There are great hitters in baseball. There are guys that get on base with seeing-eye singles and drag bunts. There are players who hit gap to gap and rack up doubles left and right. There are studs that hit the long ball and put runs on the board with one swing of the bat. Then there is the 5 o’clock hitter.
A 5 o’clock hitter is somebody who takes the best batting practice ever seen. They step in the box three hours before the game and hit line drives, home runs, and look like a first round draft pick. Scouts may show up to see one player and end up asking about the guy that is taking swings like Babe Ruth. The answer to their questions comes when the lineups are announced and the big-swinging stud is on the bench. Once game time starts, this so called phenomenon gets ice cold and can’t hit the broad side of a barn. He is the 5 o’clock hitter whose talents only come out when the hitting tarps and pitcher’s screen are on the field.
Many teams have a guy like this on the team. He hits great when the ball is lobbed in and he can load up all his weight into every swing. There are no curve balls, no change-ups, and only straight meat balls. That is the point of batting practice. The BP pitcher is supposed to make guys look good, but this hitter looks REALLY good. The problem is that he can’t translate that pre-game glory into results once the game starts.
The term comes from the fact that batting practice is around 5 PM. That means that he hits really well at 5 o’clock. If there is a day game, then you could rephrase this to a 10 AM hitter or any other time when a team has batting practice. It basically denotes the time when he is on the field hitting before the game.
If you are ever watching batting practice before a game and see a guy hitting lights out, but then don’t see him playing once the game starts, there are two possibilities. Either he is getting a day off and needs some rest (players who aren’t starting still take BP), or it is because the guy is a 5 o’clock hitter. Coaches and players know which guys are legit hitters. That is why you see so many home runs during BP yet not as many in a game. Batting practice is a time to see live balls coming at you, while the game has a real pitcher trying to get guys out. Some players can hit extremely well when they know a ball is floating in, yet can’t hack it once they have to face a live pitcher on the mound.
Some guys actually work on things during batting practice. They hit backside, work on situations, and are not trying to impress anybody in particular. There are some guys who get up there and just swing away waiting for the game to start. Then there are some guys who hit home run after home run. Don’t let a great batting practice hitter fool you – he may just be a 5 o’clock hitter.