Learning to get the proper depth of contact is something that is not typically being taught the right way if at all. “Hit the ball out front”, is the only thing that is commonly heard from many coaches mouths on the subject. This is true from little leagues to the big leagues. I know I heard that same phrase over and over throughout my career.
Teaching a player to hit the ball “out front” all the time contributes to many mechanical flaws as well having poor pitch recognition. When we are trying to constantly hit the ball “out front” we are usually trying to swing too early at the ball before it reaches the hitting zone. If we are trying to do this, then we are making our decision on whether or not to swing right out of the pitcher’s hand and not really giving ourselves a chance to recognize pitch type or location. This is where you’ll see a lot of swings and misses by 2 feet at off speed or chases out of the zone.
Mechanically we tend to open up with the front side and “pull off” the ball when trying to hit it out front. This causes us to “run out of barrel” by entering the hitting zone too late and taking our bat across the zone instead of through it. This results in a lot of balls hit off the end of the bat, swings and misses, or balls yanked foul while occasionally getting some hits. Also when trying to hit the ball out front we tend lose balance, posture and drop the back side causing you to drop the barrel. This leads to weak pop ups and ground balls. When trying to make contact too far out front we also will lose a lot of power. Extension is commonly confused for contact point by many coaches. If we are making contact out at extension then we really don’t have much behind the ball to drive it. Even if we hit the ball on the barrel we’re not hitting the ball as hard as we really should be.
So where should contact be made?
When judging where optimal contact should be made we use checkpoints off of the body. Using home plate as a reference isn’t going to work because everyone stands a little different in the box and are different size and have different stride lengths. So to say everything needs to be hit out front of home plate like many people teach is not correct. Although it certainly can be correct for some hitters. The checkpoints that should be used are all off of the front leg. When making contact on a pitch down the middle the ideal spot is roughly in line with the front foot to drive it to center field. For the pitch away to drive to the opposite field we should be making contact roughly in line with the inside part of the front knee. And for the pitch on the inside half of the plate, the pitch that we should drive to our pull side, we should be making contact roughly in line with just outside of our front foot. If you’re off by a couple inches farther out front or deeper on any of these contact points you should be fine.
When making contact at these depths we’re typically putting ourselves in the best position with our bodies to drive through the ball. Arms will have some flex at contact so that they can drive through contact, your body will most likely be in a much better balanced position, and your chest should be “behind” the baseball. This means that on a pitch away if you’re looking from the side you should see a good portion of the hitter’s chest and hips towards you still. The chest and hips will be a little less visible on the pitch down the middle and a little less on the pitch in. Depending on how far in the pitch is you may not see any part of the hitter’s chest or hips but the sides of their shoulder and hip.
When working in the cage off of the tee, side toss, front toss, or batting practice you should strive to hit the ball at these depths. In order to do so properly you’ll need to stay short into the hitting zone to get your barrel on plane behind the ball and drive through contact and then to and through extension. Work to also have your chest “behind” the ball so that you have some strength and energy to drive through it.
So stop hitting the ball “out front” and start working today to make contact at the right depths. Start becoming a better, more consistent, and more powerful hitter!
ExploSwing video on the subject