MLB.com Digital Academy Instructional Tip of the Week – October 14
By Kyle Wagner
For the sake of the following questions, let’s presume the athlete has some level of proficiency. In other words, he’s pretty good.
When a kicker lines up to make the field goal, does he expect to miss the ball?
When a golfer tees up his drive, does he expect to swing and miss?
The answer is a resounding no. In fact, I’ve never seen an adequate golfer or kicker “whiff” on their attempt. (Charlie Brown is not a legitimate kicker). I use these two sport analogies because hitting a baseball is a skill of striking an object, similar to golf and kicking. It’s entirely different than throwing an object or shooting an object. There is a collision that occurs. And, it’s this collision that is so misunderstood in the sport of baseball and specifically the act of hitting a baseball.
Baseball players “whiff” all the time. And when they swing and miss, the general cry from the crowd and the coach is of course…KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL.
But, is that sound advice?
I’ll admit to this. I have coached for the last 20 years and have coached professional hitters all the way down to tee-ball and not one time that I can remember have I uttered the phrase “keep your eye on the ball.” I’m not suggesting it’s the worst advice, but I am suggesting it’s extremely self evident and more than likely not at the root of the issue. I prefer to get to the root of the issue.
Players swing and miss for many reasons. The two most basic of reasons are they aren’t on plane with the pitch or they’re too early or too late to the pitch. Addressing those issues is for another time altogether. What I want to address here is what effect does the phrase “keep your eye on the ball” do to developing hitters?
1. It connotes a message of failure. When was the last time someone hit the ball and a coach yelled “keep your eye on the ball?” A “swing and a miss” IS NOT FAILURE. It happens all the time in baseball. It is simply part of the game. Have you ever given thought to the fact that the pitcher just might be good too? I do not want my Green Light Hitters thinking a swing and a miss is to be construed as failure.
2. Keeping your eye on the ball might prevent you from turning fast. Seeing how as your eyes are in your head and your head is connected to your neck which is connected to your torso which is … well you get the idea. Telling a young developing hitter to quiet his eyes concerns me that it will quiet everything. I want my Green Light Hitters turning fast!
3. When a player swings and misses it is an unexpected result. He is hopefully generating as much bat speed as possible with the anticipation of slamming into a 5 oz. moving ball. This collision should be an explosion. When impact doesn’t occur, I would hope it would be a “surprise” of sorts. How should this “surprise” be reflected? With a controlled movement or something more along the lines of “flailing about.” Honestly, if the swing and miss doesn’t resemble a “flailing about” you’re probably not swinging hard enough. I realize that some of the information presented here might be counter to everything you’ve ever thought about with respect to training hitters. But, the next time you analyze how the professional athlete hits a baseball, you may also want to analyze how the professional athlete misses a baseball too.
Kyle Wagner is a contributing writer for MLB.com Digital Academy. He is also the founder of GoWags hitting facility in Central Pennsylvania, where he features his Green Light Hitting System. After playing catcher for 4 years at Wake Forest University he was drafted by the Angels. Kyle is rooted in helping athletes understand the value of “intent preceding content” and that the “process” is more important than the “result”.