Elite eye-hand coordination, explosive quick-twitch muscle fibers, baseball instincts that optimize a hitters ability to make quick adjustments during an at-bat and efficient swing mechanics can all be achieved when you develop a gameplan to learning how to improve your pitch recognition in baseball.
Relaxed Muscles & Soft Eyes
The coach gives you a take sign, you dig in the batter's box. The pitcher goes into his windup and throws the pitch. You take a fastball right down the plate, and it looked like a beach ball.
Why? Because you knew you weren't swinging, so you were loose. The lack of tension and the pressure to swing and make contact wasn't there because you had the take sign.
It's when we get tense and the performance anxiety kicks in that the game speeds up and the ball looks like a seed out of the pitcher's hand.
So what's the first step in learning how to improve our pitch recognition?
We have to learn how to relax, breath and slow the game down. Hank Aaron was known for looking like he could fall asleep in the batter's box because he was so relaxed at the plate.
Take a look at most major league hitters, in the case of a few exceptions, most hitters look calm, collected.
They have a set-up that showcases loose muscle and a soft gaze while in the batter's box.
Loose muscles are quick muscle. Tense muscle are slow muscles.
A soft gaze picks up the ball out of the pitcher's hand better than pitch recognition through eye strain.
Tension, anxiety, and pressure are killers in baseball. A slow heartbeat and relaxed muscles slow the game down.
Recognize The Shade Of The Pitch
A common way hitters are taught how to improve pitch recognition is by recognizing spin and rotation of a pitch.
This is an effective strategy that many elite hitters use.
However, occasionally when you're facing an unorthodox pitcher, a pitcher who's deceptive, has quick arm action or pitches off of their change-up effectively, recognizing the shade of the pitch might be a better approach.
Because of the red seams of the baseball, different pitch types have different shades based on the number of rotations each pitch has.
A changeup will have a lighter pink shade since the rotations are slower.
A slider will have a shade similar to a curve-ball but the plane will be similar to a fastball.
A curve-ball will have a similar shade to a slider but will seem to pop out of the pitcher's hand since the starting plane of the pitch is higher than the fastball when it's a strike.
This is why posting up & being aggressive up in the zone is an effective way to becoming a consistent breaking ball and off-speed hitter.
If you want to improve your pitch recognition, experiment with recognizing the various shades of pitch type. A great place to do this is while standing in on a pitcher's bullpen.
Get Your Foot Down Early
The quality of your pitch recognition skills is directly related to the amount of head movement you have in your swing.
One of our favorite quotes is from Steve Springer when he says that "hitting is slow feet, fast hands, quiet head."
When we lunge, have a stride that's too big or use a leg kick when we lack the strength and balance in our legs, our head movement increases followed by our eyes, which makes an 80 mph fastball look like 90 mph.
Superior pitch recognition and slowing the game down starts with a quiet approach at the plate.
If you're struggling to see the ball well, a good adjustment would be a post-strike.
Meaning, your stride foot lands during your load & separation so you're ready to fire your hips before the pitcher has even released the ball.
This hitting adjustment simplifies your approach so you don't have to worry about being late on the pitch since you're already in a position to fire the hips and throw the hands to make good, consistent contact with the ball.
Get your foot down early. See the ball better.
Post Stride Example
Soft Focus Vs Hard Focus
For optimal pitch recognition, we want to achieve seeing the ball as early as humanly possible.
While the pitcher is getting their sign, focus on a distance similar to the pitcher's release point with a soft focus. A general gaze at the pitcher.
Most pitchers will release the ball right off their right or left shoulder depending on if they're right-handed or left-handed.
There are three-quarters and the occasional submarine pitchers.
A good soft gaze could be the pitcher's logo on his hat, his uniform or just an overall glance at the pitcher himself.
As the pitcher winds up and initiates his delivery, transition from the pitcher, his uniform or emblem on his hat, to his release point.
Timing is important here because you don't want to be too early or late on transitioning to the release point. You get this timing while in the on-deck circle
Think of the release point like a window where the ball will shoot out from.
The skill here is learning how to transition from a soft focus to a hard focus with very little to no eye-strain.
We want to execute a simple, calm transition from the pitcher to the release point window so we can pick up the ball as early as possible and make the proper adjustment to pitch type and location.
Develope a great soft to hard focus and improve your pitch recognition
Sit on Fastball
Often times, our pitch recognition suffers because we're simply not geared up for the fastball.
Rather, we're not anticipating a fastball strike so when it comes, we're too late and our eyes aren't anticipating the pitch to attack.
In other words, our eyes aren't engaged to recognize pitch location and pitch type.
This takes aways the selectively aggressive approach so we end up not swinging good pitches to hit.
This approach needs to be Yes, yes, swing (on a strike) or Yes, yes, no (on a ball). Assume every pitch is going to be a strike so that you're completely engaged on each pitch to recognize it as soon as possible.
It's a strike until it's not.
Most of our strikeouts are swinging at a ball in the dirt. Especially with runners in scoring position. Pitch recognition, strike zone awareness, and plate discipline go hand in hand.
An adjustment that you can make to improve your pitch recognition is to looking for something aggressively up in the zone.
A fastball up in the zone is one of the easiest pitches to drive into the gap. This is why pitchers are trained to keep the ball down.
A breaking ball that starts up in the zone will end up a strike in the zone.
In contrast, a breaking ball that starts in the zone or lower, will end up in the dirt when it crosses that plate.
Breaking ball left up in the zone is a "mistake pitch" and unless the fastball is 95 mph+ that's a mistake pitch too at the big league level.
If you want to have elite pitch recognition that recognizes breaking balls in the dirt, master posting up in the zone and taking an aggressive swing on mistakes pitches.
In closing, learning how to improve your pitch recognition in baseball starts with getting great at:
- staying relaxed
- soft & hard focus transition
- minimizing head movement
- and be ready to swing at good pitches to hit
All of these are separate skills that require deliberate training. When each is mastered that become tools that you can utilize in your tool belt of being an elite hitter.