Putting the ball in play on the ground is not always a bad thing, but turning ground balls into line drives will definitely help the hitter’s batting average and chances of playing baseball at the higher levels. Hitters with good speed can prosper by hitting the ball on the ground, especially in youth baseball, but at some point the ability to drive the ball into the outfield is necessary. Of course, hitting ground balls is better than hitting pop-ups but hitting the ball consistently on the ground is a sign of a faulty fundamental swing.
People generally think that hitting the top of the ball, which results in ground balls, is caused by hitting down on the ball or chopping at it. In my 21 years of coaching baseball, rarely would I come across hitters who actually chopped at the ball. I observed that most ground balls hit were caused by the hitters hands were on an upward path on the initial portion of the swing, usually caused by the lead elbow coming up at the beginning of the swing. This incorrect action is generally known as a chicken-wing, which does not allow hitters to bring their hands to the correct palm-up, palm-down hitting position at contact.
With this in mind, here are the drills which will generally turn ground balls into line drives.
Drill # 1 – To rid the player of the chicken wing problem, have them place their fielder’s glove under their lead armpit and take numerous swings this way, allowing the glove to fall out on the follow through.
Drill # 2 – Have the hitter stand belly button away from a net and take swings with the end of the bat just scraping the net as it comes through the hitting zone. This will prevent the hitter from casting the bat out and over the ball which can cause ground ball hitting. This drill and the next on will help players develop the correct hands to the ball and hand position necessary to hit the ball in the air.
Drill # 3 – Place a tee at knee high level and have hitters work on hitting balls at this height until they begin to hit line drives or solid fly balls. Hitters with incorrect swings will continually hit ground balls at this pitch level. Hitters will have to develop the correct hip turn and swing in order to hit solid line drives on the knee high pitch, as stated.
* Hitters can combine these drills and perform all three at the same time. This becomes more difficult but can accelerate the process of developing the correct baseball swing.
For hitters who consistently hit solid ground balls, as opposed to weak or chopped ground balls, a slight adjustment in their stance or hand position may lower the bat position on the ball just enough to hit the lower back portion of the ball instead of the top of the ball. Hitters who widen their stance and bend their knees slightly may see the necessary line drives. Also worth a try is lowering the height of the hitter’s hands a couple of inches in their initial set-up position. This may allow the hitter to get to the back of the ball more consistently. Following these few guidelines should turn those ground balls into solid line drives. For photo illustrations of these drills please refer to my book, The Making of a Hitter: A Proven & Practical Step-by-Step Baseball Guide.