The Advanced Science of Hitting
If you are still one of those guys that either teaches or does any of the following: knob to the ball, foot down early, stay balanced, let the pitcher provide the power, swing down, hit ground balls and let their defense make mistakes, trust your hands, stay back; then this post is definitely something that you should read. Anyone who plays at the high school, collegiate, or professional level still using any of these methods is inexcusable, especially with the plethora of people who will talk hitting with you for free. Some of these guys are Josh Donaldson, Bobby Tewksbary, Jerry Brewer, Cesare Angeloni, Troy Silva, Derek Florko, and Pete Lauritson. They will talk hitting with anyone for hours and will even look at your swing and give you amazing and helpful feedback. Most of the guys I just listed post free weekly articles as well that deal with every aspect of the swing. It is very frustrating that people still teach the wrong methods, everything you want to know about having and teaching a good swing is public information that everyone and their grandma can access, just because your coach played a high level of baseball and what he did “worked for him” does not mean he is right.
One of the best tools for me that got my start on learning about the swing is twitter, so much knowledge is passed around on twitter if you follow the correct people. One of the most annoying arguments I hear is for players that play at a low level of college (D3, terrible D2 and NAIA schools) they say that you aren’t going pro so you don’t have to swing like the pro’s, the infielders make mistakes so let them do so by hitting ground balls. No! This is 100% wrong, that’s just not how the swing path works! Also why not develop your hitters to be the best hitters they can be? Division 3 and division 2 have guys drafted every year so clearly there are some good enough players if they are developed. Why base your success off of someone else’s mistakes?
About 14 months ago I started really digging deep into the research of the swing and that’s when I realized I had to completely start over, obviously it is still a work in progress but I have made tremendous strides in the last 2 months since playing in the Jayhawk Collegiate League. What helped me the most is realizing that everything that I have ever been taught about hitting is completely wrong, I know what you are thinking, this is very bold claim, but it’s true and I can prove it. Coaches want to take athleticism out of your swing, “make your swing simple!” “swing down on it! Don’t swing too hard, you might miss the ball!!” “Professional athletes can get away with it because they were born with special hand eye coordination.” As a hitter you need to be as athletic as possible, you can’t be still and expect to hit a pitching coming 85+ with movement. I believe there was a saying by someone famous that said an object starting in motion will apply more force to a moving target than a still object would. The University of Illinois Physics Department claims the same thing: http://baseball.physics.illinois.edu/.
If you believe that professional athletes were born with special abilities you are dead wrong and you are creating built in excuses on why you don’t want to put in the work. Here is what Trevor Bauer says about being born with natural ability (Starting pitcher for Cleveland Indians): “Look I’m not that big, I’m not that strong, I’m not fast, I’m not explosive, I can’t jump, I’m not a natural born athlete, I was made.” https://www.drivelinebaseball.com/2011/08/12/trevor-bauer-will-not-be-babied/ If you don’t trust just one professional athlete, here are what others say about it: http://believeperform.com/performance/are-top-athletes-born-or-made/. Do you really think these professional athletes were just born like that? Grow up. If you want to be a professional athlete, train like one. Hit every day (with the correct process), get on a throwing program, a lifting program, nutrition program. If you aren’t doing every single one of these things every day don’t sit back and tell me that professional athletes are born with it, no you’re just too soft to put in the actual effort to get better. Training like a professional athlete isn’t about being the next Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, it’s about maximizing your potential, always try and be the best version of yourself. I would rather put in 100% effort and only play semi-pro baseball than coast through life and play professionally, I want to be the best that I can personally be.
Now it’s time to talk about the swing path, for starters: swing down=bad, swing up= good. Why? It’s easier to hit a line drive swinging up, your bat gets on plane earlier, and you have more margin of error because your bat is in the zone longer. There is a saying in hitting that goes “pump it, choke it, turn” which can be found here: https://twitter.com/sabercoach/status/730051274624753665. Pump it means to tip the barrel and get that back elbow up like here in the Miguel Cabrera picture below:
Pumping or tipping the barrel allows the hitter to keep the bat moving the whole time during the swing and to make it easier for the hitter to turn the barrel, which brings us into our next step,the choke which is seen in the Miguel Cabrera picture below:
The choke is essential because that is when the hitter starts to get his bat on plane, he works up with his front elbow essentially “choking himself” which will drive the back elbow down and force the bat to turn behind the back shoulder to get on plane. The last part of the swing is the turn seen in the bottom right Donaldson picture below:
Donaldson is turning his hips while keeping his shoulders almost squared up, working his front arm up to get his bat on plane behind his back shoulder. If you look at all four pictures it is the perfect representation of pump it, choke it, turn. Notice in all of these pictures that the hitter’s hands never actually get behind their back foot, this is because they use their hips and torso to turn the barrel and get it on plane, not their hands. The hands during the swing are only used for holding the bat, the body will do the rest of the work for you.
Now watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwZlMdeIwcI tell me, does Josh Donaldson ever go backwards in his load? Absolutely not. You never want to go backwards in your load, you always want to make a big forward move towards the ball to give yourself momentum in your swing, going backwards also makes hitters get stuck in their gather and be very robotic. Now look at this picture:
This is a very poor quality picture but look at where Miguel Cabrera’s posture is during his load, it is over the plate. You want your posture to be over the plate because it pre-sets your barrel path. It’s easier to work up if you are over the plate because you can turn up from that position. It allows the hitter not to extend early. With bad posture, extending early is more likely.
Look at Josh Donaldson at contact, he has a stiff front knee. A stiff front knee at contact is essential so your bat can work behind your back shoulder and swing up. If you have a bent front knee at contact that means you are lunging out at the pitch and will either slice it to the opposite field or pull it into the ground on your pull side. Ideally you want to make a big forward move in your load, land with a bent front knee and then have it stiffen out at contact. (Refer to the last to Donaldson pictures).
A good hitter will never get extended at contact unless they are fooled by a pitch. Extension is bad because that means you are selling out for contact. If you have the barrel working back and you are swinging up it is almost impossible to have extension at contact. Extension comes from going from the knob to the ball and swinging down, if you swing this way you have to get extended in order to hit the pitch, otherwise you will just get it off the handle. Extension also comes from using just your arms to hit, but why wouldn’t you want to use stronger muscles such as your legs, shoulders and core? Notice professional hitters at contact, they have a bent rear arm. When you extend, you usually start your hands first in the swing, but this shouldn’t be. A hitter needs to start his swing with the legs then hips and then shoulders, allowing your core to turn the barrel behind you. When you fight against extension, you allow the bat to lag behind you and get on plane.
As a hitter you cannot be afraid to swing and miss. There is such a negative connotation on swinging and missing that hitters are afraid to do it and they will sell out for contact by just trying to slap the ball, go knob to the ball, and not letting the bat work behind them. As a hitter you should embrace the swing and miss, so what if the pitcher blew one by you, or if he beat your approach. Stop seeing success as contact and start seeing success as having a good process (a good swing). I would rather swing and miss with good intent than sell out for contact and hit a weak ground ball to the second baseman. Would you rather try and hit the ball hard? Or would you rather have unsustainable success by punching a weak grounder through the hole two out of every ten ground balls you hit? I have no problem striking out with a good process, getting on base and slugging will come with it. Hitting coaches need to stop selling out for instant unsustainable success, and start letting their hitters work through a process for long term results.
Another cue that coaches love is “having a balanced finish”, but why? Does balance really affect the hitter positively? The answer is no. Balance after contact basically means nothing because the ball is already off the bat and sometimes you need to lose your balance in order to hit the tough pitches and the ones that you get beat by. Of course you don’t want to swing out of your ass every single pitch and fall over, but athleticism is always required in a swing.
Both of these pictures are Josh Donaldson fighting off a tough pitch on two strikes, he lost his balance in order to foul off the pitch and keep the at bat alive.
“Foot down early” yet another horrible cue from coaches. Shouldn’t being ready early be a good thing? How about instead of getting your foot down early, you start your gather early. If your foot is down early, then everything is early. If your foot is on time then everything is on time. You don’t want to start, land and stop, and then start again. The swing should be one fluid movement, not a bunch of stations that you have to pass through.
You need to swing up plain and simple, these pictures are proof about how much longer your barrel stays in the zone. Next time a coach tells you to swing down because you are small and you just need to make contact and you can beat it out, or because you don’t have power so don’t try and hit doubles. Kindly explain to them that it’s just not how the bat path works, you need to match the plane of the pitch. The pitch is already coming at a downward angle, so why would you swing down? Also if you ask you pitching coach what he wants his pitchers to do, it is to force ground balls. How does it make sense that your hitting coach wants you to hit ground balls as well? One of the two has to be wrong, and my best bet is that it’s your hitting coach. If you want your player to make contact and strike out less, then you need to swing up. If you swing down you timing needs to literally be perfect. Swinging up gives you a margin of error, and allows pitches to beat your timing but still get a barrel on it.
Now as a hitter myself there are some positive cues that both me and my fellow writer like. These are: “be awesome” and “hit bombs”. (That’s a joke, because cues are dumb) When you enter the box to hit, you shouldn’t be thinking about your swing, you should be thinking about the pitch and that’s it. You have had all day, all week, all month, all year to work on your swing. You don’t need to focus on anything during a live at bat because nothing will change from your training to your live swing by you thinking about it. Your swing will improve because you worked hard to change it and it will change over time, nothing will change during your live swing. Allow the drills that you do during practice to work its course, the drills are used for a purpose. Someone great once told me that hitting is like a car, while hitting in practice you want to work on the body of the car (the mechanics of your swing). During a game you want to work on the driver of the car (your approach).
I hope that this post helped you learn a little about hitting, and that you learn to take everything you hear with a grain of salt. I personally am still constantly learning about the swing/ my own swing. There is no one that knows everything, so if you want to fix your swing, start doing research. If there is anything you are questioning about what I wrote feel free to reach out to me and ask me questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to learn more about the swing here are some great articles and videos that you should check out: