Some Drills to Improve Your Hitting
Editor's note: This article was originally published in the Spring of 1992 in MSBL's Hardball Magazine. It's always fun to reflect on some of these old articles but there are also some great ideas that can be cultivated. I hope you enjoy a trip to the past!
By Jim Sullivan, special to MSBL
Practicing with a wood bat improves a hitter's concentration, bat speed, power and chances of solid impact. The 5-inch sweet spot and light weight of aluminum bats can make a hitter lazy. To hit the ball hard with wood, the hitter must concentrate on hitting the ball on the 2-inch sweet spot and he must drive the barrel head through impact. At first, the wood bat will seem dead, but after a few weeks the ball will jump. Once a hitter learns to hit with wood, he can switch back to aluminum for games, with dramatic gains in bat speed, power and concentration.
We all have two types of muscle fiber: slow twitch and fast twitch. Slow twitch fibers are able to perform a lot of work with minimal fatigue. Fast twitch fibers contract up to three times faster than slow twitch, but tire quickly. Athletes can increase both the thickness and speed of fast twitch fibers through specialized training. By swinging a wiffle bat you train the fast-twitch muscle fibers used in the process of your swing. It takes much less time to complete a swing with a wiffle bat that with a regular bat. Every muscle fires faster.
Hitting a wiffle ball is fun as well as good training. The movement of a wiffle ball is much more radical than a baseball, making regular breaking balls seem comparatively easy to hit.
You'll need to use a wiffle ball bat that is the same length as the baseball bat that you normally use. If you use the standard 31-inch wiffle bat, you will unwittingly be training yourself to hit the ball 3 or 4 inches below the sweet spot of your bat—a bad idea. But, since wiffle bats don't come in 33 inches or 34 inches, you'll need to customize one. Here's how to do it: Apply some oil to the top of an official 31-inch wiffle bat and jam the bat into a 15-inch piece of PVC pipe until it is the desired length. Secure with duct tape. You now have a Wiffle Weapon!
The stronger your arms, wrists and hands, the more energy they can transfer to the bat. Power is generated from the center of the body outward through eight, drive and body rotation, from the massive muscles of the legs, buttocks, hips and trunk through the smaller muscles of the shoulder, arms, wrists and hands, ultimately to the bat head. Swinging a weighted bat strengthens the last link in this energy chain.
By drilling with both the wiffle bat and the weighted bat, you achieve overload/underload training. Overload training develops slow twitch muscle fibers; underload training develops fast twitch fibers. Together they enhance bat speed and power.
This is similar to stickball but with a few twists. Go to a little league field, drop a plate about 6 feet behind home plate, and throw from the mound (about 52 feet). Use your regular bat. Normal tennis balls are tough enough to hit, but don't use normal tennis balls: burn the hair off the balls first. With less wind resistance, the speed of the ball greatly increases. Fastballs run; breaking balls go off the table. The hitter must pick up a small black cylinder instead of a white ball. Since the ball now has no visible seams, the hitter cannot pick up the spin. With the shortened distance, a hitter must react to an 82 mph fastball as if it were a 95 mph express.
This is not a drill to build confidence; it's as close to major league pitching as you can get. Our hitters all say that when they face a real pitching after training with burnt tennis balls, the baseball looks like a beach ball in slow motion in comparison. NOTE: Always wear eye protection when hitting tennis balls; they travel at high speeds with erratic trajectories.
These four drills are effective and can be used by anyone. Swing a broomstick or a wiffle ball bat and a weighted bat for five minutes each night. Work with a teammate on the wiffle ball and tennis ball drills. (You may want to start with regular tennis balls and work your way up to burnt ones.) You will see a dramatic improvement in your swing!
Jim Sullivan is a hitting instructor and trainer based in Southern California.