Generally, as players get older, pitchers get better and tougher to hit. Pitchers throw harder, have better off speed pitches, better control, and make the ball move more as they get older. All of these make hitting harder. However, there is one challenge that younger players face that most higher level players don't: extreme variability in pitching velocity.
In the major leagues, the average fastball is 92 mph. Most major league pitchers live in a range between 90-95 mph. Anything lower or higher, hitters tend to feel less comfortable and can struggle. At lower levels, pitching speeds can vary greatly. In little league, hitters can see a much wider range. The hardest pitchers at the 46/60 level can reach speeds in the upper 60s and low 70s. Meanwhile, others throw in the 40s. On any given night, a little league player could see a 20-25 mph speed difference from the night before. Even high school hitters can see this extreme variability. Top level high school pitchers (division 1 or pro prospects) can sit in the upper 80s to low 90s. Other high school,pitchers struggle to throw 75.
Some hitters struggle with being too late, others struggle with being too early. In today's article, part 1, we will take a look at why hitters struggle being too early on the ball. most of the time this comes as a result of facing a slower pitcher, by can also be the sign of a mechanical flaw.
What good timing looks like
In a good timed swing on a pitch down the middle, hitters will make contact with the ball somewhere over their front foot. Like this:
3 mechanical signs that you are on time:
1. Ball is hit somewhere over the front foot. Contact should be made slightly out in front on an inside pitch and slightly behind on an outside pitch.
2. Back arm "L". At contact, the back arm should form what looks like an L in right handed hitters and a J in left handed hitters. This tells us that the arms have not extended yet. When the arms extend too soon, bat speed slows down.
3. Contact is made with head in the middle of the body
What does it look like if a hitter is too early?
A hitter who is too early with either display reaching or lunging. Reaching for the ball is when a hitter has their arms extended at contact and is meeting the ball far in front of their front foot. Lunging is when a hitter pushes the vast majority of their weight over their front side in order to get the body closer to the ball.
Many times, hitters salivate over the prospect of facing a slower than average pitcher. However, these soft throwers often present just as many, if not more challenges to young hitters than hard throwers do. So the question is why, with more time to react, do hitters struggle against what seems like an easier pitcher?
3 Main reasons a hitter is too early
- Inability to control forward momentum (lunging)
Lunging is is not a problem that I see too often, but when it appears, it can often show up when a hitter is facing a slower pitcher. Basically, rather than allowing the ball to travel and hitting the ball deeper in the zone, the hitter is jumping out to meet the ball. For more details on lunging check out my article here.
2. Inability to keep hands back
Many young hitters struggle to use their entire body to swing the bat, and prefer to use the arms and hands more. In particular, they start their swing with their arms instead of the lower body. In a good swing, as the batter strides into the launch position and the body travels forward, the hands should stay back. Look at Vladimir Guerrero on the right. As his body moves forward into the launch position, his hands move back. This allows the hands to stay back and lets the ball travel to the hitter instead of the hitter leaking the hands too soon and struggling with being early.
3. Pull happy approach
Sometimes being too early is simply a product of approach. While I have no problem with a hitter trying to pull the ball, at times young hitters can be too focused on pulling. Many times this occurs as a result of playing on a field with a short fence and a hitter becomes too focused on trying to drive the ball out of the park.
- Facing batting practice that is too fast.
Many times, coaches want to challenge their hitters by throwing batting practice that is at or above game speed. While this could be a valuable exercise at times, doing this too often can cause issues. Hitters who are thrown batting practice that is too hard can easily become "collision hitters." This means that a hitters must just simply try to throw everything they have at a pitch because it is the only way to catch up. How can you tell if you are broke a collision hitter? Have your coach wind up and fake throw a ball. If you end up lunging forward or your back foot can't stay planted on the ground, batting practice needs to be slowed down. Continuing to throw high speed batting practice will only increase the problem.
2. Hitting off of the tee out of position
Any first lesson that I have with a hitter I ask them to show me where they set up to hit off of the tee. More often than not, they are out of position. They either set the tee up too far out front or they set the tee up too far back. In the case of being too early, many hitters practice with the tee too far out front. This causes the hitter to have to find a way to get to the ball. This is either achieved by lunging at the ball with the whole body or reaching for the ball by extending the arms.
How to fix being too early
1. Take slower batting practice
By having a hitter face slower batting practice, they have to learn to allow the ball to travel to them, rather than jumping out to get the ball.
2. Hit off of the tee with the tee set back in the zone
While many timing issues are not solved by tee work, hitters who do not feel comfortable hitting the ball deep in the hitting zone can benefit from this approach. Ideally, when doing tee work a hitter wants to set the tee up directly over the front foot after they stride. With a hitter who has a problem being too early, setting the tee up at the front foot before the stride or even deeper will get them to feel what it is like to hit the ball deeper in the zone.
3. Take an opposite field approach
For hitters who understand how to hit the ball the other way, telling hitter to try and drive the ball to the opposite field can often times let the ball travel deeper before they attack it. This does not mean that every ball has to be hit the other way, it just means that a hitter is thinking about letting the ball travel.
Stay Tuned for part 2: Timing Issues in Young Hitters: Being too Late