Batting Practice in the Majors, Who Needs it?

To the average fan, batting practice—or BP, as it’s called—is all about players stepping into the batting cage before the game and taking a handful of cuts, trying to knock the cover off the ball.

BP is part of the long-standing traditions of the game, and for many fans who go to games early enough to catch BP, it’s part of the gameday experience. They love it.

But when it comes to players, coaches and managers, not everyone feels the same way.

BP is NEVER going to go away, because most EVERYONE agrees that it’s simply part of the routine of getting prepared for the game. But more than that, it is there for a reason…essentially to help a player get a feel for his swing on game day.

So why don’t some managers and coaches love BP? For the following reasons:
1.    They’re not sure it helps a player get ready for facing live pitching
2.    They believe other skill drills are more effective
3.    They believe it can wear out a player
4.    They want players to focus more on the mental part of the game
5.    There are other ways to set your swing, including soft toss and a batting tee

There are opinions on both sides of the fence from big names.

Like a layup drill?
One manager compares it to layup drills in basketball, where the teams forms two lines and lazily, at less than half speed, perform semi-layups for several cycles. It’s the first thing they do on the court.

Many players see it the same. As one said, “The players expect it, the fans like it, the coaches oversee it…but what good is it doing?”

At the MLB level, the worth of batting practice totally depends on whom you talk to.

Most players (and especially veterans) will get into a routine to prepare for the game, and BP is at the heart of it.

It’s reported that Albert Pujols of the Angels goes through a set of swing drills before he gets around to taking BP. He takes swings using a soft-toss drill and supposedly has close to a dozen drills for hitting off a tee…all this before getting into the cage.

Pujols, who began the 2018 season closing in on 3,000 career hits, is a BP believer who thinks stepping into the cage is important. “Whatever you bring to BP is what’s going to show in the game,” he’s said.

One former player already in the 3,000-hit club agrees on the value of BP—Yankee Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. Jeter reportedly used to get upset on those days when rain would cancel out batting practice. Jeter says, “I think (BP) is vital. I like to hit every day.”

Putting up with BP…and tradition.
For a majority of players, batting practice is mostly a case of going through the motions.

A former teammate of BP-loving Derek Jeter—Eric Chavez, who played with Jeter for two years and endured MLB batting practice for 14—represents the feelings of lots of disenchanted players. “BP is part of baseball tradition,” Chavez said while he was still playing.

“It’s fun for the fans; you try to hit a couple of balls in the stands,” he went on. “But in terms of work, what are you working on? It’s a 30-mile-per-hour pitch.”

Paul Molitor, member of the 3,000-hit club and a successful coach and manager, sees both sides of the coin: “I remember once (teammate) Cecil Cooper didn’t take BP for a month. He just felt he was in a good place and didn’t need to do anything,” shared Molitor. “The other extreme…was (Yankee) Don Mattingly, who took 250 swings in a cage almost on a daily basis.”
Andrew McCutchen, NL MVP in 2013 and currently with San Francisco, thinks that players today take a personal approach to the BP ritual.

“Everybody is different. It’s a comfort thing. Some guys need to swing and swing. Other guys have one swing and say ‘I’m good’ and just walk out of the cage. Everyone knows guys who hit until they’re sweating.”

Where is McCutchen himself as far as gameday BP? “It doesn’t take long,” he has said about his approach. “Get in, get the feeling, get out.”

The long-ball approach.
Without a doubt, most fans expect gameday batting practice to be a demonstration of brute strength, waiting for players to jack a ball over the fence for a souvenir.

After all, when they show MLB highlights on ESPN, it’s typically 90% about homers.

But if you talk to most batting coaches, hitting long balls is not what BP is supposed to be about, and definitely not what hitters should be doing.

That’s how current Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis feels.

“Batting practice has become, at times, home run shows and a ‘gig me’ period. It’s not,” Davis said a few years ago. “It’s a time to create and foster good habits.”

“You watch Miguel Cabrera in BP. He can hit the ball as far as anyone. But in batting practice, he’s all about hitting to right-center field, right-center field, right-center field. He might have one round where he goes in there and tries to feel his extension, but not with the intention of hitting the ball in the seats. He’s trying to square the ball up.”

In Davis’s opinion, “The guys who do it and do it right are the ones who are more successful.”

Robinson Canó and Mike Trout are two pretty good examples of that theory.

Trout has said, “I’m just hitting the ball to right-center. Maybe I’ll pull the ball a bit to left-center sometimes, but pretty much, I stay hands inside the ball.”

Canó, who bats from the left side, takes a similar approach to BP: “I always try left field only. After that, I try to hit line drives.”

Goodbye, BP.
When he was managing the Rays, Joe Maddon (now manager of the Cubs) said, “What we’re doing differently is we’re not taking as much of BP. I’m not a big believer in it. I think it’s very overrated. Because, number one, I think too many guys go out there just trying to hit homers. Number two, they swing way too much in the day.”

In 2015, Bryce Harper shocked the baseball world when he told a reporter

the he had totally abandoned BP for about four months. He was in a groove at the plate and said he didn’t need to worry about his hitting.

“I think I have always had the ability to do the things I do at the plate but I just haven’t been healthy,” Harper said at the time. “I don’t take BP. I haven’t taken BP in four months. I hit off the tee. I do flips and that’s it.”

The confident-talking Harper also went on to say, “I don’t care who I am facing. I don’t care what they are throwing.”

How did he do in 2015? He led the league in slugging percentage and OBS, hit 42 home runs and batted .330.

So much for BP.

Then again, he is Bryce Harper.