Hitting and timing

Tried a little experiment this morning. We’ve been working on hitting mechanics for a while now, but last week during an indoor game we just didn’t hit the way I’d hoped. I would describe our hitters as looking surprised when the pitcher delivered the ball. We seemed to be defending more than attacking.

So we went back to the ol’ Jugs machine. I watched the first group as they approached their swings, and they were consistently behind the ball. Their timing just didn’t seem to be there. So we talked about loading and weight shift, and when to go about it. Essentially we went with a slower load and shift, with toe touch occuring about as the ball came out. The object was to get rid of the panicked or rushed feeling, and give the hitter more time to see the ball before committing.

The other thing we did was reemphasize turning the hips before the shoulders and hands move. This is kind of hitting101 these days. But I think because of that we’d quit looking at it, and our girls had started going upper body first. As we emphasized starting the swing from the hips, again it seemed to make a difference. They were in a better position to see the ball, the timing was better, and they started taking the fat part of the bat to the ball with more consistency.

Now, a pitching machine isn’t the same as live hitting. But it does give you a feel for how well you’re tracking the ball. Put another way, hitting off a machine doesn’t guarantee success. But NOT hitting off a machine is often a harbinger of failure.

Only time will tell how much difference it made. But right now it at least feels like a step in the right direction. Hopefully it will help make all the work on hitting mechanics pay off in a big way. You can never have enough offense!

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About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on December 22, 2008, in Hitting, Mental game. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. That stride can be so devastating to a hitter. The more I watch girls hitting, the more I wish most of them would simply take it away. The stride is for timing and not for weight transfer. Yet, I watch girl after girl shifting their weight during the stride and it simply kills them. Their timing is off and they can’t sit back on an off-speed pitch. I have moved my DD to a no-distance stride – meaning she picks it up and back down in the same place. Her stride was terrible, not only did she stride too far, she shifted her weight and opened up her foot and therefore also her hips. Performing the stride and toe touch can never happen too early, in fact, we are working with my DD to have hers done just before the ball is released from the pitcher and it has helped her tremendously. Timing is huge – without it, it doesn’t matter what kind of swing you have because you won’t hit it anyway. So if your DD is having issues with the stride or weight transfer – you might want to remove the stride – make it so she starts with a wider stance, pick up her toe and put it back down before the pitcher releases the ball and see how much it helps.

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  2. Mike, the weight shift forward is an important element of hitting. It’s what all great and even good hitters do in fastpitch softball and in baseball. Take a look at the clips here. http://imageevent.com/siggy/hitting If you slow them down and step through them, you will see that all of these hitters shift their weight forward before they swing. You will also see some element of stride, although the length varies. If you can find some good side views of MLB hitters you will see the same thing.You might want to check out the USA Softball DVD series with Mike Candrea, or materials from Sue Enquist and Deb Hartwig. All advocate a weight shift forward as part of the positive move. So does the NFCA in its Coaches College course on the technical side of hitting. There must be a reason they all advocate it. Eliminating the stride also eliminates any chance at power. She may hit well in the cage, but in a game the ball is not going to go very far. To drive the ball into the outfield you need a number of things to happen, including a weight shift into it. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Better to work on striding correctly (foot closed so the hips don’t open early) than eliminate it (and the weight shift) entirely.

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  3. Maybe I didn’t explain well enough. I didn’t say take away weight shift – not by any means. What I was saying is that too many shift their weight during the stride. The stride is purely for timing. I haven’t seen anyone in the MLB that just picks up and puts down, but I have seen enough in Div 1 softball that it is a valid technique. The weight shift is extremely important, but needs to happen when the swing is triggered – when the front heel comes down. It is not supposed to happen when striding. If you shift your weight during the stride, you won’t have anything back to get the off-speed stuff. When you stride and get to toe touch, the majority of your weight should still be on the back leg, no more and no less than what it was at load. beleive me, I never meant for it to come out that no weight shift is needed – I completely believe that it is needed. I also believe the timing of when that happens is extremely critical and simply cannot happen during the stride. My DD was having major issues with the stride – so it is now a zero length stride – up and then down – without any weight transfer. In addition to fixing her weight transferring too early, this is also preventing her from opening too early which was another major issue of hers.

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  4. No question the no-stride works better for some hitters. But if you take a look at those clips in the link above, and step through them, you’ll see that the weight transfer occurs as part of the stride. Watch the centers of their bodies as they stride. They don’t stay in place, they move forward. Forward movement is completed at toe touch. Rotation is initiated with the heel plant. If you do that, and start rotation with the hips, you’re still able to hold up on an off-speed pitch because the arms and hands aren’t committed until the ball is on its way. You have a short swing at that point.Where it gets off is when the hitter goes out of sequence. If weight shift is followed by upper body rotation with the hips following, she will be out in front of an offspeed pitch. She will also have trouble timing the pitch overall. If she starts rotation during the stride it gets even worse, no question. But if she shifts her weight to toe touch, then starts hip rotation at heel plant, the timing will work out.

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  5. Not sure I agree with you. I see them getting momentum going during the stride, but I don’t think the transfer happens until toe touch and before heel plant. Transfer, in my words, is the shift of weight, primarily on the back leg, from the back leg to the front leg. If the front leg is not down, then there can’t be any weight on it. I don’t want to get caught up in percentages as I hear different numbers being thrown around – anywhere from 70:30 to 55:45 to start and then going to the reverse of that after weight shift (ie, 30:70 to 45:55). Whatever the actual percent is doesn’t much matter to me – it is the principle that matters. What I would like to see is a clip of when they do not swing. In every one of these clips the girls commit to swinging. Also, you look at these clips, the ones under the ‘Fastpitch’ link, and you don’t see many swings being executed as they are taught – I see many things happening that we don’t want to see. Bustos nearly locks out her front arm, Michelle Smith has a completely different technique where she uses a hip slide with absolutley no stride nor even pickup/down, Samantha Findley drops her back leg back towards the dugout – never forms and L and never brings it towards the pitcher, Mendoza and Callahan both have a very bent front knee – nothing straight about those front legs, and in fact Mendoza’s swing is pretty ugly in my opinion, she scrunches her body by dropping the back shoulder and bending the front knee and has no arm extension, rolls the wrists and doesn’t finish high….. Ok, I got this is off subject so back to the originally discussion – just wanted to point out that even the best don’t always do things by the book. To me, it looks like weight transfer, though possibly aided by the stride, happens between toe touch and heel plant. I believe a zero length stride (up and down)can get you there as well. I will also admit that it MIGHT not yield as much power as a proper stride due to more momentum being created during a PROPER stride. Weight transfer can occur by simply having the heel off the ground and moving forward before heel plant – try it – I can feel it myself. The reason I say this is because I see too many girls have very improper strides and this leads to too many other issues that just kills the swing. If the stride cannot be easily fixed, like with my daughter who worked on it for years and never corrected it, then take it away. Either pick up the heel and put it down or do a zero length stride where they pick up the toe and put it back down (this prevents too long or too short a stride, prevents too much weight going forward, it prevents hip slide, prevents landing with the foot too far open which saps much power and, at least with my DD, helps timing). Somewhere down the line we will try to reintroduce a positive distance stride to her, but for now, the very small bit of power she may be losing, is gained back, and then some, by better technique and better timing.

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  6. No question there are some “interesting” techniques on there. It’s too bad the MLB clips had to come down. There was probably more consistency and cleaner technique on those clips. Of course, most of those hitters probably had another six to 10 years’ worth of experience over the college softball players. Sounds like we agree that the weight shift starts during the positive movement forward — the stride for hitters who stride. It sounded before like you were saying it didn’t happen until after the stride, which would be too late. Maybe I misread it. The weight shift is completed by heel drop, which is when rotation starts. Going back to the original post, I was commenting on when it occurs. What I’ve been seeing is hitters are waiting too long to get there. They tend to go for a quick, “jumpy” stride instead of a smooth one. What I was saying is that starting that movement sooner gives the hitter more time to get into proper position. When you watch MLB hitters, they seem to take their time during the stride. They know when they need to get to toe touch (and ultimately heel plant), and as long as they’re there at the proper time it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there. As you probably guessed, I’m not a big fan of the no-stride technique. If the hitter can get her weight transferred well doing it, that’s good. But it seems like they usually wind up staying back and hitting off the back foot, so you potentially solve one issue and create another. Seems like an earlier start to the stride takes care of the timing issue while allowing better weight shift. The opening of the front foot and hip is (or at least should be) a separate issue. I don’t see it as cause/effect, although they can certainly occur simultaneously. A no stride could certainly address that — if you’re not giving up other stuff along with it.As for what top hitters do without swinging, I put up a video of Albert Pujols in a new post that shows several pitches before he ultimately swings. You asked for it, I delivered! 🙂

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  7. You did indeed come through – thank you. I will comment more in that post and make this one short(er). My original comment was that if your girl is having issues brought upon her due to an improper stride, and if it seems it cannot be easily remedied (such as with my daughter – no matter how many objects we put in front of her foot to keep it closed, no matter how many times she practiced it, as soon as the object was gone, she opened up) then don’t be afraid to get rid of the stride that requires positive distance. I believe, and have done it myself and felt it through my own mechanics, that you can accomplish everything needed by either picking up and putting down the foot in place, or simply keeping the heel off the ground and putting it down. It is a zero distance stride. An improper stride can result in MANY bad cumulative results as mentioned in earlier posts. If there is a power loss, and I’m not certain there is but will be open to the possibility, it is very small, much smaller than the effect of opening up during stride, or bad timing or hip slide…. I understand you are not a fan of it, but I still believe it is a viable option that can work for girls having issues obtaining a proper stride.

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  8. Right, not a fan of it and will try to discourage it as a first resort. But I am also for anything that helps a player experience success. There’s enough failure built into the game already. If that’s what it takes to help your daughter get the rest of it and hit the ball then you do what you have to do. I’ve certainly gone off the reservation a few times when a player simply could not master a particular technique. By the way, as you know I also favor a closed front foot. But I certainly see no lack of good hitters who open the foot as much as 45 degrees at stride. Not ideal, IMHO, but it seems to work for them.

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  9. Mike, I don’t agree that the stride is purely for timing. I actually don’t think it has anything to do with timing, but rather is in direct conflict with timing. I believe it is easier to time your swing the less you stride. Striding is mainly used to promote weight shift. And as far as MLB hitters that just pick up and set down, there are a bunch of them. Bagwell and Edmonds immediately come to mind. Bagwell actually slightly reverse strided (I don’t think that is a word). The idea of where your weight is at toe touch (or a micro second before toe touch) needs to be talked of the right way. Obviously, the micro second before toe touch your weight has to be 100% on your back foot because it is the only foot on the ground. That doesn’t mean weight shift hasn’t started yet. Weight shift is about where the center of your mass is linearly. A weight shift means the center of gravity of your body mass is moving forward, and with the great hitters I watch, that is occurring well before toe touch. This assumes of course we are talking about a hitter who employs linear movement in there swing. There are still plenty of MLB hitters who are strictly rotational, but i don’t think we are talking about that type of hitting here. I tell my girls if they get fooled on the change up with less than two strikes on them to just swing right through it and live to hit another pitch. With two strikes then hold on the front toe until the ball gets to you and then take a purely rotational swing and try to hit a line drive somewhere (you will have to give up the idea of going for the fences but you can still hit it hard).

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  10. <>Yes, DD for one :>).

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  11. I think both of you make some good points.How early someone starts the loading process is strictly a matter of style. And even if they start early, it is usually a soft load that increases in intensity near and after release.What many fastpitch hitters do is to take a jab step, after release, let the ball release happen first, and end up opening up early even when just taking a jab step.If you look at the Pujols clip, you can see he is very relaxed, and has a very quick load and step (which isn’t very big). And he changes this sometimes and after tracking many of his at bats, I think he does it depending on what he is looking for on that pitch.So sometimes, he is referred to as a no strider.The difference between a fastpitch hitter, HS or below, is they are not relaxed before the load, they do not load correctly, and therefor do not have the rhythm and timing as Pujols shows.There are many ML hitters, who would also be considered as quick striders and load/unload, Griffey is one example.What I see as an issue with fastpitch hitters, is they try to muscle up hip rotation, the upperbody, etc.,. And I do not like what fastpitch hitter do in a jab step, and I do not care for the jab step. Weight shift, It should be used with fastpitch hitters. The only thing that can really fool them is one pitch, the change up. And not every pitcher has one. Unlike in baseball where many pitches can fool you because of speed changes and break. And you should “not” make it a goal for the hitter to not be fooled “ever”. That is just, well stupid, as a hitter you should be fooled at times and is a natural part of hitting. What you should do is help the hitter recognize through feel when they are fooled, and maybe they can hold up on some of those swings, or as Ken said to just swing through and don’t try to make contact with less then two strikes.Many times the coach will give the hitter advice during the at bat and tell the hitter to stay back after being fooled or out of sequence. So what does the hitter do 95% of the time, the then stand like a statue and the next ball gets blown right past them. Now if I had a dollar for ever time I’ve seen this, it would cover some of the money I’ve spent on fastpitch and hitting material, technology, an so on. I don’t know how much money I’ve spent, but I would say it’s easily over 5 thousand. It’s why I first bought a computer.There are some “style” issues with the no stride, they all don’t do it the same way. Although with the “correct” thinking you can do everything the same as if you were taking a stride. And you see more hitters moving in and out of no stride these days. Although I have very old footage of hitters using a no stride as far back as 50 years ago. I have clip of Ted Williams using a no stride in batting practice. It’s nothing new, it’s just because of hitter being taught, to stay back, and only stride a couples of inches it is becoming increasingly more popular.

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