Pitch recognition is probably the number one skill that separates elite level hitters from the rest of us. The best swing in the world will not do a youth baseball player any good if he or she misdiagnoses the pitch and swings at a ball in the dirt.
This can be viewed as an opportunity to help our young hitters see the ball better, recognize pitches, and improve their plate vision. It is important to understand that pitch recognition is more than just identifying the pitch type; it is tied in directly to identifying movement, velocity, and location.
What is Pitch Recognition?
Pitch recognition is the hitter’s ability to determine the following things:
The type of pitch being thrown (fastball, slider, changeup, curveball, etc.)
Where the pitch is going to end up when it crosses home plate
When the pitch is going to cross home plate
Basically, pitch recognition is the ability and the skill to determine where the ball is going to be at the potential point of contact. There is no way to successfully hit a baseball without pitch recognition. Most youth baseball players do not realize that they are already performing pitch recognition with each plate appearance.
Teaching Pitch Recognition to Youth Baseball Players
This is where the discussion really gets interesting. In recent years, apps and other software programs have actually been developed to help hitters learn pitch recognition. While we don’t necessarily have a strong opinion on this kind of approach, we believe it is more practical to stick to the basics for young players.
Here are some ways to teach pitch recognition to youth athletes:
Take plenty of traditional batting practice. A recent trend in coaching has eschewed BP for tee work, toss drills, and more. All of these methods have their place, but the fact remains that hitting a pitched ball is not the same as hitting soft toss. This is especially true when it comes to plate discipline and pitch recognition.
Mark your baseballs for visual cues. Take a marker and place a dime-sized dot on your batting practice baseballs. This will accentuate the hitter’s ability to see rotation, spin rate, and more. This is a great tool for developing pitch recognition out of the hand.
Pitch Recognition Hitting Drills
With this in mind, what are some pitch recognition hitting drills to improve your player’s plate IQ? Here are just a few to throw into the mix during your next youth baseball practice:
Look for your pitch and stick to it. Many hitters are taught to “look for your pitch” when they are ahead in the count. This is typical of 3-0 or 2-0 counts with a good hitter. Many coaches preach this method in any 0 strike count. With this drill, hitters should declare out loud what pitch they are looking for, and should only swing at this pitch.
If a hitter declares: “fastball, belt high middle”. They should not swing at any pitch which is not a fastball. They should also not swing at any fastballs in other locations.
Used colored balls. This drill should use a similar dot method as described above, except the balls should be a variety of colors. Hitters must call out the color of the ball as it approaches the plate. This teaches good vision and mental focus.
Take Batting Practice where no swinging is allowed. How many youth baseball players legitimately take pitches in batting practice? Not many. Try having your youth squad take 10 or 15 pitches in a row just to key in on location, velocity, and spin. Then have them swing at the same amount of pitches right afterwards to see if their vision feels sharper.
Do I Really Need to Teach Pitch Recognition to Young Hitters?
We would be remiss not to acknowledge that overanalysis in youth baseball can be a problem. Young players should be allowed to play the game. When you start teaching a youth athlete to identify spin and ID pitches out of the hand is highly dependent on the player.
We generally recommend starting to focus on this skill around the time when breaking pitches start becoming the norm. Although we wish this was around the high school level, unfortunately this will likely be closer to the time your young athletes hit Little League.
Pitch recognition is an advanced technique. We believe it is never too early to begin developing this skill, but focusing on identifying pitches too early can take away a young hitter’s focus on solid fundamentals and putting a good swing on the ball.
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