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Softball Performance Tips – How to Reduce Pop-Ups

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

Softball Hitting Tip: Cut Back on Pop-Ups by Getting the Right Bat Angle

Nothing is more frustrating to a coach than getting a couple of runners on base with no one out only to have the next two hitters pop up into an infield fly rule. Even a weak ground ball back to the pitcher holds the promise that something might happen.

A bad throw, a third baseman pulling her foot off the base early, maybe the ball going into the sun as it’s thrown gives you a chance to advance the runners. But a pop-up? Everybody freeze and we’ll try it again. Do it twice and your inning is all but over.

So if you could teach your hitters to hit fewer pop-ups, it sure seems like a worthy investment of time. Well, you can. It all has to do with the bat angle.

Essentially, hitters need to keep their hands above the ball so the head of the bat is tilted downward instead of straight out. The following figures show why.

Image 1 Image 2

The first illustration (left) shows a bat that is sticking straight out, more or less. This is what happens, by the way, when you take your hands to the ball. You bring them level with the ball and the bat will have to level out to the ground as well.

That’s not so bad if you hit the ball dead center. But if you’re a little low, as in this illustration, you’ll hit the bottom half of the ball and it will pop up – especially if you really went low and had to come back up.

Now look at the second illustration (right), with the bat angled due to the hands being above the ball. Not only are you getting more surface on which to hit the ball, there’s no real way to hit the bottom half of the ball. Because of the bat angle, if you’re off-center you’re more likely to either pull the ball or deflect it toward the opposite field.

It’s simple – and difficult at the same time. It’s really tempting to take your hands down to hit a pitch, especially a waist-high pitch. But don’t let it happen. Keep those hands above the ball and you’ll cut back on the pop-ups.

Comments on Softball Performance Tips – How to Reduce Pop-Ups »

June 30, 2010

Pat Lang @ 6:02 am

Awesome. Trying to communicate with young hitters about positioning when they swing is not easy but keeping their hands above the ball is something I think they can visualize.

teddyballgame @ 8:13 am

ok, i get the idea, now how do i instill that in a young hitter? what drills help this?

terry devo @ 9:18 am

great article – it’s a subtle thing and it is a difficult concept for younger hitters.

Ken Krause @ 9:32 am

Teddy, first thing I would do have the hitter work on keeping her hands close to her back shoulder until it’s time to deliver the bat head to the ball. She can stride/weight shift and rotate without moving the hands. Do this either with a tee or without — doesn’t matter since she’s not swinging, although the visual of a ball on the tee makes it easier to learn the concept of keeping the hands above the ball.

When she gets that idea, next thing I would do is hold a swimming noodle behind her, just slightly above the height of the ball. If she drops her hands and levels her bat to the ground, she’ll hit the noodle. Note that the far end of the noodle shouldn’t be close to the ball. It should be a little past her back hip.

If you have a tee with a soft rubber top, such as an Anderson tee, you can set that up between the hitter and the ball, with the rubber top about four inches higher than the top of the ball. (I know this is really tough to visualize; I will describe as best I can.) The rubber top tee should also be a little deeper (toward the catcher). The object is to give her feedback if she lets her hands drop down to level out the bat.

Of course, video is always good too. Show her what she’s doing, and show video or photos of good hitters making contact. They don’t have level bats unless they really get fooled.

It always helps to understand what a hitter has been told previously. Many have had the term “level swing” drilled into their heads. You have to convince them first that this goal is incorrect, show them why, and then work on it. If they don’t buy in, you’re just wasting your time.

Ken Krause @ 3:24 pm

Bob, I wish that were true. I’ve been watching too many runners get stranded on waist-high (non-rise ball) pitches because of pop-ups. All that “hands to the ball swing level” stuff makes the problem much worse.

July 1, 2010

Steve Nichols @ 9:52 am

One thing that crosses my mind is that, once they learn to keep hands above the ball and increase barrel awareness to consistently hit line drives, we could go back and teach the more advanced skill of hitting fly balls to the outfield to score a runner from 3rd with less than 2 outs. Admittedly, it’s a rare occurrence, but could we teach them to consciously level the bat in this situation? It seems much like trying to hit oppo to move runners. Crazy? Overanalyzing?

Ken Krause @ 9:44 pm

Steve, first thing you have to do is teach the runner on third to tag on that fly ball. Despite having practiced that just last night, we had a runner take a lead on a ball to right that would’ve scored her for sure. We lost by one run — think that didn’t hurt? 🙂

July 2, 2010

Steve Nichols @ 8:41 am

Ouch, but funny! I’ve had ’em do the opposite thing within an hour of being taught correctly! That’s what makes these young ladies so much fun to coach.

July 3, 2010

isabella @ 10:28 am

Cool, I didn’t know that! I’ll have to try it in today’s game! Thanks!! 🙂

July 4, 2010

Malia @ 2:07 pm

okay so my coaches would always tell us to angle our bats and i would never know why..but now i do :).
thanks this helps a lot

July 5, 2010
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What Is The Wrist Angle Position At Point Of Contact? @ 2:43 am

[…] movement as well. maybe she using her hands more than being coordinated with the her whole body Softball Hitting Tip – How to Reduce Pop-Ups Coach Lia Softball Peak Performance Coach https://www.softballperformance.com Softball […]

July 11, 2010

Carl @ 9:00 am

I hate to be a stick in the mud, but…

This is a ridiculous analysis! There is no reason to believe that a hitter swinging “level” (the figure on the left) will be more prone to hitting the bottom part of the ball (resulting in a pop-up) than there is to believe that she will hit the top of the ball and hit a grounder. Furthermore, in the figure on the right, there is no reason to believe that the hitter won’t be just as prone to hitting a pop-up to the right side of the field. This MAY increase the odds of her pop-up going into foul territory but it doesn’t help her to become a better hitter.

Let me explain why Ken believes his erroneous theory. Where he is correct is in emphasizing “staying on top of the ball”. This does NOT have anything to do with the angle of the bat relative to the ground, however. It DOES have to do with the angle of the SWING as the bat moves through the stike zone. Let me elaborate…

A swing that is relatively level (or “on plane” with the incoming pitch) has a better chance of resulting in a line drive or hard grounder simply because there is a better chance of making solid contact (if you don’t already understand why, think of this–a person walking directly down the train tracks has a better chance of being hit by the train than does a person who crosses the tracks at an angle; in this latter case the timeing of the person and the train would have to be just right in order for a collision to occur). This does not eliminate the possibility of a pop-up, however–if she hits the bottom half of the ball, she’ll pop it up.

However, many hitters will tend to uppercut. If you swing up on the ball, there is obviously a better chance of elevating the ball, though you can still hit a grounder if you hit the top half of the ball. Hence, many coaches will intuitively understand that swinging level or even down a bit on the ball will reduce pop-ups or weak fly balls, and increase the odds of getting a hit or reaching base on an error (more chances to screw up a play on a ground ball–bad hop, miss the ball, bad throw, bad play by the first basemen, etc.).

Ken has unfortunately made his analysis fit his already formed conclusion. The key to eliminating pop-ups is the same as it is for eliminating weak grounders–make your hitters more fundamentally sound, and they will make solid contact more often (and hit line drives).

Carl @ 9:04 am

In response to Malia, this is likely where Ken’s theory comes from. Simply put, on a bunt if you angle the bat a pop-up will be more likely to travel at a somewhat lower trajectory (as Ken’s illustrations show). However, it is interesting to note that most high-level coaches are getting away from the “angle the bat on a bunt” theory because they realize that the best way to make contact is to keep the bat relatively flat. And again, the key is to teach your players, whether hitting or bunting, proper mechanics in order to maximize the possibility of solid contact.

November 3, 2010

Darksky21811 @ 2:21 pm

I'll try this. I hit very deep shots but they are very high too! If I can convert some of the height into distance, wow. I never thought of the bat angle. I will give it a go and let you know.

April 20, 2011

Hometeam109 @ 1:26 pm

Good tip especially when bunting to have an angle on the bat to help eliminate pop ups. Many players are told, especially when they are young, to swing level, that is not correct. While you don't get more surface area on which to hit the ball you do avoid having as many pop ups and it's easlier to get on plane with the pitch and stay on plane longer, which helps in hitting the ball solidly more often.

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