Improve Your Environmental Design for Less Than $10
One of the easiest and most impactful additions a coach can make to the cage is to mark the foul lines. It is a very common problem for hitters to think that the only space they have available to hit baseballs are the dimensions of the cage. Even while using Hitttrax or a Hitting Rapsodo it is not unusual to see spray charts like this.
Oftentimes players have an inability to pull the ball in the air and or use the opposite field. By adding foul lines in the cage you are inviting athletes to explore the entire “field” and give them a constant reminder that they have more space available than what it might feel like in a cage setting.
Couple When You Can
Hitters must be able to use pre-pitch release information such as the pitcher’s movements to guide swing decisions, timing, and many other things. They also must be challenged by realistic pitch characteristics. Whenever I can, I pair the two.
In a lot of cage settings there are backdrops that may be difficult to pick up the ball out of hand. The color of the backdrop, and people walking behind the cage are two examples of visual distractions that hitters do not have in a game setting. Hanging a tarp behind you is a cheap and effective way to give the hitters a batters eye to pick up the ball out of hand.
Before my sessions I mark out the distances that I will overhand front toss and throw competitive BP. After marking the distances, I also mark the horizontal release points so that the ball is coming in at the same horizontal angle
A common issue I notice is when other coaches are tossing or throwing BP to players from a straight line from the center of the mound to the center of the plate. This angle hardly ever exists in a game setting because pitchers release the ball around 2 feet to the left or right of the mound depending on what hand they pitch with.
At the distances where I toss and throw BP, I have little cards printed out with the pitch speeds that correlate with the same reaction times as the average speed of major league pitches.
I am fortunate enough to work in a cage with a Hittrax where I can get immediate feedback on pitch speed and descent angle. If you don't have access to a Hittrax, a Pocket Radar is another affordable option.
Potential Shortcomings/ Drawbacks
I’m a taller guy (height flex) so my release point can sometimes be a bit higher than it should be. When I throw BP from close I elect to not use a platform and hunker down a bit to get as close as possible to an accurate release point. It would also be worthwhile to see how much vertical and horizontal break my pitches were getting compared to normal pitch averages.
Assuming you have a tape measurer and a device to measure pitch speed, improving your practice design can really be this simple. The tarp was $3.50, clips were 89 cents each, and a roll of athletic tape was 3 bucks. It doesn't take money, it just takes work.