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Hitting Practice: Less Is More

Practicing Hitting.pngWhen Jim Riggleman talks baseball, it’s a good idea to listen. And so when the Cincinnati Reds’ bench coach advocates that less can be more for young players working in the cage or taking batting practice, there just might be some merit there.

Riggleman, who has managed four big-league teams in his career, is one of the most respected field men in the game. In more than 40 years in pro ball, he has seen baseball from all angles, including player development posts. He learned from the legendary George Kissell, in the Cardinals organization. He respects both tradition and new-fangled sabermetrics.

So Riggleman knows how singularly difficult the game is. And given the skills-nature of baseball and how hitting is the hardest of all skills to master, Riggleman indeed believes that less can be more when it comes to hitting practice.

In fact, he said sometimes it’s best to not even swing the bat.

When asked how frequently those learning the game should work on their hitting, Riggleman advocated drills in which batters learn not to swing at all. For example, they should set up pitching machines to throw non-strikes or ask batting practice tossers to throw off the plate.

“If you have luxury (of access to a) pitching machine, I would set the pitching machine up to throw bad pitches,” Riggleman said. “Have the hitter take the pitches, whether it’s set up for sliders in the dirt or pitches up too high. Might take 40 or 50. Do it consecutive days. ...

“A hitter needs to realize what not to swing at.”

It takes a certain amount of skill for a batting-practice pitcher to throw non-strikes. But that tactic is positive if it can be pulled off, Riggleman said.

“If you are a parent or buddy, see if you cannot throw strikes,” he said. “That’s fine, don’t swing, learn the strike zone. At least you’ve got that. It shows up in players who eventually make the majors. (Reds first baseman and former NL MVP) Joey Votto knows the difference between a ball and strike. But Shawon Dunston (an 18-year journeyman who retired in 2002) walked just eight or 10 times a year. You’ve got to recognize pitches that are not strikes.

“Pitchers in the big leagues don’t get hitters out in the strike zone. Hitters make their outs on pitches out of the strike zone.”

Riggleman also offered up the concept of “it’s never too late” to learn how to lay off bad pitches with the most prolific slugger he ever managed.

The concept of identifying hittable pitches does not even require batting-practice sessions, in Riggleman’s eyes. When a cage or pitcher is not available, hitters can even employ visualization with dry swings.

“One thing that is overlooked a little bit is visualization,” he said. “Some great hitting coaches talk about it. It’s a boring thing, it’s not exciting; you do not hear the crack of the bat.

“But a beautiful thing is to get no distractions, bat or no bat, just visualize pitcher delivering the ball. Visualize the release point, visualize the spin on the ball, mimic the swing. In bad weather, we took dry swings all the time (in high school and college in suburban Washington, D.C.). You visualized taking pitches. It’s an effective tool.”

Hall of Famer Tony La Russa realized what a young Riggleman was doing back in the day, when their pro playing careers briefly overlapped.

“I would take (dry) swings,” Riggleman said. “La Russa came up to me one day as veteran guy and put it in great words: ‘I see what you’re doing there.’ I’ve already visualized the first fastball (in a pitcher’s sequence).

“I don’t need to take a pitch. I’ve already seen this in my mind.”

Article Content Credit To:  GameChanger & George Castle