Hitting Training (Step 1)
Baseball and Softball Hitting Aids and Methods
The Practice Plan Series
This Hitting Training Methods and Aids article is excerpted from The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide (click for book details).
This article describes useful hitting training methods and devices to incorporate into your practice program. The first in a series of articles designed to guide the coach in prioritizing and planning practices. Using a top-down approach, the coach formulates their training plan step-by-step. The outcome is practice plans which fit the team’s priorities.
Note that the products discussed on our site have been used in our training of hitters with great success. At no extra cost to you, things you buy through our links may earn us a commission.
Hitting Training Method: Dry Swings
With dry swings, there is no ball. The hitter executes their swing to achieve one specific goal as required by the drill. The hitter can think about their movements (internal focus) or the path of the barrel (external process focus). A deliberate training progression starts with slowly executed dry swings. If the hitter can first feel the positions and motions, then they can replicate it.
Hitting Training Aid: Heavy Bag
Hitting bags are great for training leverage, quickness, early bat speed, degree of rotation, and extension to location. Also, use heavy bags as obstacles (constraints) for “forcing” a compact swing path.
A static bag is vital for measuring early bat speed. A static bag encourages speed earlier in the swing by requiring the hitter to fully engage their legs and core (see Stone XXII: Measure and Track Bat Speed).
We don’t recommend a moveable bag as it encourages hitters to activate their arms, reducing early bat speed and increasing time to contact.
Hitting Training Aid: Batting Tee
A batting tee is an essential training aid for hitters of all ages. A stationary ball allows the hitter to focus one hundred percent on required movements or targets. There is no element of timing ball travel.
But, if a specific hitter struggles with being natural off the tee, limit tee work to situations where movements must be precisely directed. Then quickly progress to hitting drills using a flying ball (toss, machine, live).
Ideally, the hitter’s swing off a tee looks like their baseline swing when facing a pitcher.
Click the link to shop for a durable 5-point tee (with replaceable parts) that can be used in drills developing swing patterns for various pitch locations.
Hitting Training Method: Front Toss
Front toss can use wiffles, foam balls (jugs lite-flights), pylos, dimples, or game balls. Usually, the tosser is 15 to 20 feet from the batter and behind a protective net. Front toss can be overhand or underhand. Drills requiring front toss place a high emphasis on the tosser being able to get the ball into a one-foot square area at a specific speed.
Most tossers find that underhand is most accurate from short distances. But, depending on the drill, sometimes overhand is ideal for baseball hitters. Overhand tossers sit on one knee or a bucket. The overhand toss, from shorter distances, is very similar to throwing a dart. For both underhand and overhand, wrist snap supplies the needed force and is the key to accuracy. A great tosser can:
- Toss accurately to locations on and off the plate.
- Vary speed by changing grip and release.
- Put a spin on a wiffle to make it move like a live pitch.
- Throw at a speed and trajectory appropriate for the age group.
Hitting Training Aid: Pylos
Toss pylos underhand or overhand from 15 – 20 feet. The thrower can maintain the same speed or mix speeds.
Pylos force a hitter to not only hit the middle of the ball but swing in the same trajectory (plane) as the tossed ball. If the hitter does both, the pylo travels in a line drive and keeps its shape throughout ball flight. Poor contact causes the pylo to spin off the bat, losing shape and only traveling a few feet.
Pylo training builds swing plane, barrel precision, and maximum force at contact.
“The hitting of plyo balls improves aspects of hitting by channeling hitters into an external focus. The hitter must focus on the desired ball flight (elevated line drive that is hit hard) and bat/ball contact (compressing the ball rather than hitting it with a glancing blow). If the outcome is not achieved, the hitter must make a swing plane and contact point adjustment in order to square the ball up on the next rep. The variability of the balls adds an additional challenge, which increases retention of contact and ball flight skills in comparison to repeatedly hitting a normal baseball. As always, intention and context are everything. If a coach brings the plyo balls to practice without explaining the science behind them or without coaching the proper swing intentions, the benefits of using the balls will be limited.” (Dutto, Implementing Hitting Plyo Balls into Your Practice Plan, 2019)
Click the link to shop for Driveline Baseball Pylos.
Hitting Training Aid: Stride Board
Features of a good stride board include 1) low to ground so that open stance hitters can stride from the ground onto the board, 2) twelve inches wide, 3) five feet long, and 4) not slippery.
Hitting Training Aid: Ghost Bat
A ghost bat is a bat with no barrel. Take an old wood bat and saw off the barrel. Use a ghost bat when hitters stand in while pitchers are warming up. Have a couple handy.
Hitting Training Aid: One-Handed Training Bat
One-handed training bats are shorter and light, enabling even youth hitters to swing with one hand. Find these small wood or alloy bats at a used sporting goods store or online.
Click the link to shop for fun to use 18-inch high-quality one-hand bat.
Hitting Training Aid: Speed (Thin) Bat and Golf Wiffles
An underload training bat improves hand-eye coordination by forcing batters to focus intently with the narrow-diameter barrel. With only 12 oz. of weight, but 30″ in length, batters can get in more swings with less fatigue. The lightweight design makes for fast rotation speed and hand speed training. Great for pre-game warm-ups. For a speed bat meeting these specifications, click the link to shop for a high-quality speed bat.
Golf ball size wiffles increase the challenge. Click the link for affordable wiffles suitable for batting training.
Hitting Training Aid: Noodle
A noodle is a useful tool to help position hitters (while avoiding being hit by the bat or ball). Purchase a swimming pool noodle at any dollar store.
Hitting Training Method: Live Batting Practice (BP)
Baseball coaches and players typically throw live BP overhand, from behind an L-Screen, 30 to 40 feet away. For fastpitch softball, live BP utilizes a windmill pitching technique, from behind a screen with a hole, 25 to 35 feet away.
The advantages of live BP type pitching:
- More velocity than front toss.
- More realistic pitching movements allowing hitters to rehearse their timing synchronization with the pitcher.
- Outstanding when scrimmaging with defenders and baserunners.
The disadvantages of live BP type pitching:
- Less accurate than front toss.
- Less velocity than game-like pitching.
- Less off-speed and movement than game-like pitching.
The most productive live BP is when the hitter has the same time to react to the pitch, as in a typical game; the hitter’s timing mechanisms closely simulate game conditions.
The question is, how far to position the live BP pitcher from the plate to simulate games? Distance is determined by:
- The regulation pitching distance of the age group.
- The average fastball speed of pitchers in a typical game.
- The pitching speed of the BP pitcher.
Here is a step-by-step for how to calculate BP pitching distance for game-like reaction times:
Step 1 (Determine feet per second of the average pitcher) – Multiply the miles per hour of the average game speed fastball by 1.46. For example, if the average game pitching speed of junior baseball is 65 mph, you have 65 x 1.46 = 95 feet per second. If the average pitching speed of fastpitch softball 14u is 50 mph, you have 50 x 1.46 = 73 feet per second.
Step 2 (Determine reaction time for the level of competition) – Divide the distance from the pitching rubber to home plate by the average game speed of the fastball in feet per second. For example, for 50/70 junior baseball, this distance is 50 feet. For a pitch traveling 95 feet per second, you have 50/95 = .53 seconds. The junior baseball reaction time is 0.53 seconds. For fastpitch softball 14u, the pitching distance is 43 feet. For a pitch traveling 73 fps, you have 43/73 = .59 seconds. The softball 14u reaction time is 0.59 seconds.
Step 3 (Determine feet per second of BP pitcher) – Use a ball speed radar gun to measure the pitching speed of the live BP pitcher’s typical throw. Now determine the feet per second of the live BP pitcher. Let’s say the baseball BP pitcher throws 50 mph on the radar; you have 50 x 1.46 = 73 fps. For a softball BP pitcher throwing 40 mph on the radar, you have 40 x 1.46 = 58 fps.
Step 4 (Determine the pitcher’s distance from the plate) – The final step is to determine the distance from the plate necessary for the live BP pitcher to simulate game reaction times. Multiply reaction time by fps of the live BP pitcher. For the live junior 50/70 baseball BP pitcher throwing 50 mph, .53 x 73 fps = 39 feet from pitcher to home plate. For the live softball 14u BP pitcher throwing 40 mph, .59 x 58 fps = 34 feet from pitcher to home plate.
Nothing to it, right? If a team has one assistant who typically throws BP, this calculation needs to be done only once per season. The benefit of going through all the math is that hitters have the same time to react during live BP as in a typical game.
Hitting Training Method: Machine Batting Practice (BP)
Advantages of Pitching Machines
- Block Practice Getting Timing Right for Slow, Medium, and Fast Pitching.
Often, BP pitchers have one speed that they throw accurately. With a machine (and a skilled operator), the hitter can efficiently block practice timing various game speeds (slow, medium, fast).
- Block Practice Locations.
Machines are great for block practicing specific locations.
- Block Practice Specific Movement Pitches.
Machines are also excellent for block practicing movement pitches. Single wheel machines can throw drops, rises (fastpitch softball only), and change-ups. Multiple wheel machines can be customized for precisely the amount of break desired.
“One of the things that we do is limit the number of swings taken off of a BP pitcher. What we do in virtually every BP session is set up a pitching machine to deliver very good breaking balls. It is important that our players have to pick up the release and spin of some kind of breaking ball in every BP session because that’s what we are going to see in a game.” (Cohen, 2013)
- Variable and Accurate Pitches.
Pitching machines have come a long way. The state-of-the-art 3-wheel machines can throw fastballs, breaking balls, and changeups without the hitter knowing it. Pre-set pitch types allow BP to be variable, very close to game-like, and of course, accurate.
Disadvantages of Pitching Machines
- Unrealistic Timing.
The most common concern about pitching machines is that the sequence, tempo, and consistency of the hitter’s timing is negatively affected due to:
- The operator’s unrealistic feeding motion.
- The inconsistent release from the mouth of the equipment.
For youth hitters, there isn’t much of a timing concern. Since pitching speeds are a lot slower during the younger years, timing a machine from a regulation distance is straight forward. In fact, under 12, most youth hitters can remain in their stance until release. They can gather and stride in tempo and then swing hard. Any motion the operator wants to use to let the hitter know the ball is about to be thrown works fine.
For middle school hitters, gathering weight rearward usually starts in the circle of the pitcher’s arm (baseball and fastpitch softball). Then, the hitter starts their stride at certain ball travel distances (see Tool XXV: Universal Timing of Fastball Drills, Drill II – Timing of Stride Start Drill). For baseball, the operator brings their arm back as a pitcher would and then forward to the machine’s feeder. For fastpitch softball, the operator makes a windmill motion.
High School and up hitters need to be more precise with their timing mechanisms. Reaction time is lower, so the hitter exactly synchronizes their motions to the pitcher. Therefore, the operator closely emulates a pitcher’s tempo by bringing hands together, lifting stride leg, breaking hands, and then circling the ball into the feeder. Or, whatever the individual hitter’s timing requires – the hitter ought to know, and the operator obliges.
There is one pitching machine frustration relevant to all ages. Any delay between when the operator’s arm reaches the feeder and the ball coming toward the hitter severely hampers timing mechanisms. The ball’s release from the machine occurs precisely when the operator’s arm reaches the release point.
One solution is for the operator to use two machine balls, holding one dimple in either hand. After they split hands during the delivery, move the non-throwing hand to position the dimple directly over the machine’s feeder. After circling their throwing arm, the operator drives the held ball into the machine using the ball in their throwing hand.
Another option is for the operator to stand ready to drop the ball into the feeder. Ask a pitcher to stand reasonably close to the machine and go through their full motion, but with no ball. The operator feeds the ball synchronized with the release point of the pitcher.
Additional Pitching Machine Operational Techniques
- Allow at least ten seconds between pitches so hitters can refocus.
- Use a ball speed radar to measure pitching speed since many machine dials are inaccurate.
- Softer dimples are available, which are easy on bats, even in cold weather. For fastpitch softball, use an 11” inch dimple because they are lighter, the smaller ball improves the hitter’s aim, and they are cheaper than 12”.
Types of Pitching Machines
With a skilled operator, single wheel machines can do a lot, are cheaper, and easier to manipulate. Here are a few essential features to look for in one-wheel machines:
- Easy adjustability between baseball and softball.
- Levers to allow the machine to be varied between pitches, outside or inside, high or low.
- Turn the machine backward and reposition the feeder to put a downspin on the ball for practicing curves and drops.
- Push a button for a change-up.
- Throws mini-balls, baseball, 11”, and 12” dimples.
- Throws a lighter foam ball that moves even from shorter distances. Great for indoor practice and pre-game warmups.
Click this link to shop for our recommended one-wheel baseball and softball pitching machine. Appropriate for Little League through college and easy to adjust for ball size if you think you might coach both baseball and softball. We have used ours for 30-years now – it has traveled across the country with teams many times.
Click this link to shop for one-wheel softball only pitching machine with change-up.
And we should also mention the ultimate pitching machine just out on the market. Click this link to shop for a 3 wheel baseball only select a pitch machine.
Wiffle and foam ball throwers (images below) come in many styles. For example, mini-wiffle (golf ball) throwers are small, affordable, tabletop devices. Great for building hand-eye coordination, especially combined with a speed training bat. Wiffle and foam throwers are ideal for indoor practice stations. With a small generator, these throwers are also well-suited for pre-game warmups.
Click the link to shop for a quality but affordable small ball pitching machine.
Hitting Training Method: Live Pitching
Building Rome Series defines live pitching as regulation distance pitching but without competition. Coaches, team pitchers, older pitchers from another team, all can pitch live. The pitcher throws the same type of pitch or mixes up pitches depending on the hitter’s needs. The difference between live and game-like is that the pitcher is not trying to strike the batter out; instead, they do their best to throw specific pitches to specific zones. Live pitching can be the ultimate practice or the worst, depending on the pitcher’s ability to throw strikes, especially off-speed strikes.
Hitting Training Method: Game-Like Pitching
Game-like pitching requires the pitcher (and catcher) to try to strike the batter out. Also, there is a helper calling balls and strikes and keeping the count. If the hitter strikes out, they repeat another at-bat, or another hitter can rotate in. Rotate pitchers as well to keep arms safe.
For hitters and pitchers, the value of game-like practice can’t be overstated.
Hitting Training Aid: Slow-Motion Video
Many phones let you record HD video (1080p) at high frame rates; 240 fps slo-mo has become pretty standard among premium devices. Using an app at 240 fps, you can playback the video up to eight times slower than recorded. Use this convenient training aid any time you want to confirm a hitter’s fundamentals as accurate, consistent, and game ready. Nothing is as convincing and motivating as seeing yourself in slow-motion.
Ideally, video your hitters professionally, and maintain archives of each hitter’s baseline swing over time. Invest in a high-speed camera and video editing software. To objectively identify improvement, compare a hitter’s swing from six months ago, side by side in slow-motion, with their current swing. This investment is a must for facilities training hitters at advanced levels.
Hitting Training Aid: Launch Angle Markers
Not everyone has access to machines like HitTrax, Trackman, or Rapsodo to measure launch angles and spin rates. These are expensive devices. But no worries, the coach or hitter can easily calculate targets in their team batting cage representing specific angles and get very close. Let’s try it using www.calculator.net/right-triangle-calculator.htm. In this example, our cage is 16’ high, so enter 13 (estimating the hitter makes contact at about 3’ high) in box a=. The back net is 50’ from the plate, so enter 50 in box b=. Click the calculate button. Now see at the top
Click here for how to measure launch angle. Modern technology enables the speed of the hitter’s swing to be measured very accurately. No coach should be without a bat speed radar. It is an affordable yet essential training tool. Here is a checklist of ways to utilize bat speed radars:
Hitting Training Aid: Bat Speed Radar
Click here for how to measure launch angle.
Modern technology enables the speed of the hitter’s swing to be measured very accurately. No coach should be without a bat speed radar. It is an affordable yet essential training tool.
Here is a checklist of ways to utilize bat speed radars:
Click the link to shop for our preferred swing speed sensor which is cheap and easy to use.
Hitting Training Aid: Ball Speed Radar
The multi-functionality of ball speed radar guns (as distinguished from bat speed radars) makes them an excellent tool for any coach, parent, or player. Although the most common use for ball speed radar guns comes in the pitching cage, they can also measure batted ball exit velocity (EV). A ball speed radar is another essential training aid.
Click the link to shop for an affordable ball speed radar suitable for team coaches.
Click this link to shop for a professional ball speed radar that also captures spin rate for pitchers. Suitable for private instructors or college/pro.
Hitting Training Aid: Bat Sensor
Bat sensors quantify swing quality. Attach these amazing devices to the knob of the bat. The sensor sends swing metrics to a phone or tablet for coaches and players to track and analyze. Sensors are relatively cheap and positively impact the training of hitters at all baseball and fast-pitch softball levels.
Here are Building Rome Series four most valuable metrics measured by bat sensors:
- Bat Speed.
Bat Speed is the observed speed of the sweet spot of the bat at impact. The sweet spot of the bat is measured six inches from the tip of the bat.
- Attack Angle.
Attack angle is the angle of the bat’s path, at impact, relative to horizontal. A positive value indicates an upward swing path, and a negative value indicates swinging down, where zero is level.
- Vertical Bat Angle.
Vertical bat angle is measured in degrees and provides the barrel’s location relative to the knob at impact. This analytic is useful when optimizing swing patterns for high and low, and downward moving pitches.
- Time to Contact.
Time to contact is the elapsed time between the start of the downswing and impact. An advanced algorithm determines the beginning of the downswing to detect functional forward bat speed initiation.
Hitting Training Aid: Underweight/Overweight Speed Training Bats
Overload/underload training maximizes bat velocity by adjusting brain patterns and strengthening the fast-twitch muscles used in the hitting stroke. Numerous studies have reached a similar conclusion – the use of weighted bats improves bat speed.
Click here for drills to increase bat speed utilizing underweight/overweight training.
The Practice Plan Series
Using a top-down approach, the coach formulates their training plan step-by-step. The outcome is individual hitting practice plans which fit the team’s priorities. Click each of the links below to build your practice plans for the upcoming year systematically.
Building Rome Series Books: Building the High-Level Swing Series
Click Building the High-Level Swing Series to learn more about our new two-book hitting series containing 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!