The pitcher’s mound is one of the loneliest spots in all of sports. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed and anxious. One of the biggest things a pitcher can do to combat these unwanted emotions is breathe. Yes, just breathe. Proper breathing helps you relax and concentrate.
Remember that it is harder to hit than it is to pitch.
Never step on the pitching rubber until you are completely ready and focused on the task at hand. Imagine a place behind the mound where you can “take out the trash” before stepping up to get the sign. You are in control. The game cannot start until you throw the ball.
Do not show emotion on the mound. Demonstrate your mental toughness by keeping a level head during success and failure.
Focus on the task at hand – one pitch at a time. You cannot go back and change the last pitch. The only thing you can control is the pitch you are about to throw. Focus on the target and purpose of that particular pitch.
Try to avoid crooked numbers. You won’t get beat by giving up 1s and 0s.
Trust your catcher!
One of the most common problems I see in young hitters is that they tend to hit to the baseball instead of through the baseball. Your swing does not stop when you make contact. You have built up so much energy and power. Why not use every last bit of it?
Be short to the ball and long through the ball. You have kept everything nice and compact to this point. You have made contact, now extend through the baseball. Your back elbow will begin to straighten out. Allow the speed of your bat to accelerate through the point of contact with the baseball.
Your head will stay in line with your rear shoulder. Your body rotates under your steady head. When you finish, someone in the opposite batter’s box should be able to see the back of your jersey.
Good things happen when you hit the ball hard. The contact part of the swing is where you start to see results. All of the power you have generated up to this point is now released into the baseball.
If you look at the pictures below, you will see several different hitters. They come from different backgrounds, played in different eras and are considered different types of hitters. However, at the point of contact, all are in pretty much the same position.
- Complete release of backside into the baseball
- Strong front side, backside completely rotated
- Barrel of bat rotating around stationary axis (firm front side)
- Back elbow still bent
- Top hand is palm up and pushing, bottom hand is palm down and pulling
Your front foot has touched down and it is now time to launch. This is where you will uncoil all of the energy and power that has been stored up to this point.
Your hips will lead your hands. But what causes the hips to fire? The back knee will pinch forward and down toward the inside ankle of the front foot. The knee pinch launches the back hip and launches your momentum toward the baseball. It also helps prevent rising up on the back leg.
Before the hands commit to actually bringing the bat through the zone, they must line themselves up on the same plane as the incoming pitch. Use the bottom hand to drive the knob of the bat along the plane of the pitch. This guides the barrel and keeps it in the hitting zone longer.
Your back elbow should be in the slot close to your body. As always, your head is steady and you are locked on to the baseball.
Here is Mike Trout launching.
The purpose of the stride and separation is to time the pitch and set up for the assault on the baseball. Some professional players have a huge leg kick and fairly long stride. Others will pick up the front foot and set it down in almost the exact same spot. For a youth player, I strongly recommend short, soft stride straight to the baseball.
As you stride, the separation will occur. Your hands will be back in a strong position. Imagine a rubber band between your hands and front foot. Stretch it out. Your head will remain steady and eyes locked on the baseball.
Look at Joey Votto’s stride in the pictures below. The picture on the left shows him at the load position. There are two main points that should be noticed. First, look at where his front foot is in relationship to home plate. Also, look at the position of his hands in relationship to the logo on the front of his jersey.
Compare those two points to the picture on the right. As Votto’s front toe begins to touch the ground, notice it is slightly closer to the front of the batter’s box. His hands are back, much different than the first picture. He is prepared to launch his swing.
The load is where you gather and store energy that will be released into the baseball.
The movements of the load are not huge movements. In fact, most people load with very slight movements. You will lift your front heel and turn your front knee in just a bit. Your front shoulder will close slightly, moving the hands back. The head of the bat will tilt toward the pitcher and the knob of the bat will be pointed toward the catcher.
The power will come from the ground up. Your weight will transfer to roughly 60%/40% in favor of the backside. This is where the “coil” begins before the assault on the baseball.
Look at the initial load by Bryce Harper. In the first picture, he is in his comfortable batting stance with his head and eyes locked in. In the second picture, he begins to load while keeping his head in the same spot.
Your batting stance and rhythm at the plate is the first stage of your swing mechanics. Some people would argue if this should actually be considered an actual stage of the hitting process. If you watch a Major League game, you will see many different batting stances, but the purpose of each is the same – staying relaxed and having rhythm at the plate.
If I see something drastically disturbing with your batting stance, I may make an adjustment. But for the most part, I really don’t care what you do to stay relaxed at the plate. I just want hitters to be comfortable in the batter’s box, relax and breathe. After this initial stage of the swing mechanics, all good hitters will get to a common point.
A rigid batting stance and stiff swing is a recipe for disaster. You must have rhythm in the batter’s box. Rhythm is the slight movement with the hands and/or feet that keeps you relaxed and ready to swing the bat. It helps you have quicker reactions which means you will make more frequent contact.