Before a hitter can time the bat to the ball, he or she must first be in time with the pitcher. Recently appointed Chicago Cubs minor league hitting instructor Andy Haines emphasized starting on time when discussing hitting during the Joe Maddon and Friends Coaching the Coaches Clinic in December.
During his talk with youth, high school and college baseball and softball coaches, Haines had four priorities and goals for hitters.
Rhythm and Timing with Pitcher
“We have to be relentless on these kids, who are working so hard, to have some rhythm and some looseness,” Haines said. “I need to be on time with the pitcher and need to be relentless in trying to do that.”
Haines said most hitters tend to start the process too late.
“If they don’t start on time, they struggle and they rush and it’s a chain reaction,” Haines said.
When pitchers start moving, hitters should be starting to move, shifting their weight and helping them to stay loose as they react to the pitch.
“When he moves, I need to be doing something,” Haines said.
Be in Great Position to Hit
Haines said a batter has to begin by being ready so that he can take advantage of the pitch he is seeking.
“Being in rhythm and timing with the pitcher and in a great athletic position to hit gives us a chance to get a pitch in our hot zone where we can do some damage,” said Haines, who has eight years of experience as a minor-league manager, including the 2014 and 2015 seasons with the Class AAA New Orleans Zephyrs.
As Haines described, the head must stay between the feet. In an athletic position, the feet are into the ground with weight on the inside balls of the feet and weight distributed very close to 50-50.
In this position, the batter starts with the knob of the bat pointing toward the catcher.
“If they’re not in a great position, they can’t hit successfully,” Haines said. “Then, they’re coming back, freaking out, saying, ‘I can’t believe I missed that pitch.’”
Haines said if the first two concepts are in place and batters are still missing, then there may be mechanical swing adjustments missing.
“Those are part of connecting the dots,” Haines said. “Now, if you do those first two correctly and get a great pitch and miss it a few at-bats in a row, something’s probably off with your hitters.”
Get a Great Pitch to Hit
Batters need to understand on which pitches they can find success and trying to find those pitches before they are forced to be more defensive with two strikes.
Even Ted Williams hit .230 on balls low and away, Haines said.
Young hitters should be hunting fastball in a certain zone until they have two strikes.
Inside their heads, Haines said, they should be saying, ‘yes, yes, no,’ moving as they see the pitch, being ready, then stopping when it is not what they are seeking.
It is necessary to address mechanics at times in practice sessions to fix swing problems.
Haines, however, wants hitters back to the three earlier thoughts when it comes time to bat in a game. They need to be on autopilot by then, ideally with good habits ingrained into the process and with specific swing thoughts eliminated.
“Once you start thinking about mechanics, the brain reverts to beginner mode and you get worse,” said Haines.