By Eugene Bleecker
Situational hitting is important to becoming a Complete Hitter and there are many situations in baseball where executing properly can be the difference in the ball game. Examples of situational hitting are Hit & Runs, bunts, hitting behind runners and driving a fly ball to the outfield with a man on third and less than two outs. Learning how to execute these techniques and what situations to use them in is important to you becoming the best hitter you can be.
Inside out Swing: The inside out swing is another great tool to have in your repertoire as a hitter. Major leaguers like Derek Jeter and Placido Polanco do this better than anyone in the game. The inside out swing is the ability to keep your hands drastically inside the ball and hit a pitch on the inner half to the opposite field. There are many situations where this is useful including hit and runs and when it is necessary to hit behind a runner to move them over. This is a very difficult swing to master and it takes lots of practice to get good, but learning this technique is important to becoming a complete hitter. Knowing how to do this properly will up your value as a player and make you more important to your team.
Hit & Run: The hit & run is something that most coaches love to use, but often can’t because their players aren’t able to accomplish the task. A hit and run puts pressure on the defense by having the runner on 1st base steal causing the middle infielder on the opposite side of the hitter to cover 2nd base leaving a hole so big you could drive a truck through it. This hitter’s job is to hit the ball on the ground to the opposite field through the hole opened up by the middle infielder covering the bag. This enables the runner to go from 1st base to 3rd base successfully leaving a 1st and third situation for the next hitter. The ideal counts to call a hit & run are 2-0, 2-1, 3-1 because these are traditionally fastball counts where the pitcher is looking to throw a strike. If executed properly the hit & run is an unbelievably valuable tool to have in your arsenal.
On a hit & run there are two places the hitter can NEVER hit the ball, up the middle and in the air. If the ball is hit up the middle then the middle infielder can turn an easy double play because he was covering the bag and if the ball is hit in the air, the runner who stole is left hung out to dry and gets doubled up back at 1st. To execute with consistency players must work on hitting the ball on the ground to the opposite field. During BP at every practice, every hitter should step to the plate with a plan and a portion of that plan should be hitting the ball on the ground to the opposite field. This will give you as a coach the flexibility to call on any player in a hit and run situation as well as give the players the confidence and ability to execute when it is asked of them during the game.
Hitting Behind Runners: Hitting behind runners is another important aspect of the game of baseball and essential to playing winning baseball. There are times that every hitter should be able to move a runner over without bunting by hitting behind the runner. This is something that should also be worked on in practice but generally the problem here lies with players not knowing or understanding when they should be doing this. Hitting behind a runner is not something a 3rd base coach will have in his repertoire of signs so the hitter must know and understand when he should be looking to execute this. Another important aspect of this is a hitter’s pitch selection. In this situation the hitter should be looking to let a ball on the outer half of the plate get really deep in the zone. Many hitters don’t understand how to execute in these situations so coaching them in these finer points is necessary for them to become better baseball players and for your team to win more games.
Runner on 3rd with less that 2: Often times with a runner on third base and less than two outs, hitters do not execute getting the run in. The easiest way to score that run from third is by hitting a fly ball to the outfield, having the runner from third tag up and trading the out for the run. Often times in these situations hitters are not only too anxious but have terrible pitch selection at the plate. If asked what they are looking for in these situations, most youth athletes will tell you a fastball. Even if that fastball is right down the pipe and you crush it, you may end up hitting it right at an infielder resulting in an out with that runner still sitting on 3rd. In these situations, ideally as a hitter we want to look for a ball up in the zone that is easily driven to the outfield. This will give the team a better opportunity at scoring more runs, resulting in more wins. This will also result in each individual player on the team with higher RBI totals over the course of their careers and the confidence that given the opportunity they know how to drive in runs. Hitters should work on this situation at practice as part of their everyday routine during BP.
Bunting: Bunting is something that every hitter should be able to do but so many can’t. As a coach this drives me insane because it is so often overlooked but yet such an important aspect of the game. Bunting is not difficult but like anything else, it must be worked on to achieve consistency. Many hitters have terrible form when it comes to bunting and it is attention to detail that enables the execution. When bunting, the bat should always be angled upwards at a 45 angle. This will help the ball to have a downward trajectory and prevent it from popping up in the air. The arms should be extended but not locked with the top hand thumb and pointer fingers pinched together resting behind the bat to prevent injury and provide give. The bat should also be out in front of our bodies to give the ball a better chance at staying fair. When bunting the handle of the bat should control the direction. When bunting down the third base line the bat head should be angled outward to push the ball in that direction and the handle should be pulled inward towards the body. When bunting down the first base line the handle of the bat should be pushed outward angling the barrel towards first base.
Sacrifice: Often times players forget what their job is in sac situations even though it is self explanatory. Your job is to SACRIFICE yourself so the runner can get into scoring position. This means that it doesn’t matter how early the bunt is shown, especially due to the fact that most of the time everyone in the park knows the bunt is on. The most important thing to do is EXECUTE and get the bunt down properly. Show early and make sure you get into a solid bunting position with a properly angled bat and in a quality bunting stance. This will allow the hitter to focus on the task at hand and the path of the ball. There is absolutely no excuse for not being able to get a bunt down and it can be the difference in the game. Work on it in practice and get good because the older a player gets, the less tolerant a coach becomes with the inability to execute in key situations.
Push Bunt: The push bunt is a fantastic tool to have in your game and it can enable a slow runner to bunt for a base hit. The placement of a push bunt is key and good timing is important as well. The push bunt should be placed past the pitcher between the 1st and 2nd baseman in a territory referred to as no man’s land because there is no player in range to make the play. The hitter should get into position to bunt when the pitcher gets to his load position and keep his arms in close to his body. As the ball is coming towards the plate you extend your arms into the ball and step towards first base pushing the ball into that hole we previously discussed. When properly executed, regardless of speed, anyone can beat this ball out to 1st.
Squeeze: The squeeze bunt is one of the most important reasons that every player should know how to bunt. A squeeze play can be extremely effective if used in the right situations but often there is only one opportunity to execute so it must be done right. The hitter should be squaring to lay down the bunt as late as possible but still concentrating on form to provide the best opportunity at success. The squeeze should be practiced during BP every day and by practicing it, players will feel more comfortable executing during the game.