140 games plus spring training, I felt that CP prepared my body for the grind. It helped me become more explosive both when hitting and running, it gave me flexibility that kept me healthy throughout the long haul of a season, it helped me develop a quicker first step towards fly balls and when stealing bases, and it built up muscle mass for me to rely on when the hot days of July and August came.
I credit a great deal of my success as a professional baseball player to the staff at Cressey Performance, and wish I had done it early in my baseball career. No matter what age you are, CP creates programs structured for the individual athlete, and works to develop one’s weaknesses into strengths.
Great hitters are not born; they simply do things to put themselves in great positions to be successful. Hitting a baseball is one of the most difficult tasks to perform in sports, and with that in mind, experts have long-debated the biomechanics of hitting in baseball. Timing is agreed upon as being a crucial piece in being a successful hitter, but while it is crucial, it is not imperative!
Great hitters will be late on the fastball and out in front of sliders; they are human, too. With correct timing hitters are able to get themselves in the strongest position at the point of contact. The pitcher throwing off-speed is trying to pull the hitter out of position! A hitter is in thestrongest position when the back elbow is tucked at a 90 degree angle into the back hip at contact.
Ideally, every hitter wants to be in Pujols’ position. However, even the great hitters have trouble getting to this position consistently. Further illustrating the difficulties of being on time, let’s consider the physics of baseball. A study performed by Yale professor, Dr. Robert Adair, detailed the amount of time from release point to the plate. A 90 mph pitch will arrive at the plate in 400 milliseconds. During that time a hitter must recognize the pitch type and location and get to astrong contact position.
According to Professor Adair’s illustration, it takes a hitter 150 milliseconds to complete a swing at 80 mph. This leaves the hitter roughly 250 milliseconds to locate the ball, process, decide, and start the swing. Professor Adair’s study helps piece together the physics and how difficult being on time is for a hitter. However, there are other variables that were not included in the study that can disrupt timing for the hitter. Let’s review some of these variables:
• Pitch velocity
• Pitch type (2-seam, 4-seam, change-up, slider, curveball, cutter, splitter, etc)
• Arm speed variability
• Arm angle and release point
• Pitcher’s method of delivery (windup, stretch, slide step, left hand pitcher hang and read, etc)
• Variability of the hitter’s bat velocity
• Situational hitting (hit and run, hitting behind runner at second, sac fly)
Professor Adair’s study does not include human variability. At any time, the pitcher can change his delivery and pitch velocity, which affects the timing aspect of the hitter. Professor Adair’s statistics are of one pitch! Each pitch thrown by a pitcher in a game is unique! It almost seems humanly impossible to be on time consistently. I can guarantee that the best hitters in the game aren’t always on time, yet they still manage to eclipse the .300 average mark. Hitting a baseball now becomes an equation of probability. After all, pitch recognition is a guess! It has been said that hitters lose track of the baseball within 5 feet of the plate….. so now what? Hitting a baseball now becomes an educated guess! You are starting your swing where you THINK the ball will be.
“Great hitters get the barrel on plane earlier and keep the barrel on plane longer than average hitters.”
Keeping the barrel in the bat plane is just as important as having great timing. I have already established that timing isn’t the be-all, end-all for becoming a great hitter. It’s the positions hitters put themselves in when their timing is off that allows for eclipsing the .300 average mark. Touching on a quick side note, I believe that contact percentage is a mark of a great hitter, not just overall batting average. In 1941, Joe DiMaggio set the hit streak record at 56 games, a record that may never be broken. Do you think that a contact percentage of 97% had anything to do with setting the record? I think so, as Joe only struck out 13 times!
Using Video Analysis to Determine Bat Plane
Cressey Performance pitching instructor, Matt Blake, utilizes the Right View Pro system when evaluating mechanics. For the purpose of discussing bat plane I have taken images from RVP to help illustrate the importance of the bat plane and how it relates to timing. The first image we will look at is MLB’s Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera.
*Note: Red = pitch line/bat plane, Blue = distance knee traveled from start to contact, Green = Barrel from start to contact.
In this image, Cabrera is not in a great point of contact position, but he did great things during his swing to allow himself to stay on the plane. His contact position is out front and he is slightly early, which is why his back elbow is extended. Result? Line drive single to left field. Cabrera was able to maintain a good position to hit because of his ability to keep the barrel in the bat plane past his strongest point of contact. Cabrera’s success is not based off of having perfect timing, but instead putting himself in a position to be successful. So, how does he get the barrel to the plane early and stay through, even past the optimal point of contact? I think this is a question hitting coaches have been trying to figure out for decades. For the sake of keeping this short, let’s examine a few key components.
Early to the Bat Plane
Getting the barrel to the beginning of the bat plane is driven by the back elbow. Upon toe touch and heel plant, Cabrera’s first move is with the hips, which allows for the elbow to get clearance to move directly to the back hip. In being direct with the elbow, Cabrera avoids having an elongated swing.
Optimal Contact Position
A contact position with the back elbow flexed and tucked tightly to the body will allow for optimal power.
Consider the sport of boxing. Great knockout punches are not performed with full extension; rather, the punches land with flexion in the elbow because it is a stronger point of contact. This idea is evident in baseball, too!
Keeping the Barrel in the Bat Plane
Consider Cabrera’s lower body as the key ingredient in keeping the barrel in the bat plane. The distance his back knee travels allows him to keep his barrel in the bat plane, and in this case, past his ideal point of contact. If Cabrera “squishes the bug”, he either rolls over or his barrel is out of the bat plane by the time the ball reaches him. There are other factors that help Cabrera stay in plane, such as elbow extension. However, if we want optimal power, we do not want to have elbow extension to occur before contact. Cabrera’s ability to keep the barrel in the bat plane past the point of contact is what makes him a cut above most major leaguers and the reason he won a Triple Crown. On the flip side, if Cabrera were to be late with his timing, his barrel in this particular swing is in plane starting at the back of the plate; giving him an opportunity to be successful.
Timing is Only a Piece of the Puzzle
Timing is an important component of hitting, but raw hitting mechanics should take precedence over addressing uncontrollable variables against which players compete. In low levels of baseball, players can get away with not being in the bat plane like Cabrera is. Why? A majority of lower level pitchers have one or two pitches they can control, and a majority of strikes are thrown over the heart of the plate. The debate over linear, extension-based, and rotational hitting approaches can be saved for future discussions. Regardless of the hitting philosophy, keeping the barrel in the bat plane before and after optimal contact position increases the probability of making contact with the ball.
Head coaches wear many hats. They have to manage fundraisers, lineups, discipline, practice schedules, bus schedules, communication (parents, players, administrators), and not to mention managing the actual games. Conditioning is put on the back-burner at times, especially for pitchers. It’s really easy for a coach to draw a number out of a hat and send pitchers to run poles. Why? It’s easy and has been the means of conditioning for years in baseball. In fact, professional baseball teams still have pitchers do long distance running. If you are a coach that continues to follow this ancient model of running poles, please refer to the links below and consider implementing sprint training between pitchers’ starts.
Eric Cressey on Long Distance Running
Joe Meglio’s Take on Distance Running
There is still much to be debated in regards to a proper model for pitchers between starts. Below is a basic model for pitchers that I used during my days at Lexington High School.
I am a firm believer that you have to be able to justify what you implement into a conditioning program. If you are a coach that implements long distance running because that was how you conditioned 20 years ago during your collegiate days, consider that times have changed.