Slump Busting 101: Hitting Mechanics

By Nate Barnett of The Pitching Academy

The word “slump” is taboo in baseball.  Nobody likes that word, and players try their hardest to avoid speaking it.  Ever.  But, slumps are a part of the game of baseball.  You can’t slump-proof your swing, and you can never predict when one will occur.   A couple years ago, Miguel Olivo summed up what those who have slipped into the depths of a hitting funk go through.  He said, “When you’re hitting, you just go play. But when you struggle, that’s when you start wondering. You go to the batting cage all the time. You’re like, ‘My feet … my hands … they’re going to throw me this pitch,’ then you’re caught in the middle.”  The good news here is that hitters can implement a few strategies both physically and mentally to help reduce the duration and frequency of a downturn in their offensive play.  Keep this essay handy; there will be a time it will serve as a much needed blueprint to beat a slump.  Now, let’s dive in and uncover the mechanical strategies that make up Slump Busting 101.

Most hitters try to solve a slump by messing with their mechanics.  Unfortunately, this type of tinkering rarely solves the problem. Guys will often adjust their stance, stride, etc. without understanding fully the reason for doing so, let alone what is causing their offensive troubles in the first place.  To discourage the random mechanics tinkering without proper fundamental knowledge of hitting mechanics, think of it this way.  I’m not a auto mechanic by any stretch of the imagination.  I know how to open the hood of my car, find many off the major parts inside, though if something stops working, I lack the knowledge and ability to fix the problem.  This is why I pay a mechanic to diagnose and solve the problem.  It wouldn’t make a lot of sense for me to start unplugging things, or taking apart pieces of the engine and replacing them unless I had reason to believe the given part was responsible for the mechanical issue at hand.  Likewise, it doesn’t make sense for a hitter to change a portion of his swing mechanics without having solid evidence that the change will improve the problem.  There are a few things one can do for the physical part of hitting to quicken the recovery out of a slump.  Hitters should be encouraged to consider the following modifications to swing approach:  remove the stride, reduce their swing speed in practice, and work on hitting pitches to the opposite field.  Below I’ll explain my reasoning behind these three methods and why hitters who employ these strategies bust out of slumps at a much quicker rate than those who do not take these suggestions.

Because most mechanical issues for youth hitters stem from poor mechanics in the lower half of the body, eliminating the stride temporarily is a step (pardon the pun) in the right direction.  While I think that a stride is a great way for hitters create some timing during an at bat, it comes with some challenges.  Often during a slump a hitter’s timing is off.  Because of this, excess movement in a swing doesn’t help the situation, it tends to hurt it.  By eliminating the stride for a while, it allows the hitters to reduce the amount of moving parts in his swing.  In short, it simplifies things.  Once confidence has been regained, I would then bring back the stride.  The only caution to this would be to make sure the hitter retains some rhythm in his pre-pitch routine.  This will help him relax as well as maintain better timing with the pitcher.

The second modification necessary for slumping hitters is to cut down the speed of each swing in batting practice.  The reason for this change is so hitters (once they understand mechanics) can identify the areas that need attention.  More often than not guys who are having a tough time at the plate will press a little in batting practice and try to muscle up everything.  This tensity in the body does not allow the hitter to relax and let his muscle memory guide his swing.  There is nothing wrong with swinging at 75% capacity.  Many times, reducing the swing velocity has a calming effect on hitters which promotes relaxation of his muscles at the plate.

Along the lines of staying relaxed and not trying to do too much at the plate, working on hitting the ball to the opposite field takes much of the pressure off of a hitter.  Since most hitters like pulling the baseball, the more they struggle at the plate, the more many try to pull the baseball.  The thinking is that if they can just hit a few balls deep into the pull-side gap, or out of the park, they will snap out of the funk.  This thinking is backwards.  There is nothing wrong with pulling the ball, but there is everything wrong with pulling the ball when you have a tight, non-relaxed swing.  More often than not, the results will be a tense swing that produces top spin hits that hook badly and don’t carry into the gap.  Or, if hitters are really struggling and trying to pull the ball all the time, the results will often be continuous weak pop-ups to the opposite field side.  Focusing on hitting the ball the other way takes the pressure off of the hitters to force a slump to end.  It allows for the hitter to see the pitch deeper in the strike zone and work on keeping the hands moving through the strike zone.  Combining this step with a reduced swing speed, greatly hastens the pace of recovery out of a slump.

The hitting mechanics portion of a slump is only half of the battle.  Solving the second guessing and doubt that goes on in the brain of slumping hitters is the second half of the anti-slump equation.  That portion is the topic of another Slump Busting 101 article.  Work on the three mechanics-related fixes discussed in this article and an offensive rebound is likely to be just around the corner.

Nate Barnett is a hitting, pitching, and mental skills coach residing in the Puget Sound area in Washington State. He played in the Seattle Mariners organization and is co-owner of the The Pitching Academy.