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Friday, September 11, 2009

Helping Baseball Players Get Out of a Hitting Slump

By Jack Perconte

Helping young players get out of hitting slumps can be difficult. Young baseball players do not have the high-tech video and expert coaches that the major league hitters utilize, and even major league hitters have difficulty breaking out of hitting slumps. Additionally, young ball players don't have long term contracts so a prolonged slump could easily ruin their average, season or worse, give them a nice seat on the bench. Often, kids have many well-wishing people who offer advice on hitting during these times. Soon, however, the "try this/try that" information overwhelms the young hitters and confusion follows. The number one thing coaches can do to help is to keep the players optimistic, letting them know that the hitting slump is temporary and the end of it is near. Some words of advice like the following can help:

1. Do not get yourself out by swinging at bad pitches.
2. You are only one swing away from putting it all together.
3. The results will be there if you stay focused on the fundamentals and timing in practice, and on the ball in games.
4. Your confidence may not be high, but never give up hope.
5. There will be times when no one thinks you will get a hit, but always believe in yourself.
6. Remember the good at-bats and forget the bad ones.
7. No one will remember if you make an out with the game on the line but everyone will remember if you get the game winning hit, so you have nothing to lose.
8. Remember, the pitcher is nervous too.

Of course, these positive words can help for a while but often, the player's mechanics need adjusting. Generally, in-season is not the time to make major swing changes because major changes need a great deal of repetition and time to become habits. Often, some small tweaks to the hitter's stance or setup can make the difference, especially for hitters who are making contact, but not solid contact. The coach and hitter should analyze the results of the hitters' at-bats to see what tendencies have developed. Usually, hitters who are slumping, will be hitting too many ground balls or too many pop ups. After figuring out these tendencies, the following are some quick fixes coaches can try to get the hitter back on track.

For the hitter who is hitting too many ground balls:
1. Lower the hitter's hands an inch or two.
2. Have the hitter widen their stance a few inches and bend knees a little more (Think Carlos Quentin Stance).
3. Place a batting tee at the hitter's knees and right down the middle - hitter hits until they can consistently hit line drives back through the middle. Do not let the hitter settle for ground balls, even if they are solid.
4. Make sure the hitter's rear leg has a good angle at contact - legs form a capital A at contact, not a V.

For hitters who are popping everything up, the opposite "quick fix" solutions can help:
1. Raise the hitter's hands an inch or two
2. Shorten the distance between the feet when the hitter is in their stance so they are standing taller with little knee bend (Think Ken Griffey Jr. Stance)
3. Set a batting tee at the hitters chest or slightly higher - hitter hits until there are no pop ups - ideally, hitting line drives the same height as the ball level.
4. Make sure the hitter is transferring their weight with their heel on their rear foot facing the sky at contact.

Bigger Problems

Obviously, hitters who are not making contact or are only hitting foul balls, have bigger fundamental issues. The first thing to do to help these hitters is to make sure it is not just a timing issue. If the hitter is always swinging late, challenge them with greater speeds in batting practice. Likewise, for hitters who are swinging too early, use slow pitches during batting practice. Generally, the hitters' timing will improve with these speed changes and they will start making consistent contact. If this doesn't help, major swing fundamental changes may be necessary and there is probably nothing to lose by starting those changes immediately.

Former major league baseball player, Jack Perconte gives baseball hitting tips and batting practice advice for ballplayers of all ages. His baseball hitting lessons advice can be found at Jack Perconte is the author of two books: "The Making of a Hitter" and "Raising an Athlete"

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Hello Baseball Friend,
I welcome any comments or suggestions. If you have a question or a topic that you would like to read about, please leave a comment and I will try to address that topic as soon as I can. Good luck in the coming season!
Have a great day, Nick