Hit the Ball Out Front or Let the Ball Travel?
Baseball and Fastpitch Softball
This Hit the Ball Out Front article was excerpted from our new book The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide (click for book details).
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Building Rome Series (Roman Theme) Introduction
Our dedicated Roman Senators are back in session. Rome’s citizens much appreciate the Senate members due to their ability to keep an open mind and make well-thought-out rulings benefiting all levels of ability. Senators comprise a group of respected players, coaches, and sports scientists elected by the Roman citizens. The purpose of the Roman Senate is to review and debate contending hitting strategies and viewpoints. The Roman Senate seeks to raise knowledge to beget increased success. After each debate, the Senate issues a ruling. The ruling contains recommendations, proclaiming increases in power or productivity.
Many Roman Senators prompt hitters to hit the ball out front. This teaching becomes evident when observing coaches helping hitters with tee work – the tee is six inches or more out in front of the hitter’s front foot for all pitch locations.
What Does Hitting the Ball Out Front Mean?
Use the Plate as a Reference Point?
Hitters come in all sizes, utilize different stride lengths, and set up in a range of positions in the box. Striving to hit pitches out in front of the plate should never be absolute for all hitters.
Use the Front Foot as a Reference Point?
The front foot is a good checkpoint; define hitting the ball out front as striving to contact all locations in front of the front foot.
Use the Degree of Extension as a Reference Point?
Contact can occur with the rear elbow slotted (inner zone), with arms at full straight arm extension (outer zone), or in between with partial extension. Using extension as the determinant, most coaches define out front as contacting the ball with full (straight arm) extension. Full-extension requires the rear elbow to move toward the pitcher out of the slot against the hitter’s side. Un-slotting back elbow occurs as hands release, and arms extend to contact the ball in the hitting zone’s outer portion.
Party 1 – The Hitter Should Hit the Ball Out Front
Outer Zone Contact – Full Extension
Now that we have defined making contact “out front,” let’s look at the benefit of doing so:
- Improved bat speed, power, and distance.
“The reason is that hitting the ball out front is a more aggressive approach and allows him to turn his body open more. Therefore, being able to turn more allows him to create more rotational force.” (anonymous from forum)
- More straightforward timing when pulling all locations.
“You really need to hit the ball out front to maximize your swing speed, drive the ball harder and farther, and finally become more consistent at the plate.” (anonymous from forum)
Pull hitters tend to hit the ball to the same side of the field as the side of the plate they set up. They strive to contact all pitch locations more out front where bat speed is slightly higher.
Party 2 – The Hitter Should Let the Ball Travel to Inner Zone
Letting Ball Travel (Inner Zone Contact); Rear Elbow Slotted
Here are concepts for letting the ball travel:
Since the outer zone is a “release” phase where little additional torque is applied, accomplished hitters who have obtained a high degree of early bat speed hit the ball with close to maximum force in the inner zone (3 mph less bat speed than outer zone). Emphasizing and training early bat speed also increases bat speed in the hitting zone’s outer portion (out front).
- Inner zone hitting creates more time to make a swing decision.
Inner zone hitting cuts swing time (time to contact) and increases decision time. Those extra milliseconds are perpetuities for a hitter facing advanced pitching, and the ability to buy extra time is a significant advantage. The longer the brain has, the more accurate and detailed the choice.
To hit the ball further out front, the hitter must commit to the pitch earlier.
- Letting the ball travel increases the margin of error.
Inner zone contact encompasses optimal contact points where great hitters deliberately practice timing fastballs. This approach leaves room (margin for error) in the outer zone when the hitter is early on the off-speed pitch.
“When I work with higher level hitters the one thing I want to know based upon impact is how soon does the barrel get on plane and how long does it stay on plane. For this reason, I do not use the plate as a reference as much as I use the hitter’s front foot. What I like to see is a player have the ability to launch the ball at 15 degrees 6 inches inside their front foot all the way to 25 degrees 12 inches outside their front foot. Long story short the sooner the barrel can arrive on plane behind the ball the more opportunity a hitter has to launch the ball in the air to be successful. So instead of fighting to get out front, create acceleration and plane behind you and allow the centrifugal force created to carry the barrel on plane through the hitting zone.” (Longworth, 2018)
- High-Level hitters let the ball travel deeper than amateurs.
“We can also deduce that professional hitters have a propensity for allowing the ball to travel deeper in the zone. With depth of contact being measured as the distance from the back of home plate, our pro hitters make contact on an average of 23.52 inches from the back of home plate, a little more than three inches deeper in comparison to high school hitters (26.13 inches) and a little less than one inch (24.22 inches) in comparison to college hitters. This finding can help us explain the lower time to contacts because this metric is highly dependent on where the hitter makes contact with the ball in relation to the plate. If the hitter makes contact deeper, time to contact will be lower; if contact is made out front, then time to contact will be higher.” (Debunking Bat Speed Myths, 2019)
Senate Ruling for Hitting the Ball Out Front
Early Bat Speed is Critical for Inner Zone Contact
Early bat speed generates a large amount of force early, by the optimal inner zone points of contact. Early bat speed is somewhat of a hitting secret to all but the best hitters.
There are many productive benefits to early bat speed:
- Extra decision time.
As we have said, inner zone hitting cuts swing time (time to contact) and increases decision time – so does early bat speed.
- Off-speed contact in the outer zone.
A focus on inner zone hitting creates a “cushion” of time and distance by enabling solid contact with off-speed pitches in the outer zone.
- When pitching speeds increase and the ball travels deeper, there are more frequent base hits due to the improved ball exit speed and distance of all trajectories.
- Allows hitting the outside pitch with authority (see Dome XVI: Outside Pitch with Linear Extension).
- Increased confidence.
Time to Contact is a CRUCIAL Metric
The time to contact metric (provided by bat sensors) measures the time, beginning when the barrel starts to move towards the hitting zone (at launch) until the bat reaches the ball (click on the link for our free article describing how to Measure Time to Contact). Time to contact is affected by early bat speed, the swing arc radius, and where contact occurs, inner zone (deep) vs. outer (out front).
Time to contact (TOC) is the primary indicator of quickness (not swing distance!). TOC reflects the time the hitter has to make a swing commitment.
Here are the actualities:
- The time to contact is longer since contact is out front. The further out front, the earlier the hitter must commit – they are more often “fooled” by off-speed. Striving to hit the ball out-front gives the pitcher a considerable advantage.
“Teaching a player to hit the ball “out front” all the time contributes to many mechanical flaws as well having poor pitch recognition. When we are trying to constantly hit the ball “out front” we are usually trying to swing too early at the ball before it reaches the hitting zone. If we are trying to do this, then we are making our decision on whether or not to swing right out of the pitcher’s hand and not really giving ourselves a chance to recognize pitch type or location. This is where you’ll see a lot of swings and misses by 2 feet on off-speed or chases out of the zone.” (Gac, 2016)
- The time to contact is longer since bat speed is slower early in the swing. The arms are thrusting the hands forward instead of letting the legs, core, and shoulders utilize accumulated (conserved) momentum to speed up the barrel quickly (early bat speed).
- There are issues with swing plane (attack angle) and swing patterns (pulling) that affect productivity.
- Striving to make contact at optimal (inner zone) points increases the margin of error.
If the hitter is looking to pull the ball with every swing – and body and bat direction follow – the hitter gives the pitcher too many ways to get them out. They become a one-dimensional hitter.
Emperor’s Edict For Hitting The Ball Out Front
The Emperor proclaims and decrees:
Extension is commonly confused for the ideal contact point by many coaches.
Inner zone contact points are optimal and should be the hitter’s intent.
The techniques involved in generating early bat speed teach kids how to create bat speed before their hands travel forward. The ability to start the swing without committing allows kids to be aggressive. It is what the best hitters do.
Here are the “competing” hitting zone “algorithms:”
Party 1 —> Outer Zone + Out Front (Overall) Bat Speed = Maximum Power PLUS Simpler Timing
Party 2 —> Inner Zone + Early Bat Speed + Increased Margin of Error = Substantial Power PLUS Improved Decision Time PLUS Increased Productivity
Other Hitting Debate Articles You May Find Interesting
Click the links below for further free articles:
The Ultimate Guide to “Squish the Bug”
Building Rome Series Books: Building the High-Level Swing Series
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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!