Has the outside pitch haunted you in the past? Learn simple skills that will allow you to drive outside pitches with authority to the opposite field.
Take a quick trip down Memory Lane to visit your elementary school playground. The sand, the swings, the monkey bars and merry-go-round, you are in the middle of it all. Your childhood best friend is running toward you. As she barrels closer, you notice her angry glare. She runs right up to you, stopping as a cloud of dust swirls at your feet. She says, “You’re dumb, and I hate you,” turning around to storm away.
You stand in one spot, stunned as your little, third-grade world internally crashes and burns in less than a second. Your “friend” then whirls back toward you, with a huge smile and shouts, “It’s Opposite Day! You are awesome!”
Wow, the playground can be such a cruel place! Hopefully the traumatic experiences of Opposite Days gone by have not left permanent scars.
When it comes to hitting, however, I propose we make every day an opposite day.
Many batters will say to the outside pitch, “You’re dumb, and I hate you.” Hitters, however, will say, “No way, it’s opposite day. Outside pitch, you are awesome!” When we know how to master the outside pitch, we learn to love hitting it.
The majority of players struggle to dominate pitches thrown outside. I want to share some tips that will equip hitters to “go oppo.”
First, we must learn to hit the ball where it is pitched. In the case of an outside pitch, this means driving the ball to right-center field, for right-handed hitters. Lefties should send the outside pitch to left-center. “Going oppo” means effectively executing this skill.
Hitters must also choose the correct size bat. A player should use the longest bat she can effectively handle. Possessing extra length is helpful when learning to hit the outside pitch, but if the batter cannot swing the longer bat correctly, she will end up dragging the bat through the zone, decreasing her bat speed and jeopardizing her mechanics. None of these conditions produce consistent, positive results.
For younger players who are still growing, here is a good trick to determine a feasible bat length: place the bat vertically on the ground (barrel down, knob up), at the side of the hitter. The barrel end should rest on the ground, and the bat should stand parallel to the player’s legs. With the hitter’s arms hanging by her side, the knob of the bat should fall somewhere around the bend in her wrist.
Because bats are so expensive, and players grow quickly at the younger ages, some parents purchase longer bats and have girls “choke up” until they grow in to the bat. This is an understandable strategy, but the goal should be for players to develop proper bat control as quickly as possible, so they can move the hands down toward the knob and make the most of every inch of reach the bat offers.
Once the proper equipment is in place, we must understand some fundamental concepts in order to master outside pitches.
Working to properly hit the outside pitch begins on the tee. In order to go oppo, the hitter must “let the ball travel” or “let the ball get deep”. These phrases are used frequently on the field but are rarely well-understood.
They are an attempt to describe the ideal contact point. The contact point, the exact spot where the bat meets the ball, is crucial for outside pitch success.
Every hitter is different and therefore possesses a slightly different ideal contact point. When watching a hitter from directly across home plate, a good rule of thumb for an outside pitch is connecting with the ball somewhere between the front foot and belly button.
This requires allowing the ball, when thrown outside, to travel further from the pitcher’s hand toward the catcher’s mitt than it would travel when the ball is thrown down the middle or on the inside parts of the plate.
Once correctly understood, the ideal contact point can be simulated using a tee. Using a separate home plate and tee will allow the drill to be set up properly. The hitter should step into the box and set up according to home plate. The tee is then placed so the ball falls on the outside corner of the plate and somewhere between the hitter’s front foot and her belly button. Several cuts may be necessary to determine the ideal contact point.
Once set up, the hitter should take swings focused on throwing the knob of her bat and her hands through the second baseman (for righties) or through the short stop (for lefties). This simple visual will promote the correct bat path, and should help the barrel stay loaded as long as possible.
I like to picture a loaded bat barrel as if inside a pipe. The pipe hovers just over the hitter’s back shoulder and points toward the appropriate middle infielder (28 for right-handed hitters and SS for left-handed hitters).
The hitter must work to pull the barrel out of the pipe without breaking the pipe. The longer the hitter can lead with her hands/knob and keep her barrel in the pipe, the more compact, efficient and effective her swing will be. This simple approach provides the best opportunity to drive the outside pitch with authority.
Let me be clear, however, the pipe is a visual, only. I do not recommend using any contraption to simulate this movement.
After beginning the swing correctly, by throwing the hands and pulling the bat out of the pipe, hitters must learn to finish the swing properly, as well.
After connecting with the ball, the hitter must then focus on extending through the pitch. After throwing her hands through the second baseman or short stop, she must then point with her bat head to that player. The goal is to reach full extension in the direction the ball was hit.
From contact to the point position (also known as extension), the hitter’s focus is finding the level of the ball and staying through it as long as possible.
Stop hating the outside pitch. Perfect these simple skills and make going oppo awesome! Here’s to many successful Opposite Days to come.