Key cues for hitting success – Part One

By Dave Hudgens

The fireworks blasted from center field.  No, it was not the fourth of July – the lead off hitter had just hit a rocket first pitch of the game for a home run.  Second batter, first pitch, another home run, another brilliant fireworks display.  Third batter, two pitches later, home run, off go the fireworks.  The pitching coach takes a long, slow walk to the mound, looking like he has some words of wisdom to give his shell-shocked pitcher.  The pitcher, irate and cursing at his coach, lets him know that he isn’t going to tell him something he doesn’t already know.  The coach replies, “I don’t intend to tell you anything, I just wanted to give the guy shooting off the fireworks more time so he can reload.”  The pitcher smiles, relaxes, and retires the side.  Cues – they can be life or death to the success of an athlete.

Practice
I am constantly asked the following questions concerning keys or cues for hitters: what should an instructor look for in a hitter?  What cues should an instructor convey to a hitter?  In order to give justice to the answer to those questions, you must first think backwards – the instructor must not only be prepared himself but he must also have his hitter prepared for each at bat before the game even begins.  The purpose of practice is to perfect the swing so that at game time the hitter shouldn’t “think” about his mechanics.  Once the game begins, the hitter should be so prepared to play the game that his reactions take over and he has a solid, repeatable swing.  If he is thinking mechanics, his attention will be divided.  His total attention during the game has to be on seeing the ball.

What to look for in hitters
What should an instructor look for in a hitter?  As a hitting instructor, I always start from the ground up when evaluating a hitter’s mechanics.  What is the position of his feet?  Does he have good balance?  Where is his stride direction?  What is his head position?  Once you have established where he is in these areas, you can work on cues: key words or key instructions to help him.  You want to keep the keys simple, remembering that during the game the main goal is for the hitter to get a good pitch to hit.  There are four main areas to look for in a hitter to help him make adjustments:

1.       Seeing the ball

2.       Staying balanced

3.       Having an easy effort level

4.       Maintaining a good head position

Seeing the ball
You can’t hit the ball if you can’t see it and it is difficult to see the ball if your head is in the wrong position.  I remind my hitters to have their heads down throughout their swing.  This is extremely critical especially since head position and head discipline isn’t taught at the youth level.  Not only is head position important for seeing the ball, it is also important for swing path.  If the head lifts too soon, the hitter will have more of a tendency to pull off the ball, inhibiting the proper swing path.  Therefore, a cue I tell hitters is very simple, “Keep your head down.”  But again this goes back to practice and it is in practice that you have to make sure your hitters understand what that means.  You can’t tell them in a game situation to keep their head down if they don’t understand what it means and how to do it.  Once the knowledge of head position is established, they will see that if their head is down, their swing path will stay on-line, they will see the ball better and they will stay on the ball better.

Dave Hudgens has been involved with the best of baseball for over 30 years. He is currently the Hitting Coach for the New York Mets. Prior to that he was a longtime hitting coach in the Oakland Athletics’ organization.

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