5 Reasons Lefties Should Be Trying to Hit to Right
The other day I was working with a left-handed hitter and noticed two things.
The first was that her sister, who went out to shag balls after her own lesson, set herself up in left field. The second was that the sister was correct – everything was going out that way.
I told the girl who was hitting that she was late, needed to get her front foot down earlier to be on time, especially on inside pitches, and all the usual advice for someone who is behind the ball. But then it occurred to me – she might have been going that way on purpose.
So I did the most sensible thing I could – I asked her about it. “Did someone tell you to hit to left all the time?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “My old team coach.”
This is the second time I’ve heard that from a lefty. The first actually got that advice from a supposed hitting coach.
Forcing lefties to try to hit to left on every pitch makes no sense to me. Sure, if the pitch is outside you should go with it. That’s hitting 101.
But on a middle-in pitch? No way! Here are five reasons why that’s just plain old bad advice.
Giving Up Power
This is the most obvious reason. The power alley for any hitter is to their pull side.
You get the most body and bat velocity on an inside pitch when you pull it. Laying back on an inside pitch to try to hit it to left is taking the bat out of the hitter’s hands, which you don’t want to do – especially in today’s power-driven game.
Encouraging the hitter to barrel up on the ball and hit to her pull side will result in bigger, better, more productive contacts. And a much higher slugging (SLG) and on base plus slugging (OPS) percentage, leading to more runs scored and opportunities taken advantage of.
Creating a Longer Throw from the Corner
If a left-handed hitter pulls the ball deep down the first base line and has any speed at all there’s a pretty good chance she will end up with a triple. It’s a long throw from that corner to third base, and will likely actually involve two long throws – one from the corner to the second base relay, and another from the relay to third.
A hit to the left field corner, however, will more likely result in a double. It’s a much shorter throw and one that doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t except for the younger levels) involve a relay. One less throw means one less chance for something to go wrong for the defense.
I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have my runner on third than on second. As this chart from 6-4-3 Charts shows, your odds of scoring go up considerably regardless of the number of outs when your baserunner is on third:
You probably didn’t need a chart to show you that – it’s pretty easy to figure out on your own – but it always helps to have evidence.
Hitting Behind the Runner
Coaches spend a lot of time
talking screaming at their right-handed hitters about the need to learn how to hit behind the runner at first. Then why shouldn’t lefties be encouraged to do it as well?
It ought to come natural to a lefty. Now, part of the reason for hitting behind the runner is to take advantage of a second baseman covering second on a steal, which is less common in softball and probably doesn’t happen with a lefty at the plate.
But what about advancing a speedy runner from first to third? Again, longer throw from right.
A well-hit ball to right, even one that doesn’t find a gap, gives that speedy runner a chance to get from first to third with one hit. A well-hit ball to left that doesn’t find a gap will probably still require the runner to hold up at second because the ball is in front of her.
So if you’re teaching your lefties to go to left all the time you’re leaving more potential scoring opportunities on the table. In a tight game, the ability to go to right instead of left could mean the difference between a W and an L.
Taking Advantage of a (Potentially) Weaker Fielder
This isn’t always the case. There are plenty of great right fielders, especially on higher-level teams.
But for many teams, right field is where they try to hide the player who may have a great bat but a so-so ability to track a fly ball or field a ground ball cleanly.
Why hit to the defense’s strength when you can hit to its weakness instead? At worst, if right field is a great fielder you’re probably at a break-even point.
If she’s not, however, you can take advantage of the softball maxim that the ball will always find the fielder a team is trying to hide.
Reducing Their Chances of Being Recruited
Most of today’s college coaches want/expect their hitters to be able to hit for power. Not just in the traditional cleanup or 3-4-5 spots but all the way through the lineup.
A lefty who only hits to left looks like a weak hitter. (And is, in fact, a weak hitter.)
Unless that lefty is also a can’t-miss shortstop, college coaches are going to tend to pass on position players who don’t look like they can get around on a pitch. That’s just reality.
Teach your lefties to pull the ball when it’s appropriate and they stand a much better chance of grabbing a college coach’s attention. And keeping it until signing day.
Don’t. Just Don’t
Teaching lefties to hit to left as their default is bad for them and bad for the team. It also doesn’t make much logical sense.
Encourage them to pull the ball to right when it’s pitched middle-in and you -and they – will have much greater success.
Hit the Back of the Cage? I Don’t Think So
This isn’t actually the topic I’d planned on writing about today, but an email hit my mailbox this morning that I thought was worth sharing. Especially since many of us have moved inside for the winter.
The author was Mike Ryan of Fastball USA, a facility and program located within fairly easy driving distance of my house. I don’t really know Mike, but I definitely know his brother Pat (shout out, dude) who used to coach for their softball program and has raised some pretty darned good fastpitch ballplayers himself.
Anyway, Mike’s email was talking about how deceiving a batting cage can be when judging the success of hits. Here’s an excerpt from the email:
Most balls hit on a line drive in a cage are actually ground balls.
You need to aware of this, otherwise you will look like a powerful
hitter in the cage, and go outside and be a ground ball machine.
👉For example, in our batting cage at Fastball USA we figured out when the L screen is 35 feet away, a ball that hits the top of the screen is roughly at a 8-10 degree launch angle. 10 degrees if it makes it over.
Most hits in MLB happen between a 10-30 degree launch angle.
So common sense tells us, any ball flight below the top of the L screen produces a ground ball in a game.
We also figured out that if a player hit a ball to the top of the net directly over our L screen it was roughly a 20 degree launch angle.
I’m so glad to hear someone else say this. Fastpitch softball still seems to labor under some old beliefs about hitting, including the idea that a batted ball that hits the top of the cage instead of the back is bad.
In fact, I know players who have been dinged/yelled at/cajoled or whatever because their hits were going to the top of the cage toward the back. While I appreciate Mike doing the math to confirm it (evidence is always good) I don’t think you have to be a geometry expert to figure out that a hard-hit ball that hits the top of the net at around 40-50 feet is pretty likely to travel the distance needed to make it close to or over a fence 200 to 220 feet away from home. Or even less if you’re on a shorter field.
Balls going over the fence are good things because, well, they’re really hard to defend. And they produce runs – as many as 4 with one hit.
Which means that if you’re rewarding hitters for hitting the back of the net (even if it’s low) and punishing them for hitting the top, you’re not making your team better. You’re actually killing your ability to score runs and win games.
Ok, that’s the long ones. But what about the balls that are only up to or even a little in front of that screen set at 35 feet?
Surely those must result in can of corn fly balls? Here’s what Mike had to say about that (and I know, don’t call you Shirley):
If the ball hits the top of the net about 5 feet in front of the screen you’re on about a 30 degree launch angle.
Remember that most MLB hits top out at 30 degrees, so you’re still in great shape. He then goes on to say that the lowest you want to hit the ball is the top of the L screen, and the highest is about 5 feet in front.
Of course, if you have your screen set closer to simulate faster pitching (as I usually do) that visual will change. But if you mark off roughly where 30 feet is in the cage you’ll have a pretty good idea of whether that contact was going to be an extra-base hit or an easy out.
So there you go. If you have a girl consistently hitting the top of the net 30-50 out, don’t punish her. Encourage her. She could wind up being a big bat for you next season.
By the way, if you want to see more from Mike, he posts at the Baseball Education Center. This particular article isn’t up there yet but I imagine it will be at some point.
I got on his mailing list through Paul Reddick Baseball, so I imagine if you sign up for Paul’s emails you’ll start getting Mike’s too. (I didn’t see any direct way to sign up with Mike; maybe Mike can comment on how to get more info from him directly.)
Mike’s stuff is oriented toward baseball and boys, but as we all know a swing is a swing so lots of value there for the parents and coaches of fastpitch softball players.