Where to go to choose your hitting models
It’s often been said, here and elsewhere, that one of the most important things you can do during lessons is compare what you (or your daughter, player, etc.) is being told to do against what the best players in the world do. If it doesn’t match it, it’s probably not the way to go.
For hitting, one obvious place to go for comparison is Major League Baseball (ML. The best hitters there are paid millions of dollars by willing owners who compete for their services, so there’s a good chance those hitters know what to do. (Whether they know what they’re doing is a debate for another day.)
Still, it can be difficult for some players to relate to baseball players. And there are always some coaches who think baseball and softball are two different games that only look similar, which means they think what works in baseball won’t work in softball. Not true, but it’s hard to change a mindset. So with that in mind, another good place to look for models of how to swing the bat is college softball.
How do you know which softball players (or teams) to follow? A good place to start is with the statistics.
This area on the NCAA website shows the stats for the top hitters in college. As I write this it’s late March 2014, so the link may have moved for 2015. But poke around a bit and you should be able to find it. You can who is leading in batting average, on-base percentage, home runs, slugging percentage and a whole bunch more. (It also shows some pitching stats.) Look at the leaders in various categories and the odds are you’ll find some hitters who really know what they’re doing.
There is also a team section that shows which teams are leading in various categories. Not surprisingly, Arizona is leading in batting average and slugging percentage, and #3 in home runs per game and overall scoring.
Now, we can debate all day long as to how much actual impact the coaching staff has on how their players hit. Unless you’re on the inside it’s tough to know for sure, although my guess is they work with them a lot. But if nothing else, a team with great hitting stats shows the coaching staff knows what to look for in hitters. So there’s a good chance those are again some good models to follow. Put the two together – the best hitters on the best hitting teams – and you’ve likely found some great players to use as models.
The other good thing about using college players as a model is their results are probably closer to their reality of what you can achieve. Although it’s good to look at MLB hitters, keep in mind there is a HUGE difference in game experience, practice time put in, athletic ability, strength, and learning abilities between a 28 year old MLB professional in the prime of his career and, say, a 12 or 14 year old girl who is still learning the game.
There is also a HUGE difference in the access to top-level facilities, video of every swing, access to coaching and, quite frankly, time and incentive to work on their swings between these two groups. A high-level MLB player has literally million$ of reasons to spend hours studying his swing and working to improve it. A young girl, even the most dedicated of them, is trying to work in hitting practice between school, homework, family obligations, other activities and all the challenges that go along with adolescence.
But a college player, while more accomplished and with more access to facilities, still has many other things happening in her life and competing for her time. And she’s not that far removed from being that 12 or 14 year old player. So while the college player’s swing may not be ideal just yet, it may also be more achievable.
The bottom line is don’t just believe what someone calling him or herself a hitting coach tells you. As Ronald Regan liked to say, trust but verify. (Side note: Regan said it about the Soviet Union, which was ironic because it’s an old Russian proverb.) Use those resources to see who the best college softball hitters are right now and compare what they’re doing to what you’re hearing. It could save you a lot of work heading in the wrong direction.