Hitting – 90% Approach 50% Preparation

IMG_2197Today my guest post is by Mike Rozema, Director of Hitting at RPP.  It is hopefully the first many more articles where Mike will impart his extensive experience onto our players.  Mike played four years of collegiate ball at St. John’s University and spent 5 seasons with the Atlanta Braves organization as a professional baseball player.

By Mike Rozema (Rozema Baseball, Director of Hitting at RPP)

As this is my first article, I wanted to keep it to a very simple topic that every player and parent can benefit from. Hopefully you will find it useful.

To me hitting is all about Approach. It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot with hitters. But in very basic terms, it’s about having a plan, a very simple plan, on game day. It can vary depending on the situation, from knowing where to bunt the ball, to looking for a specific pitch in a specific location in a specific count.  It is about getting focused, gathering information and shrinking it down to simple cohesive actionable thoughts.

Players ask all the time, what can we do prior to an at-bat to help my performance in the batter’s box? The best players are always looking to learn before and throughout the game. Here are my general thoughts on this topic and how you should prepare for the moment when the ball is on the way.

Approach “Before the Game” – I think it’s extremely important for players to have a pre-game routine or plan.  This should include the time to get themselves mentally and physically prepared, time to take some swings, time to field ground balls or fly balls and definitely time to observe the opposing pitcher.

As a professional player for 5 seasons in the Atlanta Braves organization, batting practice and defensive work was wrapped up many hours before game time.  The 60 minutes prior to the start of the game was a time for me to get ready to play. This included extra swings, going over opposing pitchers or just getting myself in the right frame of mind.  As players we were expected to be on the field getting warmed up and ready to go roughly 20-30 minutes before the game.  In that amount of time, most players got their bodies warm with either jogs or sprints. Some players took time to stretch and some players took a few minutes to throw.  Typically 10 minutes before the game I would be in the dugout just focusing on the upcoming game. It was time to relax and think about what I needed to do that day to perform or what my scouting report was saying about the opposing pitcher. It was a time to get mentally prepared.

I would like to touch on two topics that I think are extremely important in pre-game preparation for ball players.  First is studying the opposing pitcher and second is about taking a few minutes to get mentally ready.

Opposing Pitcher – The final 20 minutes leading up to a game is the time when we may be able to gain some information on the opposing pitcher as they warm-up. We get to see velocity, pitch types, command and any other tendencies they might have. A slider is different from a curveball, identify that before the game instead of in the middle of your first at-bat. A hard throwing righty is different than a soft throwing lefty and we need to approach them differently. Learning from watching the opposing pitcher can help us formulate a plan.  There can be many variations in our approach and much of it is dictated by who we are facing on any given day, so we need to start getting in the habit of observing and learning.

Time to Lock-In – Immediately prior to a game is when many coaches probably bring the team together to go over a few topics. Outside of that, this would be a good time to take a few minutes to go over any thoughts you have for the game. This is the time to take a few minutes to relax, focus and lock-in.

Players should take their pregame routine seriously.  There is a big difference between those who do and those who don’t. Trust me, this part may be boring but it demonstrates a mindset and an attitude that a player needs.  I usually summarize “pre-game approach” by telling my players learning from the past is a great way to predict the future.

Approach “During the Game” – Approach during the game can have many parts but I will simplify it into three segments:

  • What you do in the dugout during the game
  • What you do when you are on-deck
  • What you do when you are in the batter’s box

Dugout – On a very basic level, we can learn in three different ways from our time in the dugout:

First, you should continue to watch the opposing pitcher and learn which pitches he is demonstrating good command with and what pitches are used in what counts. If a pitcher has great command of his off-speed pitches on a given day we need to be prepared to hit them.  If a pitcher is having difficulty controlling his off-speed pitches on a given day we may eliminate them from our mindset until he proves he can throw them for a strike. Some pitchers double-up on certain pitches in certain counts. Some pitchers have more success pitching backwards. There are many pitcher tendencies we can pick up on if we are engaged in the game.

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Second, we are all creatures of habit and stick to what works. I mention this to players all the time and it takes a little explaining. Watch how a pitcher pitches to a player “like” you. Meaning, if I am a right handed hitter watch how he throws to other right handed hitters. Learn what pitches are thrown and what counts they are thrown in. Depending on the success the pitcher has against those players will absolutely have an impact what you see once you are at the plate.

Third, is all about the Umpire. Umpires are not perfect but should be treated with respect (let me say that). This is such an easy and yet overlooked piece of information that can help all hitters. Some umpires have a tight strike zone while others have larger ones. Some umpires are really consistent while others are not.  Study the umpire just like you study the opposing pitcher.  For example, if an umpire has a large strike zone I recommend to players not take too many pitches. Go up there with an aggressive mindset from the beginning.  Hitting with 2 strikes and a big strike zone usually is a recipe for a tough day. This is also something we can learn while we are in the field playing defense, that’s a great time to learn about what kind of zone the umpire has.

IMG_2199On-Deck – I always suggest to players to keep the on-deck preparation very simple. Every player is different.  As a professional player there were times when I wanted the feeling of physically swinging a number of times so my body was loose. There were other times when I would focus more on the pitcher and timing, by taking a small number of swings to the timing of the ball entering the hitting zone. There are many techniques that work. We want to stay away from being the player that doesn’t prepare physically or mentally. Stay in the game at all times, watch, learn and put it to work.  For a young player, I think it is a good idea to try and get one full sequence of your stance, stride and swing to the timing of the pitcher and the ball entering the hitting zone to the batter before you.

Batter’s Box – Once in the batter’s box your mind should be clear. You have studied the opposing pitcher. You have studied the umpire. We may have gathered a great deal of information or just a little. This is now the time to simplify it.

IMG_2198What happens next will have a lot to do with where you are in a specific game. Every situation is different. For example, you are walking to the plate during a close game and the batter before you hit a lead-off double.  You look up at your third base coach, if you get the bunt sign you should mentally reinforce what you need to physically do to get the bunt down, which side of the field the bunt should be on and what pitch and location the pitcher will most likely throw in that situation.  There can be many details that go into every situation. Have a plan for each at-bat. If you need help, ask for time-out and speak with the 3rd base coach.  Keep it very simple. Simple is important.

I would like to think of Approach in very simple terms and just like many things in baseball everything is simple on paper but then they get complicated. These things take time to observe and learn.  I think learning about how you Approach each game and each at-bat is often an overlooked part of the game. Hitting a baseball is ridiculously hard.  Players need to learn that much of their success is inter-twined with their Approach and staying connected with the game at all times.

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Mike Rozema can be reached on his cell at (201) 247-6793 or on email at rozemabaseball@gmail.com.

 

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