Well, with video, I could easily demonstrate that most of the top power hitters today at every level are not setting themselves up for success to hit a variety of pitches in all zones by having a proper stance and posture, a proper grip, getting their hands and arms in the proper positions prior to the start of their swing and by doing a proper weight transfer during their swing.
Players are undoubtedly bigger and stronger than ever so their bat speed and exit velocity numbers generate impressive power when they do make solid contact, but they do not need to make anywhere near 100% contact to hit a home run particularly at the college level when they use an aluminum bat. Sadly, in today’s game for the above-listed reasons, elite pitchers will dominate them most of the time, but hitters are not motivated to correct any of their set-up issues because very few, if any, of their teammates can hit for power and average against elite pitching either.
However, if I had to pick one trend in the past 20 years that has sabotaged hitters’ chances of hitting for power and average it is the failure of players to stride early enough on all pitches to allow them to track the ball well from release point to contact.
Hall of Famer, Tony Gwynn, a lifetime .338 hitter in 20 MLB seasons, explained it this way: “The key is the ball … you recognize what it is and your hands and body take over. I’m going to take my stride and then I recognize the pitch, then I’m just going to stay there until it’s time to swing the bat. When my swing is mechanically sound, my front leg is stiff or solid and I’m deriving my power from the drive of my back leg.”
According to Gwynn, the keys are striding early enough for every pitch to be able to track it from release point, then pitch recognition occurs, the heel of the front foot gets down and the front knee snaps straight back so the front leg can be solid at contact. Power is generated as weight is transferred from back side into a stiff front side by the back leg driving forward a few inches after the back hip is fully rotated and the laces of the back shoe are facing the pitcher.
Study frame-by-frame video of even the most elite power hitters at any level today and you will see this is not what they do. They simply try to time their stride so they get their front foot down as the pitch arrives resulting, most of the time, in them being late getting their front heel down. Consequently, the force of their body’s rotation causes their front foot to spin open, the knee of their front leg to be bent, and the barrel of their bat to drop, i.e., a line drive is turned into a harmless fly ball or pop up.
This habit of striding early and at the same time on every pitch must be built into every practice drill. On every tee, toss or pitch drill, hitters need to stare out at an imaginary pitcher, e.g., not just at the ball on the tee, stride from balance-to-balance after an imaginary release point (the heel of the front foot will still be slightly raised because the back leg and hip remain loaded) and practice tracking and hitting randomized pitches in all zones at game speeds. The habit of most players today is to stride at different times for different pitches so they can hit “cage bombs” off of easily predictable pitches.
One of the many effective drills to build good hitting habits I describe in my book is the Pitcher Tee Drill. A coach or player stands at the game release point distance behind a screen and pretends to pitch from the wind-up or stretch varying the arm slot and right-hand and left-hand deliveries. The hitter varies the timing of his swing by whether he sees the palm (fastball), pinky finger side (breaking ball) or pronated thumb side (change-up) of the pitcher’s hand. The hitter waits to swing an imaginary one-finger snap for a fastball, a snap and a half for a breaking ball and two finger snaps for a change-up, but the stride is made at the same time for all three pitches so the hitter is conditioned to have enough time to track and get his front foot down for any type of pitch.
Simply put, to hit for power and average, stride then track, don’t track then stride.