Thursday, January 20, 2011

Practicing Down the Middle?

During a practice, an individual lesson or a camp, many times kids question why we do not do a majority of our hitting drills on pitches down the middle. That is the pitch that most can hit the best – hardest and farthest. So naturally, kids want to do what they do best. And that involves the middle of home plate. 

Let me start by giving you a brief overview of my hitting philosophy. 

Hitting isn’t nearly as complicated as most people try to make it out to be and you should spend more time hitting off of a batting tee than anything else. 

I am usually met with disappointment – again with 22-year old college players or 8-year old campers. Everyone wants to hit off the pitcher.  Tees are boring and most players tend to go through the motions, waiting for their time in the batting cage. 

But if you can’t execute a perfect swing while the ball is stationary on a tee, how can you hit a ball that is moving? 

The exercise scientist in me knows the power of the body and how important muscle memory when performing a skill repetitively. In order to achieve the muscles memory you need, you have to practice an action over and over again. This is why the tee plays such an important role. 

So you have read the above paragraphs, and I have already sold you on the importance of tee work. You plan on spending 30 minutes a day working on the tee because now know that that is the best way to become a better hitter. 

But now ask yourself, where do I position the ball? Some tees are adjustable and some aren’t. If you have one that is not, the tee is in the center of the plate. If you were to position yourself in relation to the attached home plate, you would only work on pitches down the middle. 

Whether you pitch or not, the answer to my next question is simple. How many pitchers plan on throwing a pitch down the middle of the plate? Not many. So if the goal of the pitcher is to throw pitches on the inside and outside corner, why would you spend an extended period of time working on pitches down the middle?

Start by practicing with pitches down the middle of the plate. It is good way to warm up and get into a rhythm. But after the first five minutes, start to move the tee around to other areas of the plate. 

How do I work on pitches in other areas of the strike zone? Positioning the tee isn’t as simple as moving the tee closer to you or farther away. There are different places that you should work on the respective pitches.
To work on an inside pitch, position the tee in front of the plate. Line the ball up on the inside corner about three inches in front of the plate.  For an outside pitch, adjust the tee so the ball is lined up over the back outside corner of the plate (The plate runs with the lines of the batter’s box, then angles towards the catcher. You want to be where the plate starts to angle).

Realize that pitches should be hit to the side of the field the ball is placed on the tee. Right handed hitters hit inside pitches to left field and outside pitches to right. Lefties hit inside pitches to right field and outside pitches to left. When you do work on pitches down the middle, they should be hit back up the middle, towards center field. 

I understand that working off the tee and practicing pitches on the corners can be boring and frustrating. But if you want to become the best player you can, you have to focus on your weaknesses and improve. 

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