EXCERPT from one of the lessons contained in HAVE BAT, WILL TRAVEL. Page 101
—————— HEART OF HITTING LESSON ——————
If hitting is an art, then hitting for power is the work of a master artist.
For amateur hitters, many can hit more doubles and home runs by increasing the intention and aggressiveness of their swings. And thus, very often, kids that put up prolific power numbers from little league to high school ball aren’t true power hitters yet, but typically are just bigger or stronger than their peers.
But once a hitter advances to college or professional baseball—power hitting is a skill, and the “grip it and rip it” approach seldom launches balls consistently at the game’s highest levels.
To hit for power—as one of my hitting coordinators once described, “not just home runs, but the ability to hit the ball over outfielder’s heads”—relies more on a hitter’s sense of anticipation, discipline, recognition, and timing, as it does on brute strength and raw bat speed.
Great power hitting comes with the experience and maturation of a hitter. A hitter over time begins to learn which locations, and which speeds their natural swing path best elevates the ball in the air.
For myself, when batting right-handed, I wanted the ball down and in, or up in the middle of the zone, when I was looking to do damage. The last place I wanted the ball, was down and away—likely because of a lefty pitcher’s natural tail and sink on the outside part of the plate, or perhaps it was just how my hips and hands failed to elevate that location for whatever reason.
Along with their own strengths and weaknesses, a hitter over time will also develop more fine-tuned distinctions to how certain style pitchers will pitch them. They’ll begin to notice patterns either with a specific pitcher or with that “type” of pitcher. Eventually, they’ll begin to have enough awareness and knowledge of when a pitcher may sneak in an early count changeup, or when they might try to pump in a fastball when everyone in the stadium thinks they should throw an off-speed pitch.
When a hitter begins to become aware of pitchers’ tendencies, then they can begin to get good at anticipating what might be thrown next. Yet, the difference between anticipating, and then recognizing they’re actually getting what they think they’re getting, requires tremendous discipline.
Self-discipline can’t be overemphasized enough with this step. Because, more times than not, the best way to get a hitter out is not to go away from his strength, but to go right up next to it. Hitters that love and hammer inside fastballs are also likely to chase and get themselves out on fastballs that are just a little more inside than they like. The same is true for hitters that like the ball up or away or down. As well as for the hitters that like to “sit” on a curveball or changeup—they’ll often anticipate and recognize, but then swing at the pitch even if it’s out of the strike zone.
Discipline is vital, and so is timing. As the bat naturally upswings through the hitting zone, a batter looking to drive the ball in the air must feel as if they’re catching the ball out front. It should feel easy, and effortless. The bat can’t be rushed or forced to the contact point, it’ll often slow the barrel or cause it to leave the hitting zone prematurely.
For over a hundred years, it was taught that hitting for power was the final step for a hitter, but now due to the explosion of youth baseball (and the $$ business $$ of it), people are selling quick fixes, and skipping steps—ultimately creating holes in hitters that will be difficult, if not nearly impossible, to close later on in their career.
With power-hitting, play the long game, and take time developing the four aspects that will lead to long-term success: Anticipation. Discipline. Recognition. Timing.