No, not spot the dog, however this pup looks like he or she would make a good catcher.
When we're talking about hitting it's important to start our hitters out thinking like pitchers. What is it that a pitcher wants to do? Well, just by the name of the game, Fastpitch Softball, they obviously want to throw fast. Yep, every softball pitcher wants to learn to throw each pitch right past you. What else? Well, every softball pitcher also wants to learn control, both velocity (add & subtract speed) and location so that each pitch that they throw looks like it could be in the strike zone with heat. And lastly they want to learn movement. Pitch movement is the final ingredient to compliment their velocity (+/-) and location. It's this movement from the flat elevation of fastpitch softball pitching circle that really dictates your swing mechanics or technique. If you're taking notes at home jot this down and remember this for later in this series!
To the left is a very remedial chart of the strike zone. The yellow box represents what the hitter sees in their mind as the strike zone when they take their stance. For the young hitter this zone seems this large, for the advanced hitter they'll make this zone much smaller. A College player for example goes to the plate looking for pitches in only one quadrant of this zone, or what they might call their "sweet spot." If the count stays in their favor, say 2 balls no strikes, they may even make this zone smaller, looking only for that one pitch to drive. Conversely if the count moves to the pitchers favor, say No balls and 2 strikes they'll still be looking in their zone, but will also expand their zone to protect the entire area. This is called approaching the plate with a plan.
The red area around the yellow box is where good pitchers are taught to throw (location) which is why I put the dollar signs in there as these are the pitchers "money" pitches. If they're on that day and can hit these spots (particularly high & low) it'll be a long game for your hitters. The red circle in the middle of the yellow box is the "mistake" like we noted above, as hitters we're going to the plate with a plan and looking for the pitchers mistake.
Levels 1,2 &3 at the top of the zone are movement locations for rise ball pitchers. Don't be mistaken and think that a rise ball is only used as a waste pitch. It's true, a good rise ball pitcher will throw this pitch a various levels (or work the ladder) to see how far you'll go, but the very best will also pump this pitch all around the zone, particularly if they see a big rotational loop in your swing. Additionally they'll change their spin angle to make it rise/curve or rise/screw, making it one of the most lethal pitches in the sport. A lot of very good hitting instructors, including former professional baseball players who haven't seen this pitch from an elite pitcher think that this pitch is just thrown up hill. Not true! This pitch alone when thrown properly can undo the very best hitters, and understanding how to hit this pitch with power and authority is the foundation to what you'll be learning as we move through this series.
The last thing I want you to look at is the white dotted line. We'll be coming back to this chart as we get into swing technique, but for now think of this dotted white line as the high strike in baseball. Remember in baseball the pitcher is throwing downhill. Why would you show that here? What's the importance as it relates to the fastpitch softball swing? The fact is, as you understand this, you're going to better understand the simple adjustments that we'll be discussing to improve your fastpitch softball swing.
Yes, it's true, the mental approach to hitting is just as important to your swing as the swing technique that you use. A solid mental approach will provide the foundation of confidence required to be successful at this game. The great Yogi Berra once said about baseball; "baseball is 90% mental the other half is physical!" Well, you get the point. As a hitter, approach the plate thinking like a pitcher, understand your strike zone and know that they are looking to hit their spots all the while trying to find holes in your swing.
We're going to make those holes much smaller! Come back for the next part of this series as we'll be getting into the rotational vs linear approach and explain what we think is the best approach for a fastpitch softball hitter and why?