Teaching Hitters to Make Adjustments and How to Hit Mariano Rivera

Jack Perconte Hitting Instructor & former MLB Player

I must admit that I would not make a very good major league hitting coach, even though I played at that level and even though I have been teaching hitting ever since retiring from pro ball twenty two years ago. The reason is simple – big league hitters would not make the hitting adjustments that I would propose.

Case in point – for the last umpteen years, hitters have never adjusted to hit the great Mariano Rivera, even though they know what pitch he will throw and where he will throw it. Nine out of ten times, Mariano will throw a cut fastball to the left side of the plate with unbelievable accuracy and consistency. The results are predictable – left-handed hitters get jammed and break their bats and right handed batters swing and miss or break their bats by hitting the ball off the end of the bat. This goes on game after game and year after year with no apparent adjustments by major league hitters.

NYY closer Mo Rivera photo by Icon SMI

My hitting adjustment proposal to hit Rivera is simple: right when he releases the ball, left-handed hitters should jump back a half step towards the first base dugout and right handed batters should jump towards home plate a half step. This would make a majority of his pitches much more hittable because, even though the pitch is still on the corner, batters could get the sweet spot of the bat on the ball much more often. Of course, batters would not have to do this on every pitch so they could still protect against the occasional pitch to the other side of home plate. I know this sounds a little goofy and gets to my point that I would not make a good big league hitting coach, because major league hitters would automatically label me a “quack.” But my theory would be more effective than futile attempts to hit Rivera that have been tried so far.

I do not want to give the impression that I knew how to make many adjustments back when I played either. I only wish I knew then what I know now, but that is not the case, of course. Which gets me to the point of my article – good hitting coaches teach hitters how to make adjustments that give them chances to be successful.

With that in mind, here are some basic hitting adjustments that baseball coaches can teach hitters. Most of these are simple, practical suggestions that can solve hitters’ problems quickly.

For hitters who hit too many ground balls:

1. Lower the hitter’s hands an inch or two.

2. Have the hitter widen their stance a few inches and bend knees a little more (Think Carlos Quentin Stance).

3. Place a batting tee at the hitter’s knees and right down the middle – hitter hits until they can consistently hit line drives back through the middle. Do not let the hitter settle for ground balls, even if they are solid groundballs.

For hitters who pop everything up, the opposite “quick fix” solutions can help:

1. Raise the hitter’s hands an inch or two.

2. Shorten the distance between the feet when the hitter is in their stance so they are standing taller with little knee bend (Think Ken Griffey Jr. Stance).

3. Set a batting tee at the hitters chest or slightly higher – hitter hits until there are no pop ups – ideally, hitting line drives the same height as the ball level.

For hitters who get jammed a lot:

1. Have hitters choke up on bat.

2. Back hitters off the plate a few inches.

3. Work on drills that promote a compact swing.

For hitters who hit the ball off the end of bat often:

1. Check to make sure bat length is correct

2. Move hitters a few inches closer to home plate.

3. Work on hitting drills that keep hitters’ stride, front shoulder and hips from flying out too soon.

Bigger Problems

Hitters, who are not making contact or are only hitting foul balls, have bigger fundamental issues, of course. The first thing to do to help these hitters is to make sure it is not just a timing issue. If the hitter is always swinging late, challenge them with greater speeds in batting practice. Similarly, for hitters who are swinging too early, use slow pitches during batting practice. Generally, hitters’ timing will improve with these speed changes and they may start making consistent contact.

When none of these quick fixes work, major swing fundamental changes may be necessary. Having players work with experienced hitting coaches for times like these is advised.

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