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The Fear of Striking Out

Kurt Hewes

Young hitters are taught to believe that a successful at bat is one where they put the ball in play. Coaches demonize striking out, and as a result, kids are afraid to take aggressive swings that are needed for success in high level baseball and softball.

As kids get older and competition gets better, contact just isn’t enough anymore. Swinging bunt triples become easy outs, and hitters with an “I’m just looking to put the barrel on the ball” approach tend to struggle. But how can this be? We’ve heard coaches even at the college level tell hitters to just put the bat on the ball. Unfortunately, coaching like this sets hitters up for failure against good pitching. Let’s think critically to find out why.

It takes a 90 MPH fastball .4 seconds to reach the plate. That is a short period of time, so every millisecond is important.

See how much time major leaguers have to make decisions below

A pitcher's goal is to cause the hitter to miss, not swing at a pitch they should have, or hit the ball weakly. When a pitcher is successful, the hitter makes one of a few different decisions poorly.  

On every pitch, the hitter must decide 3 things: 1) If they should swing 2) When they should swing 3) What plane should they swing on (find out more about swing plane here). 

Many factors determine the answers to these questions, to name a few; the speed of the pitch, its movement, and location. To consistently make good decisions on pitches, hitters must gather as much information as they can before committing to a swing. So logically, the later that a hitter can commit to the swing successfully, the lower the chance of them being fooled. If a hitter doesn’t swing hard, they will need to swing early and guess to have any chance at success.   

See the difference between a successful Little League swing and a successful Major League swing below.

Swinging fast and aggressively on every pitch is extremely important in having success at high levels. If all pitches have the same speed and movement, hitters can start their swing early and guess with some success. However, guessing fails when pitches become more variable and speed increases. Slow contact swings force hitters to decide early, which reduces a hitter’s chances of making good decisions and ultimately results in a low probability of hitting the ball solid. Even when hitters taking a contact swing do hit the ball on the barrel, usually they haven’t swung hard enough to hit much more than a single.

All high level hitters swing hard, so hitters of all ages should learn to swing hard now to prepare. Even hitters that are contact hitters swing hard and aggressively, their inability to hit home runs is almost always a result of a suboptimal movement pattern.

For example, take a look at my childhood hero's first hit in Yankee Stadium.

There is no doubt that Jeter went after that pitch aggressively. As you probably know, Jeter was never a power hitter. However, it’s important to understand that Jeter’s lack of power was not because he didn’t swing aggressively it was a result of a sub optimal swing pattern. When Jeter was playing he was 6’3” 195 lbs, let’s compare him to Josh Donaldson who is 6’1” 210 lbs.

When you compare Jeter to Donaldson, the difference is not in swing aggression, they both swing very hard; what separates them is how much force they are able to generate when they swing hard. Powerful movements need to be trained.

This guy probably chopped down as hard as he could, but he didn’t generate enough force to accomplish anything, because the movement wasn’t trained. Swinging hard and swinging powerfully are two different things. However, swinging hard is a must to consistently hit good pitching, even if you aren’t swinging powerfully.

Coaches often forget that the mission of little league and middle school ball is to develop players that both enjoy the game and are equipped to play at a higher level. And instead, they teach kids things that help
the team win but hinder player development. I once read a quote from Bobby Tewksbary saying “If your entire approach is built around the mistakes of the other team, what happens when they stop making mistakes?” Hitters need to prepare for when both pitchers and teams are good, because if you’re just trying to make contact, you won’t have a chance.

Make no mistake, swinging aggressively is a skill; it is extremely difficult for hitters of all ages to commit to swings that may result in them missing the ball. So as coaches we must focus on the mastery of the aggressive movements first, and mastery of actually hitting the ball second.

Thanks for Reading,

Kurt

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