Early Bat Speed Hitting Drills

Baseball and Fast Pitch Softball

 

The Early Bat Speed Drills article is excerpted from our new book The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide (click for book details).

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Early bat speed (click link for why early bat speed is important) is the ability to generate a large amount of force early in the swing. Near-maximum bat speed is achieved by the optimal inner zone contact points. The speed that matters most is not the out-front speed but inner zone speed. Excellent early bat speed (click link for how to measure and track early bat speed) is a signature of the High-Level hitter.

Placing a batting tee out in front of the hitter’s stride foot (unless inside pitch) and then asking the hitter to hit the ball hard emphasizes an upper-body dominant swing. Placing the tee or static heavy bag more into the hitter’s body encourages the hitter to use their legs, keep their front side in, lead with hips, and lag their bat. Just the positioning of the tee or bag creates constraints forcing conceptual adjustments over time. Through good concepts and purposeful training, early bat speed is achievable by developing hitters.

Appropriate Stage of Competence – All stages except Unconscious Incompetence. Only developing (middle school) and experienced (high school) levels of ability, not usually suited for beginning hitters.

Review –

  • The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Pillar XXVIII: Early Bat Speed.
  • The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Debate XV: Short Swing Equals Quick Swing?
  • The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Stone XXXV: Optimal Contact Points.
  • The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Debate XXI: Hit the Ball Out Front?

 

Drill I – Radar Gun Bat Speed Drills

Find the directions for measuring ball exit velocity (EV) off a tee and front toss in the article Measure and Track Ball Exit Speed.

 

Game 1 (Top Three Ball Exit Speed Improvement Challenge)

First, measure the average ball exit speed off a tee placed in the inner zone. For the middle location, set the tee just inward of the front foot heel after stride. Ask hitters to work hard on improving speed. Test them again in two weeks. Recognize the top three hitters having a higher EV than their average from two weeks before.

 

Game 2 (Beat Your Number Game)

Use front toss aimed at the middle location and a net about 15 feet away in the middle of the field. Position the radar six feet high behind the net. Each hitter is assigned a number equaling that specific hitter’s average ball exit speed taken from prior assessments. Two hitters compete – take turns with one swing on a good pitch. The winner is the first hitter to hit the net AND record an exit speed higher than their number. If they succeed, they go to the next round and face other winners until there is a champion. Losers cheer on the winners. The Beat Your Number game promotes swinging hard with hands tight, inner zone contact, patience, and pitch selection under performance pressure.

 

Drill II – Inner, Middle, Outer Zone Bat Speed Drill

Making consistent contact deeper in the hitting zone directly correlates to a higher level of productivity.

Purpose – Evaluate the hitter’s power at various points in the contact zone.

Review –

  • The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Stone XXXV: Optimal Contact Points.
  • The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Pillar XXVIII: Early Bat Speed.
  • Stone XXIII: Measure and Track Ball Exit Speed.

Attention Focus – Use an External Result focus (click link for how to use mental focus to improve training and performance) for contacting the ball in the inner, middle, and outer zone.

Directions –

 Option 1 – Ball Exit Speed with Tee

Place a tee in the middle pitch location at three points. Measure average ball exit speed at each point.

  • Just inward of the hitter’s front heel after the hitter’s strides (inner zone).
  • Even with the front foot toe after the hitter’s strides (middle zone)
  • Six inches in front of the front foot after the hitter’s strides (outer zone).

 

Option 2 – Ball Exit Speed with Machine

 Place three balls on the ground in the middle pitch location as visuals. The first ball is even with the hitter’s front heel after the hitter’s strides (inner zone). The second ball is even with the front foot toe (middle zone) and the third about six inches in front of the front foot (outer zone).

Use a pitching machine for consistency, aimed for the middle of the plate. Ask the hitter to contact balls in each zone (inner, middle, outer) by adjusting the point in the operator’s movements or ball travel that they start their stride. The hitter feels inner zone hitting when their rear elbow is slotted (against the hitter’s side) at contact. For outer zone hitting, contact occurs when arms reach full extension. The middle zone is halfway in between.

Measure the average ball exit velocity (see Stone XXIII: Measure and Track Ball Exit Speed) for each of the three contact zones.

 

Option 3 – Bat Speed Drill

An efficient way to evaluate power at various contact points is to use a bat speed radar. A static heavy bag is positioned alternately in the inner, middle, and outer zone. Since the bag stops the bat, bat speed is measured reliably up to the point of contact.

 

Evaluation

Ball exit and bat speed for inner zone contact is ideally only a few mph slower than the outer zone. If inner zone speed is substantially lower, increase training for early bat speed producing fundamentals (see Drill V in this Tool).

 

Drill III – Hit Pylos for Bat Speed Drill (ESSENTIAL)

bat speedThis drill is a staple for hitting practices and pre-game warmup stations.

 Purpose – Develop inner zone hitting for each pitch location.

Review –

  • The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Stone XXXV: Optimal Contact Points.

Attention Focus – Use an External Result focus for contacting the ball in the inner zone.

 

Step 1 (Feel Inner Zone Contact for each Pitch Location)

early bat speed

Inside Pitch

Inner sone contact just in front of stride foot – rear elbow slotted.

early bat speed

Middle Pitch

Inner zone contact just past stride foot – rear elbow slotted.

early bat speed

Outside Pitch

Inner zone contact just past foot knee – rear elbow slotted.

The rear elbow is slotted when inner zone contact occurs regardless of pitch location.

Directions –

Use a pylo front toss. Using pylos allows the hitter to better feel where contact is occurring. Ask the hitter for ten inner zone contact hits for inside, then middle, and lastly, outside toss locations. Now mix up pylo tosses to different locations. To complete, the hitter makes 25 inner zone hits.

 

Step 2 (Inner Zone Bat Speed Drill)

 Directions –

Again use pylo front toss mixing locations. Only count hits with inner zone contact. Put a marker on the longest pylo hit. Now try to beat it!

 

Step 3 (Pylo Game)

 Directions –

Pylos are challenging to square up and hit for distance. The hitter must swing hard, their swing plane must align with the pitch’s trajectory, and they must strike the middle of the pylo. Have a competition among team members for the longest pylo hit in practice. Award first, second, third place. Or, establish a marker for a pylo home run. Have a team pylo homerun contest.

 

Drill IV – Reduce Time to Contact Drill (ESSENTIAL)

Time to contact is the elapsed time between the start of the downswing and impact. Measuring time to contact is one of the vital analytics provided by a bat sensor. Three elements influence time to contact (swing quickness):

  • Early barrel speed.
  • Where the barrel starts at swing initiation and its path to the contact point (distance) – see free article Load Hands to Reduce Time to Contact.
  • Where contact occurs (inner vs. outer zone).

Purpose – By measuring and tracking time to contact, the concept for how to improve quickness (see three elements above) is instilled in hitters, directing future practice efforts.

The hitter improves upon what is measured and tracked.

Review –

  • The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Stone XXXV: Optimal Contact Points.
  • The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide, Pillar XXVIII: Early Bat Speed.

 Attention Focus – Use an External Result focus for hitting the ball hard in the inner zone.

Directions –

Use a bat sensor and pitching machine or live BP. Once the hitter has their timing, use ten swings to measure the average time to contact. Make a routine of assessing time to contact at least once a month.

  

Drill V – Design Your Own Early Bat Speed Improvement Plan

Early bat speed is a critical contributor for decreasing time to contact, enabling productive inner zone hitting. Early bat speed is the product of the entire body working together throughout the swing. In this drill, the coach and hitter identify weaknesses in the following list of early bat speed builders and plan training to improve in that specific area:

  • Front side in(see Tool XI: Universal Stride and Approach Drills, Drill VII – Front Side In Drill).
  • Separate hands (see Tool XII: Experimental Loading Hands Drills).
  • Lower body mechanics (see Tool XIV: Universal Leg Drills).
  • Full core rotation (see Tool XVI: Universal Core Drills, Drill I – Hip Rotation Drill).
  • Axis of rotation (click link for free article Stay Back Drills).
  • Hip and shoulder separation (see Tool XVI: Universal Core Drills, Drill V – Hip and Shoulder Separation Drill).
  • Shoulder tilt (see Tool XVIII: Universal Shoulders and Head Drills, Drill I – Shoulder Tilt Drill).
  • Rear shoulder row (see Tool XIX: Experimental Shoulders and Head Drills, Drill I – Shoulder Row (Scap) Load) Experimentation Drill).
  • Rear elbow slot (see Tool XX: Universal Arms and Hands Drills, Drill I – Rear Elbow Slot Drill).
  • Bat lag (see Tool XX: Universal Arms and Hands Drills, Drill II – Bat Lag Drill).
  • Arm and hand torque techniques (see Tool XXI: Experimental Arms and Hands Drills).
  • Strength building workouts focused on developing fast-twitch muscles and core speed (click for free articles Train Rotational Power to Increase Speed and Train Fast Twitch Muscles to Increase Speed).
  • Overload and underload training (click link for free article describing the benefits of training with weighted/unwieghted bats).

 

Analysis of an Elite High Bat Speed Hitter

Here is an analysis of MLB Josh Donaldson’s swing exhibiting 92 mph bat speed (MLB average is 77 mph). His swing is an illustration of how multiple movements can work together to create tremendous bat speed.

  • Leg lift type stride 18 inches vertical.
  • Front side in (Universal).
  • Substantial forward movement of the torso (8+ inches) causes body weight to be “pressed” into the front foot – no soft landing.
  • Timing is synced by picking up the front foot and starting stride just as the pitcher’s arm starts forward.
  • Lands “toe touch” when the ball is halfway to the plate.
  • High torque load and top hand torque (THT).
  • Vertical bat tilt and pre-launch torque (PLT).
  • Shoulder row.
  • A thirty-degree torque angle (hip and shoulder separation). This high degree of separation is primarily due to the shoulder row, which is just finishing as hips begin moving forward.
  • 10-degree lead arm angle (almost barred).
  • 30-degree inward turn of shoulders.
  • Full core rotation (Universal).
  • Full shoulder turn (Universal).

 

Building Rome Series Books: Building the High-Level Swing Series

step by step hitting fundamentalsSee Building the High-Level Swing for a detailed and comprehensive description of 100 hitting fundamentals and 140 step-by-step drills that efficiently construct the batting swing from the ground up.

In the Building Rome Series of books, the construction of skills are in functional order, providing a “roadmap” to becoming a great hitter.

All baseball and fastpitch softball players can “climb the Roman Coliseum steps” to become a powerful and productive hitter.

Enjoy the quest!