Crucial Power Swing Sequence – Part Two

By Dave Hudgens

If you missed the first installment of this article, you can read it here.

Keeping the barrel of the bat in the contact zone as long as possible is what you want to do. This reduces your margin for error. Your timing does not have to be perfect. Every good Major League hitter stays inside the ball. Staying inside the ball allow you to be accurate with the barrel of the bat to the ball which will allow you to hit for high average and increased power as you gain more strength. Picture this: imagine someone driving a rod through your shoulder, through your back leg, and through the knee. The line should be straight through your body with your back heel up. You will either end up on the top of the toe, or just turning a bit on the ball of the foot. I prefer that you get up onto the back toe to make sure your weight is in the center position at the point of contact. After contact, and during your follow through, your weight will be balanced. The key here is to go from back to center.

LEVERAGE
Leverage plays a very important role in the process of hitting for power. It is one of the components of having a firm foundation. If you don’t hit against a firm front leg, you will not create the needed leverage for power hitting.
When you start your approach to the ball, the back heel will come off the ground.

  • At this point the front knee will start to firm up.
  • This will help push the front hip out to give you the correct hip action.
  • If your front knee is bent, and by that I mean not firm, (because there can be a slight flex in the knee yet still be firm) you will lose a tremendous amount of power.

90% of kids that play baseball at the youth league level have long swings. They can get away with it for awhile but it eventually catches up to them as they advance in their playing career. It’s unfortunate because with the proper instruction, many of these kids could have a shorter, more explosive swing which would lead to success.  A long swing can be a result of:

  • Using too heavy a bat.
  • Having used an aluminum bat which has such a large sweet spot that gives the appearance of a good swing which can be deceptive until you face good pitching.
  • Trying to hit the ball too far and over swinging.
  • Casting the barrel of the bat out from your back shoulder, thus forcing your hands away from your body. This action forces you to use your upper body to swing the bat and you are no longer using your wrists to their full advantage.
  • Not getting into a strong position soon enough.
  • Improper sequence of swing.

It is very important to take a proper and consistent angle to the ball; the lower half of your body is what allows you to take this angle. If the feet and hips are not working correctly, the hands and arms will not be able to take the correct path to the ball. Also mentally the hitter must not be thinking home run or have these types of thoughts in his mind. These thoughts will throw off the proper swing rhythm and sequence of the swing. The approach must be fundamentally sound from the ground up or somewhere along the line you will reach your ceiling and improvement will stop. This is why it is so vital that these mechanics are learned as soon as possible, the more time that lapses, the more difficult it becomes to overcome.

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.

The Crucial Power Swing Sequence

By Dave Hudgens

I recently bought a car for my daughter that is a 5-speed stick shift. Teaching a teenage girl how to drive a stick has been interesting. There is a sequence to the process. When driving a stick, you have to:

  • Push the clutch in
  • Turn the key
  • Combine the clutch with the gas pedal
  • Ease into first gear

It sounds easy but takes a while to get to work smoothly. That process only puts you in first gear. You now start another sequence to get into the next gear and so on. Just as there are sequences to driving a 5 speed, so it goes also with the swing. The proper sequence is essential to having consistent success at the plate.

SWING SEQUENCE

  • When your stride foot comes down, your weight needs to be balanced to 60% back with your hands around the back foot. This is a critical position to be in to hit for average and power.
  • The stride should start early, it should be easy and your stride foot should be down by the time the ball gets half way to three quarters of the way to home plate.
  • After the stride, as the front heel lands, the back heel should start to lift off the ground. This will start the proper sequence with the lower half of the body.
  • This is not a two part movement.
  • As the back heel comes up the rotation of the hips will start.
  • You don’t want to push forward off your back foot – this will force your hips to slide forward, you want more of a rotational movement at this point.
  • Just after the backside starts turning, your hands will start their path to the ball.

PROPER TAKES
I can tell by looking at a hitter’s take whether or not he has a good approach, if he is going to over swing, or if he is going to be under control. The take is so important because it is the first sequence in the approach to the ball. If the take is hard, the swing is going to be hard and out of control. Many mechanical breakdowns occur when the swing is out of control. If the take is easy, more than likely the swing is going to be under control. If the swing is balanced and under control the sequence will work properly so you will be able to repeat your swing and have a good feel for what you are doing. As a hitting instructor, when I see a hitter that has a nice take, not too hard and not too easy, I know he has a chance of success regardless of whom he is facing.

A proper take is one with good balance and proper heel – toe action. If the heel – toe action is correct, the hip sequence is good. If I don’t see the proper heel toe action, I know the hip sequence is incorrect. If the lower half action is correct, my eyes go to the hitter’s hands. I want to see the hands start to every pitch. So as the back heel starts its turn, the hands will start their approach to the ball.

HAND PATH
Let’s examine the path the hands will take through the swing. The goal of the swing is to keep the barrel of the bat in the strike zone for as long as you can.

  • Get the barrel of the bat in the strike zone with the shortest possible angle.
  • Keep the barrel of the bat in the strike zone for as long as possible.
  • Finish with extension out front with a good follow through.

If you do this, you will have an efficient swing, one that will be consistent and repeatable. Staying inside the ball will:

  • Allow you to make adjustments with your hands on different types of pitches
  • Help you to keep the barrel of the bat in the strike zone for a long time
  • Keep your wrists cocked and the barrel back for better bat speed.


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.

Five Curveball Drills

By Dave Hudgens (Part 3 of 3)

Here are 5 curveball drills taken straight from our Conquering the Curveball DVD (the second DVD in the Hitting for Excellence series).

1) Underhand Recognition Drill
This drill is designed to help differentiate between the speeds of a fastball and an off-speed pitch. I like this drill very much because it will help you recognize where the weight of your body needs to be. To do this drill:

• Coach tosses underhand from behind a screen sitting about 15ft. in front of home plate.

• Coach mixes change of speeds and locations. Changing the speeds allows the hitter to feel the hesitation.

• Hitter drives the ball right back up the middle.

2) Bounce Drill
This drill reinforces the hesitation that needs to take place when hitting a breaking ball. For example if you are looking fastball, and the pitcher throws a hittable breaking ball, if you continue on as if it were a fastball, you will be way out front. That is why it is so important to recognize early and hesitate until the ball gets to you.

To do this drill seated:

• The tosser sits behind a screen 15ft. in front of the hitter.

• The tosser bounces the ball 4-5ft. in front of home plate, allowing the ball to bounce into the strike zone.

To do this drill standing:

• The tosser stands behind a screen 25ft. in front of the hitter.

• Tosser throws the ball overhand, bouncing the ball 3-4 ft. in front of home plate, allowing the ball to bounce up into the strike zone.

3) Underhand Lob Drill
Since a major key to hitting the curveball is to allowing it to come down to you, this drill is designed to practice waiting for the ball to come down to you. To do this drill:

• The tosser positions himself behind a screen 10-15ft. in front of the hitter, lobbing the ball over the screen.

• The hitter must wait for the ball to come down to him. Stay inside the ball and drive it up the middle.

4) Drop the Ball Drill
The purpose of this drill is to teach the hitter to stay down on the ball. It also helps to develop quickness in the hands.

To do this drill:

• The tosser stands to the side of the hitter, far enough back so as not to be hit with the bat.

• Tosser extends his arm high in the air, dropping the ball straight down into the contact zone.

• Hitter should make sure he gets ready early and let the ball come down to him.

5) Back Toss Drill
It is very important when hitting a breaking ball that you stay inside the ball. This drill will help develop that habit as well as practicing the hesitation.

• Standing 5-6ft. behind the hitter and to his open side (about a 45° angle) underhand toss the ball into the contact zone.

• The hitter should then concentrate on hitting the ball right back up the middle. This will give him the feel of staying inside the ball.

Know Your Strike Zone
Where many hitters get into trouble is swinging at offspeed pitches out of the strike zone. The best hitters command the strike zone. They know what pitches they want and where they want them. Your batting average and on base percentage will jump dramatically if you command the strike zone. This is what I call being selectively aggressive.

Your Goal
The best pitchers in baseball can not throw their offspeed pitch in a great location for a strike consistently. So don’t be intimidated. Even if the pitcher has a great curveball, it may not be good that day and it won’t be un-hittable every time. There is one important question to ask: Is anyone’s curveball consistent outing after outing? The answer is definitely NO.

Your goal as a hitter is to have a good approach on the hittable curveball. This is just one of the pieces of the puzzle to becoming a master hitter. Success doesn’t come overnight and only the most dedicated players will achieve their goals. It is my hope in putting this article together that you will have the same solid information at your disposal that the best hitters in the world have. 95% of players don’t have a plan when they see a curveball – aren’t you glad you do?

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.

Read the May issues of OnDeck

The May issues of our OnDeck Newsletter are available for your reading pleasure. Great articles by Dave Hudgens and Tony Earp highlight the baseball and soccer editions respectively.

The Proper Keys to Hitting the Curveball (Part 2 of 3)

By Dave Hudgens, New York Mets Hitting Coach

Here are the vital tools for success against the curveball:

Early recognition.
Note that the better a pitcher’s curveball is, the tougher it is to recognize. The harder a curveball is, the less you’ll see the trajectory of the ball pop up out of the hand. The harder a pitcher throws a curveball, the more difficult it is for him to control.

Get a good one to hit.
Look for the 12/6 rotation of the seams just after release. A pitcher will slow his arm down on a poor curveball and his delivery will change.You must keep your hands and body back; your weight should stay back at least 70%. If you commit your hands early, you will have no chance to have success with this pitch. That is why early recognition is so important.

The pitcher wants you to swing at the curveball that starts in the zone and breaks out of the zone. It is no secret that most hitters get themselves out on curveballs that are out of the strike zone. Pitchers have success when the curveball breaks late, and this pitch is a very difficult pitch to lay off, especially with two strikes. Again that is why preparation and knowing what type of breaking ball a pitcher has is so important. If you know you can’t hit someone’s curveball, don’t swing at it until you get two strikes.

If you find yourself out on your front foot, or pushing forward, don’t swing! The only time you want to swing when your weight is forward is if you have two strikes and you are trying to battle. The reason you don’t want to swing from this position is that when your hands are forward, your weight is forward and this is a poor position from which to hit.

A curveball that starts at the knees or slightly above will generally break down and out of the strike zone. The curveball that starts a little bit high will generally break into the strike zone. It is critical that you don’t go up to hit the breaking ball, but allow the breaking ball to come down to you. That is why it is so important to know what type of break each pitch has, and what kind of command the pitcher has of these pitches.

It is also important when you are facing the same side pitcher that your approach is to the opposite field gap.
This will keep your front side in, which is critical to having any success with this pitch. If the ball does hang inside, get the bat head out and pull it – don’t try to guide the ball to the opposite field. When we talk about your approach being to the opposite field, that doesn’t mean you are going to hit everything to the opposite field. A hanging curveball is one of the easiest pitches to hit. This is a pitch you can really do some damage with.

You can look for the fastball and still hit the curveball – all good hitters are able to do this. But it is almost impossible to look for a curveball and hit a fastball. If you are at the level to where you can sit on a curveball, and by that I mean looking for nothing but the curveball, remember mechanically now you can get into the position of power a little bit later. Many hitters look for the fastball and adjust to the off-speed pitch. Usually you get started back early and easy. If you are sitting on a curve ball you are going to get started back a little bit later. You want the curveball to come to you. You don’t want to go out to get it!

It is very important that you wait for the curveball to come down to you.
The curveball that starts up and out of the strike zone breaks down into the strike zone. You must make sure to keep your body down. If you go up to hit the ball, and it breaks down, you will not be a successful off-speed hitter. As a hitter you not only want the curveball to come down to you, you also want to stay down and wait for the ball to come to you.

Another key to hitting the curveball is what I call hesitation.
As a hitter, you should feel some sort of hesitation after your stride foot comes down. You have to find a way to keep your hands and the majority of your weight back. So what happens when the pitcher throws you a curveball and it is a hittable curveball? The feeling you should have is one of hesitation.

Next: Five Curveball Drills

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.

Conquering the Curveball (Part 1 of 3)

By Dave Hudgens, New York Mets Hitting Coach

All Major League hitters can hit a fastball, but only the best have a solid plan to hit the curveball. No one can hit the great curveball – the curveball low and away, the hall of fame pitcher’s pitch. Even the best hitters don’t swing at that pitch until they get two strikes. So why then would anyone provide instruction on how to hit a pitch that no one can hit? Because even the best pitchers cannot consistently throw their off-speed pitch in a great location for a strike. Therefore, you don’t have to hit the un-hittable curveball. Your job is to be prepared and to be in a good position to hit the pitcher’s mistakes and take advantage of his weaknesses.

With all of that in mind it may surprise you to find out that the easiest pitch to hit in baseball is a hanging curveball, or an off-speed pitch up in the strike zone. This is true however only if you are in the right position to hit it. Thus the secrets to conquering the curveball are:

· Preparation & studying the pitcher’s habits

· Knowing the proper keys to hitting the off-speed pitch

· Practicing curveball drills

It is that simple. You will never be able to hit the un-hittable curveball, but don’t worry, no one can. You will however be able to hit the hittable curveball consistently if you do your homework and practice your techniques. A word of caution – if you find yourself out front, off balance, and not recognizing the pitch, you will consistently have problems with the breaking ball. Without a solid foundation, you will not have success with this pitch or any other pitch for that matter. From the viewpoint of either a parent or a coach, there are two key points you want to look for as you view your hitter:

1. If your player pushes forward, or is slightly out front, it is important that his front knee does not go over his front foot. If he is in this position, he is too far forward to hit the breaking ball. He’s lunged forward and now he’s in a poor position to hit that pitch.

2. Check to see if the hitter is consistently swinging at breaking balls out of the strike zone. Many hitters swing at pitches out of the strike zone because they have committed their weight transfer too soon. Once again, this is the reason pitchers throw off-speed pitches to begin with – their goal is to disrupt the balance of the hitter.

Preparation
The first key to mastering the curveball is for you to learn how to prepare for it. You need to have a definite battle plan, your personal curveball strategy. You need to know:

Who is pitching
What type of pitches he has
What command he has over his pitches
What command he has THAT DAY over his pitches

This preparation should start before the game even begins, depending on your situation. If you have scouting reports it is an obvious advantage. However scouting reports are not always correct. You need to see what the pitcher has that day. When you go to stretch before the game begins, position yourself in a place to where you can see the opposing pitcher warming up in the bullpen. At this point you should be thinking:

Which of his pitches you would most like to hit
Which of his pitches you want to lay off
Which angle his release point is coming from
What are his best pitches
Which pitches he can and can’t control

What is your plan – are you going to hit the ball to right-center field or left-center field?

You should remind yourself:
Never swing at a pitch you haven’t seen
If you are hitting up in the order- take a pitch
If you are hitting down in the order- watch what he is throwing previous hitters that might be like you.

Since recognizing a curveball is so difficult to do, you must get into a routine to practice it. My suggestions for your routine:

When your own pitchers are throwing in the bullpen and practicing, ask if you can stand in and see how early you can recognize the ball out of the hand.
When you are taking batting practice, have the pitcher mix in some curveballs. It is not even important if these pitches are strikes, what you are trying to do here is practice recognizing pitches.
When someone else is hitting during batting practice, stand behind the cage and work on seeing the pitcher’s release point.
Before you hit in the on deck circle, work on seeing the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. If you don’t recognize the ball until it is halfway to home plate, it is too late. It is almost like telling the pitcher to pitch from 30ft instead of 60ft.

Next: The Proper Keys to Hitting the Curveball

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.