Most hitters have the potential to drastically increase their bat speed, but the solution to quick hands is counter-intuitive. Hitters typically attempt to swing harder instead of smarter. Well trained hitters swing smarter and more efficiently by staying “short to the ball”. What does it mean to stay short? To clarify, we must re-visit math class. Do not panic; this one is easy!
Mentally draw the shortest route from point “A” to point “B” below.
If you drew a straight line, congratulations. You just aced my little geometry test! Geometry has proven that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Curvy lines are long and slow. Straight lines are short, quick and most effective for hitters.
As hitters, we want to create a short path for our hands from the starting position in our stance (point “A”) to contact (point “B”). This adjustment will dramatically increase bat speed.
The change is simple but not easy. To understand the concept fully, picture a sparkler attached to the end of the bat. Imagine drawing smoke lines in the air with the sparkler, and consider drawing a straight line from stance to contact.
Now, toss the sparkler image and visualize the bat in a pipe. The pipe is facing the same direction and is at the same angle as the bat while the hitter is in her stance and load positions. From this position, the hitter must pull her barrel out of the pipe without breaking the pipe.
To accomplish this, the barrel must stay loaded (meaning in line with the pipe), and the hands must continue forward with the wrists cocked backward.
If a hitter releases the wrists early by casting her hands or bat away from the body, she will break the pipe. If she drops the hands or barrel, again, she will break the pipe.
If she starts pulling the bat out of the pipe but stops her hands at or before contact, the barrel will end up in front of the hands, and she will break the pipe. The goal is to keep the hands in front of the barrel for as long as possible throughout the swing.
Take a timeout for a quick experiment:
Have the hitter begin her swing in slow motion. Pause the swing at any point while the hands are still in front of the barrel. In other words, the hands are between the barrel and the pitcher. Have her “get strong,” and keep the bat from moving. Then, grab the barrel and gently try shaking the bat.
Note: we do not typically want our hands tight during a swing. This exercise is an experiment designed to make a point, not to teach incorrect mechanics promoting tight hands.
The hitter should then take another slow motion swing but should not stop until extension, so the barrel is between the hitter’s hands and the pitcher. The hitter should “get strong” with her hands. The other player or coach should then wiggle the barrel again.
Does the hitter feel stronger with her hands in front or her barrel in front? If the experiment is conducted properly, she should feel strongest with her hands in front.
Leading with the hands for as long as possible throughout the swing will promote a short bat path which results in quicker hands and a faster bat.
Developing quick hands and maximizing efficiency from stance to contact is challenging! We cannot adequately cover all necessary elements in one article, but the off-season is the perfect time to focus on these more complex skill adjustments.
Now is the time! Start working on your hands and bat path this week. Below are some simple, yet effective drills to help:
Knob Punch—Set up a tall tee so the ball sits just below the level of the hitter’s hands in her stance position. Set the tee on the white chalk line of the batter’s box so the ball sits just inside the hitter’s front foot. The hitter will then pop the back side of the ball with the knob of her bat. The proper motion will result in weak ground balls rolling straight toward the middle of the field. The barrel should stay “in the pipe,” and her hands should move not only to the ball but through the ball. The bat should move more like a pool stick than a softball bat in this drill. This drill helps the hitter feel the proper mechanics during the initial forward movement with the hands and bat.
Ball Catch—Use baseballs or tennis balls for this drill. The hitter should stand in the box without a bat. She should emulate her regular hitting stance and set her hands in a comfortable position. Then, she will tuck her bottom hand (arm closest to the pitcher) into her chest, and her top hand stays in its typical stance position. A tosser, standing 10-15 feet in front of home plate, tosses one ball at the time over the inside corner of home plate. The hitter must catch the ball in line with or in front of her front foot. After 10-12 repetitions, she should switch hands and repeat the steps above. This drill allows hitters to isolate each hand and practice straight-line movements with the hands.
Tall Tee—Increase the tee height, so the ball sits at the very top of the hitter’s strike zone. Set the tee over the middle of the plate and a bit in front of the hitter’s front foot. The goal is to hit line drives up the middle. The simulated high pitch will encourage the hitter’s hands to move straight from stance to contact and will help reduce the muscle memory associated with dropping. If she can hit line drives up the middle from this position, she is doing a pretty good job of throwing her hands forward instead of casting away from the body.
Want quick hands? Work smart!