I owned a baseball academy for many years which used pitching machines where batters could work on hitting without the fear of getting hit by the ball. The pitching machines consistently threw strikes and hitters often built confidence by using them. Confidence is always good but I am embarrassed to say that the consistency of the machines may have been detrimental to helping hitters. “Why was that?” you ask. Pitchers are not consistent for the most part, with every pitch being thrown with a different speed and location. The problem is that pitching machines are often very consistent, which is not game like. Hitting the same speed pitches with nearly the same location each time may negatively affect a hitter when they play in games, Rarely are two pitches ever the exact same in a real game.
I have seen many hitters’ swings and/or timing become “screwed up” because of hitting pitching machines. Hitting a ball continually with the same speed and pitch location for 10 minutes or more can groove a hitter’s swing incorrectly and create timing only for that speed pitch. As mentioned, when hitters then go to games and face pitchers who throw nowhere near the same pitch as they hit in the batting cages, this can turn their batting cage use into a negative practice. Does this mean that I do not recommend that players practice by going to the local batting cages? Of course not, but with the possible detrimental issues brought up above, there are certain things that players should do when taking batting practice with pitching machines. Following these guidelines will help hitters most effectively use their time at the batting cages.
1. If there is a faster-slower adjustment on the controls then they should be used often. Likewise, if a coach can change the speeds relatively easily, they should do so often.
2. Hitters should always begin with a no-stride approach so they avoid jumping at the ball. This will help players get used to the speed without lunging, because it is difficult to get a rhythm without the arm action of a real pitcher.
3. Likewise, as long as hitters know correct bunting technique, they should begin with a few bunts to get a gauge on the consistency and speed of the machine.
4. Hitters should move themselves around in the batters box often (even for every pitch).
a. To work on low pitches they may have to get deeper in the batter’s box or move up closer to the machine to receive higher pitches.
b. Along the same lines, hitters should move closer to home to work on inside pitches and back away from home to have balls on the outside part of home plate. As with taking any batting practice, it is recommended that hitters always attempt to hit the ball in the direction of where the ball is pitched.
5. It is further recommended that the speed the hitter faces be changed each time they go to the cages; remembering to work on slow pitches when they are having trouble waiting for the ball in games and to face faster speeds when they are continually late in games.
6. It is always recommended to end with slow speeds because it is generally easier to “speed ones bat up” in a game then it is to wait for balls when a hitter’s timing is too early on the pitched ball.
Of course, all of this is based on facing pitching machines that are consistent. Inconsistent machines may be more game-like and helpful but caution of being hit by the ball must be observed with inconsistent machines. Finally, hitters should be careful of using their game bat in the cages too often, as wear and tear can damage aluminum bats.