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There is a familiar saying that time is money. While this is certainly true in life, it is also true in baseball. There is no greater technical advantage given to a player than one that allows them to have more time. The following Sports Science video shows why even the smallest amount of time can be extremely valuable to a hitter in either baseball or softball.
As you saw in the video above, the minor league hitter only had .395 seconds to react to a 95 MPH baseball pitch while the same hitter had even less time at .350 seconds to hit a 70 MPH Softball pitch. So how does a hitter allow themselves more time? The best way to achieve this is to increase the efficiency of their body movement to create maximal bat speed on the best swing plane for the particular pitch thrown. In watching many game videos from both my in-person and online clients, one of the most common reasons for my players’ struggles is that they start too late and feel rushed in their stride. This feeling of being rushed either causes the hitter to panic and slam their foot down or overuse their hands and arms to make contact. It may seem simple, but many in-game swing issues have been solved by simply telling players to start their movement early and and to move forward with a slow, calm tempo.
The idea of starting early may seem strange, especially to players who have issues with being consistently early. The key concept to understand is that starting early does not necessarily lead to landing early as long as the tempo of the hitter is rather slow. In fact, the late start often leads to early timing where the hitter doesn’t trust their stride or turn. In many of the examples below, you will see that the ball is actually very close to the hitter when their foot hits the ground. Click here to read Chas’ article explaining why getting the foot down early is not always a good coaching cue.
Pitching delivery, pitch speed, pitch type, pitch location, and turn speed are just a few of the variables that go into a hitter having good timing. As you can imagine, it is not easy or possible to always start your stride at the perfect time. Hitters instantly become more adjustable when they err on the early side of beginning their stride. The way I explain this to hitters is with a video game analogy. Being a former gamer myself, I played my fair share of sports games on PlayStation. When you wanted to run faster with a player, you would press the R2 button to make your player speed up. Unfortunately no turbo button exists in the swing so when a hitter starts too late, it is impossible for them to achieve their best movement and their best timing. However, there are multiple ways to slow down to adjust to an offspeed pitch or a fastball that was simply mis-timed.
When recognizing or feeling an early mistake in their timing, a hitter can delay by holding their leg in the air longer to land later. This adjustment is fairly intuitive and generally doesn’t even have to be taught. The second type of adjustment when early is much more difficult but can really set a hitter apart from their peers. This adjustment usually occurs when a hitter doesn’t recognize the pitch as an offspeed pitch until the last moment. At this moment, elite hitters are able to cushion their landing and delay their turn by sinking into their front leg and waiting to unleash their turn. This is a far better option than the alternative, which is to reach for the pitch resulting in a weak swing that is largely dominated by the arms and shoulders. Here is a recent video I received from a student hitting an offspeed pitch off the wall of a high school field as a rising freshman.
Click here to learn more about this type of adjustment from JK Whited. The fact that neither adjustment mentioned in this paragraph is even possible when a hitter starts their movement too late shows that starting too late is far more detrimental to a hitter’s success than starting too early.
In order to further illustrate this timing concept, I will use a few Major League players as examples. Here is a video of Oakland A’s outfielder Khris Davis.
While Davis is certainly explosive in his turn and has shown a great deal of power in his career, he is not nearly as adjustable as he could be. His late start and quick stride leave him very little room for error in his timing. Davis is known as a streaky hitter who is likely to hit for a fairly low average. I would love to see the effects of a slight change to Davis’ start time and stride tempo as he has the raw ability to be one of baseball’s premier hitters.
If you have followed Baseball Rebellion for long, you know that Jose Bautista is one of our favorite hitters. One of the reasons for this is that he absolutely crushes the ball with a relatively small frame. Bautista transformed his career from being an average Major Leaguer to being a perennial all-star and and MVP candidate beginning in 2010. What did he change? He simply started his movement earlier. Here is a quote from Bautista:
“I used to start when the pitcher would let go of the ball,” Bautista says. “His position would be like this” — he freezes his arm at a 90-degree angle, his wrist next to his ear — “and the ball would come out of his hand and I’d just be late. When the pitcher takes the ball out of his glove [now], I’m moving. I’ve got all this time to load. My top hand moves at the same rate as the pitcher is cocking his arm.”
While Bautista may have focused on his top hand, the reality is that he had a higher leg lift that began earlier and moved slower. In the video above, notice that Bautista is at the top of his leg lift well before the pitch is released. This simple but important change drastically changed Bautista’s career and life!
Above you will see Josh Donaldson (2015 MVP) utilizing a leg kick similar to Bautista. Notice that he is at the top of his leg kick well before the ball is released from the pitchers hand. This early start allows Donaldson time to perform his quality movements.
Carlos Gonzalez is yet another example of a great hitter starting his stride early so that he can move forward and transition smoothly into his turn.
Before you think that I am only picking players with big leg kicks, watch how Robinson Cano starts early and moves slowly but doesn’t utilize a giant leg kick. He slows his forward move by swaying backwards slightly before the ball is delivered. This move has the same effect as a leg kick in that it allows Cano to have a calm tempo and load that prepares his body to turn accurately and efficiently.
Last but not least we have Andrew McCutchen. He has the most simple stride style of the group but still moves forward at a calm pace by letting his body slowly move away from his back foot. This type of Body control is vital to McCutchen’s consistent success.
Regardless of your stride style starting early can be a very simple change that can lead to better timing, better movements, and more success. Thanks for reading!
Gabe Dimock – Baseball Rebellion Hitting Instructor