Properly Training Timing Indoors
By Chas Pippitt
What’s the best way to challenge hitters? Is it facing a coach throwing BP? No. Front Toss? Not a chance. If you don’t have access to having your hitters hit off a live arm every day (and who does?), the next best thing is a pitching machine. You need to find a way to train timing.
Years ago, we had no technology. Then we purchased some Stalker 2 Sport radar guns. That was an upgrade, but we wanted more ways to measure hitters. This was long before reliable pitching measurement products existed at a reasonable price point. In June of 2016, we bought a HitTrax second hand. That quickly turned into three HitTrax machines, and we were off and running in the tech race.“We measure every hit ball” is something we said all the time. “We Prove Improvement” is still something we say almost every day. However, what I realize now is that we didn’t ‘stress’ the hitters enough in training to ensure game results. We needed a way to help them train their timing also.
Dominating HitTrax…Is It Enough?
There are two hitters in particular that I think about all the time. Ian H. and Tyler M. Both guys had huge HitTrax gains off of front toss and short batting practice. At the time, our cages were only 38-feet long for hitting, and our pitching tunnel was not wide enough for live at-bats. Ian had been released from pro-ball so he had no ‘game improvement’.
However, Tyler was dominating NCAA D1 and getting all-conference as a senior in the Southern Conference. Motion capture was in its infancy, so other than 2D video from a few angles and HitTrax data, that’s all we had to measure hitters.
Game Results Didn’t Match Cage Results
Both Ian and Tyler ended up playing some pro ball in the USPBL. Justin Orenduff, my former partner at Baseball Rebellion, is highly involved in roster selection and development so it was a great fit. What happened blew me away, they both struggled, especially with velocity.
While they had amazing power at 5:00 pm, when the games started at 7:00 pm there was too much swing and miss. At the time, I couldn’t understand why. So all of us at BRHQ started looking for answers.
Pattern Building vs Pattern Challenging
What we came to realize was simple. We were building a very successful pattern in hitters, but we were not challenging the pattern enough. Because of this, hitters would be ‘thrown to the wolves’ the first time they saw high velocity, good change of speed, or spin.
The cages in our original building were small. I knew a change was needed at our new HQ in Durham. Our new cages are 47.5 feet long. This allows for more variance in how hard we throw BP and machines. Also, they are wider (averaging 16-feet), so we can easily do angled toss or machine to further disrupt the swing pattern. What we found was amazing! Not only were the hitters struggling more in practice, but also they were struggling LESS in the game!
Pitching Machines For Timing?
Fast forward a few more years and we’ve trained even more MiLB and MLB prospects and players. We have six HitTrax machines and nine Rapsodo machines used for on-site and off-site data collection. Pocket Radar is always on in our pitching cage with a digital scoreboard on every throw. And I still knew we needed something more.
As I thought back to how ‘pretty’ Ian’s and Tyler’s swings were, I realized they never faced velocity or spin. I never had pitchers throw to them live, or a pitching machine that could vary pitches. We didn’t even have Iron Mikes back then, as I had sold them to make more room for lessons. I got the Spinball machine this offseason (with the custom Red/Black paint job, thanks Spinball!) primarily to help us train all of our professional, college, and high school athletes.
Many of them really wanted to focus on off speed from lefties breaking away and fastball timing. We don’t employ a left-handed thrower, and finding professional-level lefties in Durham, NC is hard. The Spinball’s awesome adjustability made finding a lefty a non-issue.
Spinball Sports 3 Wheel: Feeding the Machine Correctly
How the coach feeds the ball into the baseball machines is very important for timing. There must be some time for the hitter to ‘gather’ or ‘load’. Because of this, we use this motion with softball players. We can even vary the timing some by simulating a changeup with a slight hesitation of the ‘drop’ of the ball.
This motion gives the hitters ample time to prepare to turn and then turn. If you do not give hitters time to gather and load, they will rush their tempo and be very much out of whack. This builds in a very strong ability to adjust through the front leg in all of our Baseball Rebellion Hitters.
Training Versatility and Variability
We can break off sliders on the outside corner and then bust them in with 90-mph heat! This gives hitters very realistic visual and timing guidelines before they enter the batter’s box in the spring. Since getting the Spinball 3 Wheel Machine, we’ve noticed nearly all of our hitters are hitting better in games. Obviously, this is because we can more accurately simulate all levels of pitching. I even had it throw slow pitch softball the other day to a group who came in just wanted to hit.
The versatility and immediate adjustability of the Spinball machine is second to none. While accurate, the machine does have some variance in regards to pitch location which actually makes it more like a real pitcher.
Better Results in Games
Since getting three Spinball machines, one with tall legs, one with normal, and one for softball, we have seen our player’s game results get much better.
Now, for the first time, we can challenge our hitters with game-like speed and spin. Because of this, we can create the swing flaws in the game during practice and make corrections at full speed.
We do this in live at-bats as well, but that can be impossible due to the age differences of players. The Spinball Sports 3 wheel machine always makes our lessons as challenging as they need to be for hitters of all levels. These machines have made us better coaches and our hitters better hitters. Now, we can stress the hitting patterns of all our athletes in lessons and see the mistakes in real-time. Corrections come faster and are implemented in the game almost instantly. Players love them and we love them too. We will always have 3 wheel machines in our facilities going forward. The ‘learn then load’ pattern of teaching we use fits perfectly with what Spinball allows us to do with our hitters.
Have questions? Reach out to Baseball Rebellion CEO Chas Pippitt directly:
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