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OPPOSITE FIELD HITTING

8/15/05-OPPOSITE FIELD HITTING

We mention opposite field hitting often at Baseball Excellence. It’s because hitting the baseball hard to the opposite field is so important. To be a complete hitter, players must learn to be proficient at this skill.

From the day pitchers throw their first pitch they are taught the skill of throwing a fastball knee high on the outside corner. Why? It’s the furthest strike from the hitter’s vision. It is the most difficult pitch for him to hit solidly and drive. This is where they get you out. This is the pitch that is swung at and missed or popped up or grounded to the shortstop. This is Double Play Central.

So if pitchers learn this skill why don’t we see more coaches drilling their hitters to defeat this tactic? Maybe they do. But they must do it in secret. We don’t see a lot of opposite field hitting drills going on at batting practices. Opposite field hitting should be drilled everyday. It is not a weakness. It is a strength…

Tee work is very good for hitting to all fields. Short toss is a good drill. Hitting in the cage is also very good. But live hitting to the opposite field on a baseball diamond is the best method. It gives the hitter a good perspective of where his ball was hit on the field and it clearly makes evident to him the distance each batted ball travels.

The Drill

We feel this particular drill is a very good opposite field hitting drill. As we have said our hitters progress take batting practice in stages; tee, side flips, short toss, opposite field and live hitting.

Here’s the setup for right handed batters: One coach sets up a screen about 10-12 feet in front of home plate with a bucket of baseballs. Another screen is placed on the right side of the infield about 20 feet away from home plate and about 10-12 feet off the foul line. The hitting coach stands behind this second screen and instructs the hitters. He has the best view and does not have to worry about getting hit with a ball. He can concentrate on his hitters. The idea is for the hitter to hit the second screen, hard. Because of the placement of this screen any ball hit there will result in a ball hit to the opposite field.

The coach who tosses the balls does so in an underhand fashion. He tosses them just off the outside corner of the plate. By delivering them underhand he has good control and the hitter must provide the power. He can also put spin on the ball that simulates a slider or curve ball. Each hitter receives 10-15 swings. His goal is to hit every one of them into the screen.

Young hitters will not do this drill well at first. They will hit balls up the middle or they will hit the wrong screen or they will pop balls up and to the right or they will swing and miss. It takes a great amount of concentration and practice. It is not a drill that the player just hops in there and takes his hacks and jumps out. The coach must constantly give instruction and reinforcement.

This kind of concentration and effort for the player is difficult at first but soon becomes second nature. A coach should demand full effort from his players.
        
The Technique

Have your hitters stand in the batter’s box the same way, with the front foot even with the middle corner of the plate. (No matter where the pitch is thrown, inside, outside or down the middle the hitter approaches the ball from the same stance, stride and position.) It is where he makes contact with the ball in relation to the plate that makes the difference. The outside pitch should be contacted back further on the plate, somewhere near the back corner angle.

To hit to the opposite field the hitter has to hit ‘inside’ the baseball, by hitting the ball as it travels further back. We tell players that are struggling with this drill to “swing when you feel the ball is almost by you.”

“Hitting is timing.” That truism was never more evident than when you begin teaching this drill. It is not an easy concept to grasp and a difficult drill to do. That is why it should be done everyday.

If you have players with certain hitting faults such as stepping away from the plate (stepping in the bucket) this will really become evident when you use this drill. Therefore, using this drill has an added benefit of helping players with this fault.

Hit the Inside of the Ball

By throwing the balls at a reduced speed it is easier for the hitters to see where they should hit the baseball. They should hit inside the ball and not around it. As a hitter becomes proficient, he can even begin to aim at the top half of the inside of the ball. This will increase his odds of hitting hard line drives and ground balls the other way, consistently.

The hitters should swing the bat hard, not try to coax the ball into right field. The first few times you run this drill it will be frustrating. There will be a lot of failure. Weak pop-ups, swings and misses and a lot of balls pulled back to the coach who is tossing the balls. There will be a lot of players who break down their hitting mechanics and there will be a lot of players who contact the ball “early.”

Don’t give up and don’t give in. Keep at it everyday. Don’t let your power hitters blow this off. They are the ones that will need it the most as the pitching gets better. There will be great rewards.

Youth and high school hitters can improve their season batting averages by learning to hit outside strikes hard the other way. Teach them to “hit the ball where it’s pitched” and “use the entire field”. Ask any major league player what this did for their careers.

Next time you take your family to a Minor or Major League baseball game, go 2-3 hours early and watch “field batting practice”. Even though the pitches are medium fast balls you will notice that hitters will hit the ball to the opposite field as much or more than they will pull the ball. Now you know why.

Likewise, most MLB hitting instructors will tell you that this is one of the first things they will focus on with a player when he enters a batting slump. Later, when the player is interviewed, he will often attribute “patience”, “waiting longer”, and “going the other way”, as reasons for why he is now seeing and hitting the ball well again.        


Tips:


  • Run this drill just before field batting practice in groups of 4 or 5.
  • Put all left-hand hitters in 1 group.
  • Have a bag in right and left fields to collect balls.
  • Because of the degree of difficulty of this drill, it is necessary for the coach to provide constant reinforcement and encouragement.
  • Make sure the players aren’t ‘cheating’ by sticking their bats out and guiding the ball into right field, or diving into the pitch. They have to maintain their normal hitting mechanics and their normal stride, back at the pitcher.
  • Do not use the phrase “swing inside out”. Simply remind them that nothing in the swing (or stride) changes except WHEN the ball is hit.
  • Occasionally the coach may miss and throw the ball over the middle of the plate. For the purpose of this drill, instruct your players not to swing at these pitches. This adds a little ‘plate discipline.’
  • When you players become proficient at this drill you may remove the second screen to let them see how far their balls go.
  • Once again, the key is to let the ball travel back on the plate.

Drill opposite field hitting on a daily basis. This will be one of the most important drills you do for your players now, and in the years to come.

                        


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