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Having almost no batting practice is better

Posted by John Reed on

I often say the Wall Street Journal is America’s best coaching periodical. The 9/25/15 issue had another example of that: an article titled “The Cubs’ New Approach: Work Less” Google that title to read it.

Mainly, the Cubs eliminated batting practice, at least in the latter days of the season. Their main reason is to let the players rest at the end of the long season so they will be fresher for the playoffs.

I also all but eliminated batting practice when I was a coach and that’s what I advocate—in much greater detail—in my books Youth Baseball Coaching and Coaching Teenage and Adult Baseball. Click on either or both for more information or to order.

About the only batting practice I did was to have the players do soft toss with a poly or whiffle ball before each game. I did not want their first swing at a moving ball to be in the game. It takes a few swings to get your bat on the ball. Those swings need to be in pregame, not during the game.

I hate the almost universal practice of spending half of a 90-minute practice having each player take a turn batting against slow, non-game-like pitching. That approach, which they also use in the majors, fails to acknowledge the basic nature of hitting. Here’s the way the Journal described it:

But the classic spectacle of hitters clobbering soft tosses from gray-haired coaches while pitchers make small talk in the outfield has become a rarity.

The basic nature of hitting is getting a good pitch to hit on the first two strikes. Says who? I got that from Ted Williams. He got it from Rogers Hornsby, the Hall of Famer with the second-highest batting average of all time after Ty Cobb.

Furthermore, you have to identify that pitch during the .4 seconds a game pitch takes to go from the pitcher’s hand to the plate. Hitting against slow “fast balls” instead of game-speed fast balls, not to mention curves, change-ups, and sliders, is a very different thing from hitting batting-practice lobs.

In the Journal article, Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman says, “We’re the only sport that practices not in real time, in terms of game speed. Our practices are kind of like a football team’s walk-through without pads.”

One night, an NFL team who was playing the Raiders the next day, practiced on our high school field where my youth team was practicing because it was near their hotel. All they did were walk-throughs. I then tried walk-throughs and found them extremely valuable both in that the players learned better and we could do more plays per minute.

If you’re like most people, you think not having batting practice is crazy. So read the success stories from my readers.

I once mentioned to the baseball coach at my oldest son’s high school that I did not do batting practice. He said there was another coach in the league who did that part way through the season and his players hit better after he stopped. The head of the Little League I coached in one year came to our first play-off game. He said he wanted to see what a team that never did batting practice looked like. After the game, in which we mercy-ruled our opponent, he said, “I have never seen one team hit so many line drives in one game in my life” about my team.



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