Lunging is one of the most common hitting problems for young and older players alike. The issue stems from having a fastball timed and everything set for that pitch and then having the pitcher throw and off-speed pitch. The hitter then tries to hold the bat back while the body continues the swing and the end result is a horrible swing where the hitter appears to be lunging after the ball and usually results in a strike or very weak contact.
Cause: The most common cause of lunging is a batter's inability to stay back until he is able to determine the speed of the pitch. In a previous section I discussed starting the swing, the player that lunges often is a player who begins their swing too soon. So if the pitch is a fastball, he will be fine, any other pitch and the problem occurs. There can be a couple of reasons a player will initiate their swing too early:
Everyone is going to get fooled once in awhile, but the player who more often than not will have this happen on an off-speed pitch has a real issue that needs to be addressed.
Fix: Although picking up the pitch early can be the problem, most of the time it's one of the other two. If everything looks good in the pre-swing mechanics of the player, then I would address trying to pick up the ball earlier. See Picking up the Pitcher Releaase Point for information to work with the hitter on.
For most hitters the problem comes from something taking too long or having their weight shift forward too early. Let's look at a couple examples and what you might try to help them.
Key Point: I'm a big believer in having a short compact swing. Being able to wait as long as possible to start the swing is critical to the ability of a player to have a short compact swing. A hitter that has a problem with lunging generally doesn't have that short compact swing. Talk with them about that. Video tape their swing and show them what you are talking about. As with most things it can be difficult for a player to feel that they are long and slow rather than short and quick. Most times a small adjustment can be made that will really help the player. Help them determine and work on that adjustment. It will take reps and attention to detail but the hitter will benefit greatly.
This is a problem at all levels of baseball, but is most associated with youth baseball.
At the youth level the problem usually occurs in a player that is afraid of being hit. The fear of being hit affects most young baseball players. Young pitchers that don't have much control can often throw very hard. This combination gives many kids a real fear of stepping into the batter's box. This fear of being hit affects their ability to develop a good swing and approach at the plate. In addition it quickly reduces confidence and enjoyment of the game.
The younger they are, the more chance that they will freeze when a pitched ball is thrown at them. Often they try to get away from the ball by backing away. This puts them in a position to get hit in the side or front of the body or possibly the face. Once a hitter has been hit a couple of times, it can be a major task for them to overcome those painful experiences. See Fear of being hit on how to teach a hitter how to get out of the way.
When a player is comfortable getting out of the way, he will have much more confidence stepping up to the plate and staying in there. You have to convince him that by stepping out he is putting himself in a much worse position than if he stays in and gets out of the way properly.
At higher levels of baseball the problem often occurs in a player who doesn't believe he can handle the inside fastball. By striding open, the player feels he can be quicker in getting his hips and hands through on the inside pitch. Of course this puts him in a poor position to handle the outside or off-speed pitch.
To fix this problem requires a few of steps.
As an aid to help a player you can place a bat or a 2x4 or something else behind the player after he gets in his stance. This can be parallel to the pitcher if you want the stride to be straight or angled slightly if you want the player to stride slightly closed. Either way this can really help the player realize where they are striding. Without it, a player is usually in such a habit of striding open that they don't realize they are doing it. Which can make it difficult for them to correct.