How To Make Batting Practice More Valuable
Technology is rapidly changing hitting, but there’s still a lot of inertia that some hitting coaches believe is yet to be overcome. For Jason Ochart, lead hitting instructor at Driveline Baseball, one of the biggest anachronisms is batting practice in its current form.
Pro teams hold batting practice a couple of hours before most games. They head out to the field and a coach stands at 45-50 feet away throwing at 60-70 mph to help hitters get ready for the game.
And Ochart believes that, eventually, that pre-game tradition will largely disappear. Batting practice is supposed to help hitters just feel their swing in an environment where they aren’t worried about pitch recognition or velocity. As Ochart sees it, that doesn’t really carry over into games.
"When you give a guy a ridiculous amount of time to see the ball and hit it, they will usually lengthen their swing,” he said.
So instead, Ochart believes in taking batting practice off a pitching machine (or machines) set up to replicate that night’s pitcher.
"We can simulate a pitch with a pitching machine to a point where it’s pretty comparable to any pitch you will see in the big leagues,” Ochart said. "When our hitters are preparing to face Trevor Bauer the next day, I can set up the machine at his release point, at his velocity, with similar pitch characteristics. It’s something that will be the standard in a few years, I think . . .
"If you told a hitter, ‘We’re seeing Chris Sale tonight. There are two tunnels. One has Sale’s fastball from his release point, and the other has his slider.’ I promise they would use it.”
Modern three-wheel pitching machines can be adjusted to tweak spin and velocity in ways that can be tweaked to match the pitch data that can be pulled from Statcast or Trackman. And they can quickly be adjusted to replicate any pitcher. So a machine set to get hitters ready to face Luis Severino(^) can then be set to get them ready for Aroldis Chapman late in the game.
In Ochart’s opinion, even if a hitter hopped in the batting tunnel to track a few pitches from the pitching machine right before facing Chapman, it would give him an advantage because it would have prepared him visually for what he’s about to see in the batter’s box.