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Facing a pitcher with Elite "STUFF"? NO PROBLEM!

Have you ever found yourself saying: “got to tip your cap to that pitcher, he was just on today”…………well in 2015, my team walked away from a season ending playoff game uttering that phrase and I vowed that it would be one of the last times we would ever say that about the opposition! We needed to find a better way to compete against an elite pitcher who is on his A game!


During the 2015 season we were able to absolutely RAKE and we had an uncanny ability to sit on our pitches and lay off anything that we did not want to hit. We used our talents to defeat a 3rd round draft pick in the 1st round of playoffs and a future 2nd rounder in the 2nd round of the playoffs but in the Final 4 we met our match.


In the final 4 we lost to Parkview high school who went on to be eventual state and NATIONAL CHAMPIONS that year and I wouldn’t say that their pitchers were necessarily more talented than the pitchers we faced in the 1st and 2nd rounds, but I would say that they used their “stuff” more effectively. Parkview’s pitchers were able to throw their offspeed pitches in any count that they wanted and they were able to command their offspeed, specifically their changeups for strikes. By throwing their changeups for strikes and pitching inside enough times, they not only used speed differentials, but elements of effective velocity to their advantage.This game revolutionized our hitting approach.


We were really good at what we did, but evolutions we were able to make after this game took our hitting approach to a new level. Prior to this game, we would “sit” on pitches and take the pitches we did not want to hit. We were adept at recognizing off-speed pitches early and our 2k approach was 2nd to none! In any given at bat, we typically would not “sit” on a FB and swing at an offspeed pitch as we’d take and offspeed pitch if it came and we were not looking for it.


Pitch recognition was our FORTE! If we did swing at an offspeed pitch while sitting FB typically we’d be out on our front foot and we would make weak contact. Due to Parkview’s ability to command their offspeed pitches for strikes and their ability to throw inside for strikes, we were forced to get into our launch position early and we just had not practiced the proper skill set enough times to make consistent hard contact against this type of pinching.


So in 2016 we immediately went to work to train to compete more effectively against A+ pitching and this is how we did it and still do it to this day!


If you WANT YOUR HITTERS TO RAKE PITCHES REGARDLESS OF SPEED OF PITCH, FOLLOW THIS GREAT ADVICE!


I needed to find a video demonstrating what it was I wanted our hitters to do. I scoured the internet and came across this gem:

– Alex Rodriguez adjusting to offspeed pitch.

(When introducing an advanced concept I like to show its application by MLB or college players so my guys can see the concept used sucessfully)


In the video it shows Alex Rodriguez setting up for a FB and then Alex Rodriguez hitting an offspeed pitch. What you’ll notice from the video is that the setup in A-Rod’s swing to front heel plant is IDENTICAL on both pitches, AND THAT’S WHERE WE STARTED!


STEP 1: We watched the video and I simply told our hitters, this is what we need you to do on offspeed pitches.


After telling them what I needed them to do, I had to figure out a training method and then verbal cues to coach them through the adjustment. After learning some different things about how to make the adjustment I simply decided to call it “Front leg Adjustment” or “FLA” for short. (I believe Baseball Rebellion has been calling the adjustment "front leg adjustment" for quite some time)


Our hitting coaches began this training by pounding our guys with FB’s (mostly inside) as that is the pitch that gives the least reaction time (effective velocity) and forces the earliest heel plant. Once we ran them through a couple of 0-0 “flow” rounds and got our guys into a good fast ball timing, we began to introduce off-speed pitches one at a time.


We started slowly by introducing a basic 12-6 get me over curveball “GMOC”. (WE LOVE ACRONYMS FOR ANYTHING WE CAN ACRONYM) We would tell our hitters, fellas, we will be mixing in “hammers” this round. Do your best to keep your weight back or hands back and hit the offspeed. Since our hitters knew they may get FB in, they had to setup early and it made the drill that much more challenging as it lengthened the differential time between front heel plant and curveball arrival.


WRONG VERBAL CUES VS. CORRECT VERBAL CUES


What I quickly found out is, “KEEP YOUR WEIGHT BACK” IS THE WRONG CUE!!!!! Most of our hitters failed at 1st. We filmed a few hitters working the offspeed rounds and they were now setting up late on the FB and not in the proper position on the curveball. Although the hitter knew what he was supposed to do, he was TRYING to do what I was cueing him to due which was “keep his weight back”.


Thinking about "staying back" on offspeed does not allow a hitter the freedom to be on time for the FB and against the elite of the elite, we have to be able to hit both!

What A-Rod is actually doing in the video (as is every player you see doing this correctly) is he is staying in his linear hip drive portion of his swing longer. He is actually moving his pelvis FORWARD longer, NOT KEEPING HIS WEIGHT BACK, so I had to figure out a cue that would work to get the hitter to do this. We began communicating 2 things - “keep sinking into your front heel” as well as “continue pushing off your back leg”.


As a hitter group, we meet alot and do a bunch of demo’s before we actually hit, so I would demonstrate what I wanted the hitters to do in a meeting both in slow mo and full speed and then we proceeded to the cage and attempted to execute.


Once we switched up our cueing, everything else fell into place…... eventually. This is not an easy skill to learn and it took a LOT of our 1st season teaching this in 2016 to finally get it right. If you are persistent and give timely feedback, this skill can be taught and it WILL BE A DIFFERENCE MAKER when you face elite pitchers who are on their A++ game. Now in our 4th year of working on this skill on a regular basis, the dividends are paying off! When faced with pitchers who are "ACES" with A++ stuff we are able to compete better and put much better swings on the offspeed pitches by utilizing our "FLA".


Essential building blocks that must be in place for FLA to work:

1. HITTER MUST KNOW HOW TO TIME A FB AND GET SETUP TO PROPERLY HIT THE FB. 2. Seeing pitch out of the pitchers hand and giving hitter max time to recognize pitch.

3. Proper separation of swing. Hands 1st hitters must be retrained if they ever hope to acquire this skill.

4. Proper pelvis movement in the swing. (Linear hip drive, prior to rotation)

5. Very little head movement - Remind hitters that nose should NEVER go in front of toes!


CONCLUSION

When working on this particular skill we now just tell our hitters, this is an “FLA” round and in their brain they know they must work FB timing out of my hand and adjust properly to any offspeed pitch I throw because I am simulating a pitcher that is able to command offspeed for strikes. We have a saying for this now – “BE READY FOR 104 OR 64”…obviously this is a bit of an exaggeration, but it gets the point across to our guys about speed differentials.


We mix this in as part of our regular batting practice routines now and we do this both in our 40 foot cage stations and on the field when we hit. This skill can be worked on in a front toss environment with regular tosses and higher tosses, but this is much more effective when the hitter has to use proper eye patterns to see the ball out of pitchers hand and work FB timing.


About the author: Coach Turco is a 5 time state champion hitting coach who coaches a nationally recognized high school program in Marietta, Ga. Coach Turco publishes the blog “State Championship Hitting” and posts work samples on twitter @championhitter

Photo credit: https://www.brandonorrphotography.com

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