Extend—to stretch out; draw out to full length
A key component for consistent and powerful hitting is extension. The majority of hitters rarely reach full, maximized extension.
Extension in the context of hitting means keeping the meat of the barrel in the hitting zone as long as possible. The hitting zone begins at the point where the hitter can first reach the incoming pitch to the point that the ball completely passes the hitter on its way to the catcher’s mitt.
Extension creates whip! For inspiration, watch Willow Smith’s music video “Whip My Hair.” The video is fun and provides a valuable visual. Go ahead and watch it on YouTube now.
Whip is created by reaching full extension, and extension requires letting go. As hitters, we have to trust our hands. Like whipping your hair, trusting your hands is uncomfortable at first. The improved results produced by full extension, however, are well worth the momentary awkwardness.
To keep the topic simple, we will begin by focusing on pitches thrown down the middle of home plate. These same concepts can be easily adjusted to apply to pitches of any location.
For pitches thrown down the middle of the plate, the hitting zone extends toward the pitcher. Therefore, hitters should keep the bat barrel whipping toward the pitcher for as long as possible.
With my students, the first concept we solidify is the Power Line, an imaginary line drawn from the back tip of home plate all the way through center field.
Once a hitter reaches full extension, her barrel will actually point down her Power Line toward center field, before any roll of the wrist or finish takes place.
Many hitters are so concerned with finishing hard that they pull themselves away from their Power Line before reaching full extension. When this happens, hitters physically work hard, but they will not experience maximum results.
They are working against themselves and cutting the swing short. The barrel does not stay in the hitting zone as long as it should. This decreases consistency.
Consistency is quite simple: when the bat stays where the ball is going to be for a longer period of time, the hitter is more likely to make good contact.
The opposite is also true. When the bat only stays where the ball crosses (hitting zone) for a short period of time, the hitter’s likelihood of solid connection decreases.
In short, maximizing extension increases batting averages.
Pull hitters may hit the ball hard but, typically, do not maximize their consistency. Pulling the ball often is a sign of ineffective extension. If a hitter pulls pitches that are thrown outside or over the middle of home plate, her extension is usually misdirected. When a pull hitter reaches full extension, the point of her bat is usually directed more toward the foul line than toward center field.
On the other hand, some pull hitters never reach extension. The arms stay bent throughout the entire swing, and the hands are never fully released. This mistake, also known as “alligator arms,” is quite common.
Overcoming alligator arms, like whipping your hair, requires getting uncomfortable. Throwing the hands away from the body through center field demands trust. Letting go through the power line can be awkward and unnerving.
To whip your hair, you must release it away from the body. This requires “letting your hair down”… literally. This seeming silliness can also prove a bit uncomfortable at first but can mimic the trust required to develop full extension. Try it right now! Seriously. Whip your hair!
Feel the release required to whip your hair and now apply that feeling to the swing. Let go through the Power Line. Release the hands and the bat head to whip through the zone. For a video example and drill to help achieve this whip, click the Charity’s Drill icon.
Although adjusting extension is initially uncomfortable for hitters, the dividends pay huge rewards. Hitters can gain both power and consistency in a matter of minutes.
Misdirected extension or lack of extension altogether keeps the bat barrel from staying long through the hitting zone. Making the adjustment allows players to immediately hit the ball harder and more often.
To simplify the concept, picture the Power Line. Think about starting the swing through the Power Line and staying on the line as long as possible.
Hitting more ground balls is sometimes an initial result of this change. If the length and direction of extension is improving, the ground balls should be hit toward the middle of the field. Allow time and practice reps for the changes to become more natural.
Once the hitter is comfortable with the extension adjustment, simply add the concept of punching through the pitcher. Repeated ground balls are usually the result of the hands rolling too soon. If a hitter punches through the pitcher, keeping hands palm up/palm down as long as possible through the hitting zone and all the way to full extension, those ground balls up the middle become line drives that burn the center fielder.
To achieve full extension, generate whip and increase the batting average get comfortable with being uncomfortable!