How a Baseball Hitter Can Learn to Hit the High Pitch or Low Pitch
By: JIM MORRIS, UNIV. OF MIAMI HEAD COACH
Hitting the High Pitch
The high pitch is the zone that is most incorrectly swung at, more than any other pitch. Yet pitches in this zone should not be difficult to hit with a correct swing. The ball is close to the hitter’s eyes and if you make contact slightly out front, you should be able to hit it as far as any zone (with the possible exception of the inside pitch).
Each zone has a particular location where it’s best to contact the ball. The up-and-in pitch should be hit a foot or more in front of the body. The high middle zone is hit in front of the body as well, but not quite as far out front. The up-and-away pitch is hit almost even with the front shoulder. The further the ball is from the hitter, the deeper you let it get. The higher the pitch is, the further out front you hit it.
Standing tall with both legs gives you a chance to turn the barrel over on the high pitch. If you break down in the back leg, this causes you to drop the back side and “”loop under,”” or swing up, at the pitch. The high pitch is a right-hand-dominated swing (for a right-handed batter) which brings the barrel of the bat through the hitting zone.
Bending in the front leg results in the head going forward. This may jam you on the up-and-in fastball. Breaking down in the front leg drops the center of gravity, which again results in “”looping under”” high pitches. Tall, firm legs keep your shoulders level and give you great power.
To effectively hit pitches in most zones, you need to transfer your weight out over a firm front leg. If you stay back or hit off the back side, you drop the back side and cannot swing the bat with the back or top hand.
There are two transfers of weight in hitting (most hitters usually have about 50% on the front foot and 50% on the back foot in the initial stance). The first transfer onto the back foot is on the stride. The second transfer is taken as the bat comes through the strike zone out over the front foot. When you see hitters wave at curveballs in the dirt or hear them called “”front foot hitters,”” this is because they transfer their weight to their front feet on the stride. To keep the shoulders level and allow the right hand to take the barrel through on high pitches, a very effective transfer of weight must be taken. In fact, the higher the pitch, the more transfer there must be on the swing to the front foot.
The top hand “”tomahawks”” or turns the barrel over to hit the high pitch. Turning the barrel over and hitting the pitch out front is vital to hit the high pitch well.
One of the primary reasons the barrel does not turn over is usually because your front elbow comes up as you start to swing. The front elbow action blocks out the back hand from coming through to hit the high pitch. Your front elbow should stay pointed down throughout the swing with the up-and-in pitch. Out of all the zones, the only one where the front area is not extended at contact is the up-and-in pitch. At contact the barrel of your bat is above the hands. To hit the up-and-in pitch that is well up, the barrel is somewhat vertical. The high middle zone has the back arm above the front arm with both arms mostly extended.
A common fault of most hitters on the high pitch is taking their hands up to the ball. The hitter should take the barrel to the ball rather than his hands. This makes the swing at the high pitch different from the swing at other zones. The higher the pitch, the more obvious is the “”tomahawk”” swing (or turning the barrel over.) The only problem is, the higher the pitch, the more most hitters want to take their hands up to the ball.
One of the best learning tools for hitting the high pitch is attaching a belt around your front elbow and around the chest. This leaves your back arm free. Tie the belt close to your front elbow with only a slight bit of freedom of movement. This trains you to keep the front elbow down when swinging at the up-and-in pitch. It also prevents you from taking the hands up to the pitch. The belt makes you take the barrel of the bat up to the ball rather than your hands. You can also do this by putting a ball under your front arm pit.
Hitting the high pitch correctly can lead to hitting the long ball. One swing of the bat can be a game winner!
Hitting the Low Pitch
Most hitters see a lot of low pitches in their career. As coaches, we stress to our pitchers to pitch the hitters low. Yet low-inside and low-middle-of-the-plate pitches are feasted upon by hitters. A low-and-away pitch can get about any hitter out.
Every swing should be an “”inside-out swing””, keeping the hands inside the ball. Let us describe the inside-out stroke. From a position where your hands start (even with your back shoulder), they reach a point that is halfway through your swing, what we call “”the point of adjustment.”” Your back elbow is close to your back hip. Your bat is parallel to the ground, pointed back at the catcher.
To get to this point your hands have started from the ‘trigger’ position. They do this on each swing regardless of the location of the pitch. When your swing reaches this halfway position, your hands are even between your waist and your armpit. Your shoulders get the bat to the halfway position and then your top hand takes over to take your bat to the ball.
On the low-inside pitch, your bat is almost in an inverted vertical position. Contact is made approximately a foot in front of your front leg. Too many hitters get their bat somewhat horizontal on this low-and-inside pitch, which results in swinging over the ball, pulling it foul, or fouling the ball off into the shin or ankle. Ouch!
On the low-middle zone, your bat is at about a 65-degree angle to the ground. Contact is made slightly in front of your front leg. The low-and-away pitch is contacted with the barrel of your bat at approximately 45 degrees to the ground. Contact is made opposite your back knee. The contact of the low-and-away pitch is the deepest contact of all zones. The lower the pitch, the deeper into the zone you let it get.
There are two parts of the swing on the low pitch. There is the down-stroke and the up-stroke. On the low pitch, the barrel travels downward and then upward with the hitter following through high. The follow-through position is much like a golf swing. You finish higher on your follow-through than other zones. The point of contact on the low pitch is slightly on the up-stroke. If you contact the ball on the downswing, you beat the ball into the dirt. You may get a high bouncer that you beat out for a base hit, but that’s about it. If you contact it too far out front on the upswing, you get a weak pop-up or fly ball. Contacting the ball just after the apex of the downswing results in a well-hit line drive.
It is very important on all pitches to look at the ball, but particularly at the low pitch, because this ball is further from your eyes vertically. The lower the pitch, the more your head goes down, and the more your chin is tucked in close to your chest. Your chin starts close to your front shoulder in the initial stance, and finishes your swing on your back shoulder. At the point of contact you should be looking down your back arm. The low-and-away pitch is the toughest to hit well for many hitters because it is farther from their eyes both vertically and horizontally.
As you hit the ball just past the apex of the downswing you should have good extension in your front arm. This extension gives you excellent leverage to hit the ball a long way. If your front arm is not extended completely, your contact point is too deep. You will likely beat the ball into the ground.
Many coaches teach their hitters to break or bend down in the legs to get down to this low pitch. This is not a good technique. You can roll under or pop up low pitches as well as the high pitch. You get no power out of your legs when you break down to hit the low pitch, swinging with your hands and arms only. Remember, strong, firm legs means power!
Morris is head baseball coach at University of Miami, where he’s won the national championship twice.
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