Anytime a sport undergoes a major change, whether due to technology or methods of training, pundits are quick to weigh in on whether this or that aspect is an improvement. And then the myths proliferate.
In the case of batting cages and pitching machines, two issues immediately come to mind: Batting cages must be much longer than the backyard variety in order to receive any appreciable benefit from them. And, when it comes to pitching machines, a certain speed must be maintained for batters to gain benefit.
Here’s a bit more information to separate fiction from fact:
First off, batting cages don’t have to be 70 feet long in order for players to benefit. In fact, players of practically any age can gain advantages from cages that are anywhere from 35 to 50 feet long. This is because various short-field drills, like short-toss exercises, can be accomplished in less space than would ordinarily be required under game conditions.
Essentially, when batters attempt to hit pitches that come to them from distances at roughly 35 feet, they are reacting as though those pitches had been tossed at full speed. As a result, batters still need to gauge their swing accordingly, taking care to adjust their rhythm and timing as they would during game conditions.
Second, in terms of pitching speed, 75 mph isn’t exactly the magic number some might imagine. Hitters can typically gain as much or even more benefit from pitches in the 40-50mph range, tossed live from distances of about 35 feet, as they can from those generated by pitching machines at 75 mph.
In the case of the shorter, lower-speed pitches, batters must pick up on the pitcher’s arm position, the release point and the speed of the ball. And those throwing the live pitches also have an easier time with accuracy, as it’s easier to hit a target from shorter distances, especially when putting any degree of speed on the ball.
All of which means that a shorter cage, designed to work in smaller spaces such as your own backyard, can provide just as much if not more benefit to hitters.
And longer cages can still provide these benefits with a little adjusting. Shorter, longer, faster, slower – all can work for hitters under the right circumstances.