A thinking man’s pitcher, Warren Spahn would describe his approach on the mound as “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” While interviewing former big league pitcher Lary Sorensen, an executive from F5 Sports who make the PitchLogic smart baseball, he shared that Hall of Famer Eddie Matthew’s said “he could time a jet airplane going through the strike zone if it was straight enough and he saw it often enough.”
The best hitters are masters of timing.
For all the arguments of the swing up or swing down club, they both require you to time the impact of the bat’s barrel to the baseball to produce a favorable outcome. There are those that will argue a ball on the ground is better than a ball in the air. There are those that will argue that you swing down to hit under the ball to create backspin. They can all be right because ultimately it’s still all about timing. Isn’t that why we can sometimes see the ugliest swings still produce extraordinary outcomes?
Timing is impacted by the bats path and how long the barrel is in the trajectory path of the ball. The longer you can keep your barrel in the zone the more time it seems “you buy yourself.” If you are steep up or down in the zone, the barrel is not in the zone long and you will have a smaller timing window. If you ask a hitter would you rather have more of a window of time to barrel a baseball or less, I don’t think any hitters would say less.
So it seems we can possibly set up a mechanical advantage to timing a baseball. Create mechanics that keeps the barrel in the zone a long time like Ted Williams said in his book “The Science of Hitting.” Although, Ted Williams doesn’t talk much about timing in his book. Maybe he just assumed it wasn’t something that needed to be taught or talked about. What he did say clearly is to look for a good ball to hit. In fact, that is nothing new because it was Rogers Hornsby, who told Williams that the single most important thing for a hitter was to get a good ball to hit.
Two Times Timing
Seems to be two parts to being “on time”: one to recognize that you are getting a good ball to hit and two the mechanical time to have your bat meet the baseball on the sweet spot of your barrel. These seem to be the most important elements that transfer to a game. We’ve all seen plenty of bad swings (poor mechanics, poor movement patterns, etc.) that were timed properly or the batter adjusted his timing to get a hit.
Perry Husband who teaches effectively velocity talks about “The same speed pitch located in different parts of the zone has different reaction times for hitters. This ‘not-so-simple’ concept is the beginning of understanding timing.”
Can timing be taught or is it something that you are just born with?
In my 10+ years of being on ball fields I have heard coaches talk about loading “early” or you are “late” to the pitch. Of course, I’ve heard the expression “slow the game down.” Plenty of people use timing words but are they actually teaching it? I’ve seen plenty of kids who gather and load up late and can’t catch up to fastballs that are faster than they are used to and kids who struggle when they see pitchers who throw much slower than they are used to in practice. But I have rarely heard anyone train based on timing up pitchers with their delivery, rhythm, arm action and pitch type. With the exception of limited amounts of Live ABs. How many pitches a week should you see at game speed to train your timing?
- The mechanics of your swing has a time.
- The pitcher’s movements and pitch has a time.
- A hitters job is to learn how to sync the two together.
We spend tons of time swinging off a tee. Does that help with training either timing component? How does front toss or flips help? BP or hitting off the machine has some timing component but does that prepare you for game-like timing? This can help you time up your body movements. They have their place and value, but timing a pitch is what needs to transfer.
Matt Nokes says “Timing isn’t isn’t a random skill set you inherit, the swing has a timeline, the pitch has a timeline, and you gotta match your swing time with the pitch time. That’s how you do it soft toss, but soft toss is only from 12 feet away. So what do you do when you multiply the 12 feet by 5 and now the pitchers throwing from a mound 60 feet away. The variables you were managing automatically in soft toss, from 60 feet those same variables suddenly become unmanageable unless you know what the variables are. You can’t cope with a situation like a pitchers delivery when you don’t know what’s important to pay attention to and what you need to filter out…
When you understand your mechanics in a way that makes timing the top priority, the best hitters find a way to rehearse with a flow, making sure all their movements are natural and powerful, short and quick…this puts you in position to automate your mechanics and focus on the number 1 most important ingredient to hitting…and that’s timing.”
In my recent podcast interview with Chris O’Dowd, former big league catcher and CEO of baseball virtual reality training company WinReality he shared this story of Steven Souza Jr, and how he had gone through a number of swing changes over the last year and a half, two years.
“But the feedback that he was getting, in our quick recognition challenge was so consistent that he was making his decisions about six to eight feet too late. That he may never have needed to make a swing change if he moved his decision-making up, that it could have put him in a position to where he was getting better information about where he could improve as a hitter. And so he’s, he’s been doing different drills where he goes quick recognition training WinReality. High velocity, fastball machine and going back and forth, just to move up his decision-making four to six feet out, yeah. Without WinReality, you really, there’s no way to quantify where was I’m making a decision. Spatially what does it feel like to make a decision earlier?”
This is what inspired me to ask you “what percent of a hitter’s training is spent on the most important game skill, timing?”
How are you training hitters to be “on time?”