Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Switch hitters can learn switch pitching

Hitting a baseball is difficult to do. Switch hitting is even tougher to do well, but can be learned with regular practice. When I was researching switch pitchers, I noticed that several started out switch hitting at a young age. Switch hitters have the potential to learn switch pitching by using their leg stride and hip rotation.

Here are examples of switch hitters who learned how to switch pitch:

Matt Brunnig - Harvard

Matt Brunnig who pitched for Harvard University, started out as a switch hitter and a learned to throw with both arms when he was only six-years-old. His dad was a chiropractor and wanted his son Matt to have muscle balance on both sides. Read more about Matt Brunnig


Henry Knight - Seattle

Henry started switch hitting in games when he was only five-years-old. He could hit well from either side of the plate since he practiced swinging right- and left-handed. Playing in a coach pitch division - he could rely on his dad to throw "meatballs" over the plate where it was easy to hit. He would alternate sides to hit it were they ain't - into the gaps or right past kids who were playing in the dirt. As a result he was on base a lot and averaged two runs per game.

During batting practice at the local field, he would practice shagging balls from the outfield using either arm. At first he was just messing around, but kept throwing balls online to the bucket at the mound. This became a fun drill during batting practice and other players joined in.

When he was eight-years-old he asked his dad for a left-handed glove. Eventually, his dad found a matching Rawlings glove to give Henry on his 9th birthday. His dad figured that throwing left-handed could give his son's right arm time to rest - especially in the off-season.

Henry started practicing pitching with each arm in the backyard using a big bucket, tipped on the side, as a target. He learned from his coach that good throwers use their lower body to get momentum and that's what he did when practicing. Throwing with either arm was easy for Henry to do since he already had the experience of switch hitting - using his legs and rotating the hips. As Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum would say about pitching - "the arm just comes along for the ride."


Conclusion

A switch hitter already has the balance and lower body movement that gives them the potential to throw with either arm. There is no guarantee that they can switch pitch, but it's worth a try.


Teaching players to switch hit 

I would suggest that helping a kid learn to switch hit first has more value than starting them out throwing with both arms. After all, not all kids will want to pitch, but most kids would love to hit a baseball from either side of the plate. You might also find that they are better at hitting left-handed than right-handed.

My experience in youth baseball is that a good left-handed hitter can give a team an advantage - typically the weakest player is put in right field where the lefties like to hit. Teaching a child to switch hit takes about 50% more practice than hitting only from one side. Some hitters may need twice as much practice. Doing a lot of tee work really helps. Focus on hitting from one side each session.

Natural left-handers can learn to throw right-handed and it will allow them to play SS, 2B, 3B or catcher when they get older. Two natural lefties on my team learned to throw right-handed when they were young and they developed into solid infielders and starting pitchers. They both batted right-handed in games, although they could also hit left-handed in practice.

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