Linear Mechanics -Vs- Rotational Mechanics

Nearly all batting mechanics, whether taught by coaches or described in books and videotapes, are based on linear mechanics. By linear, I refer to the concept that bat speed is derived from the batters forward weight shift and extension of his hands. Batters are instructed to direct their energies in a fairly straight line back in the direction of the pitcher. Liner mechanics has promoted terms like:
Step into the ball
Transfer your weight from back to front
Keep your shoulder in there. 
Pop your hips at contact
Throw the hands or heel of the bat at the ball.

Test the Crack of The Whip Theory
It has been a well-accepted truth by most batting coaches that the energy developed for the baseball swing is transferred to the bat in a crack of a whip type of analogy. Almost all batting mechanics taught today are based on this theory. Although it has been discussed in various forms, the general idea could be presented as follows. As the swing begins, the batter strides forward transferring his weight from his back leg to a stiff front leg. As the hands accelerate, the force from the reaction of the bat, transmitted through the hands and arms, slows down the body's forward motion and rotation. As the body slows, the hands that had been accelerated to approximately 15 MPH, also slows to a near stop. The body's kinetic energy is then transferred to the bat as forces uncocks the wrist. During this time (as the hands slows and wrist uncock) the kinetic energy that was stored in the body is transferred to bat. This kinetic energy transfer accelerates the bat head from about 40 to 70+ MPH.

The Quick Hands and Inside Out enthusiast would also argue that bat speed is developed by quickly extending the hands (or heel of the bat) at the ball. They maintain that it is the slowing down of the hands that transfers the energy (or momentum) in a crack of the whip and wrist snap type of action. A player swings a bat very much like a weight on the end of a rope. Conversely, a force at the handle is not transferred to the point of contact,

Both of these premises maintain that torque (hands applying forces at the handle in opposing directions) is not a factor in producing bat acceleration. If torque is not a factor, then setting up a condition whereby the hands could not apply torque to the bat should have little or no effect on the bat's rate of angular displacement (bat speed). To eliminate torque supplied through the hands from acting on the bat, I attached a steering wheel knob to the bats handle. This knob would allow the bat to be accelerated, but eliminate any influence from the hands. I then accelerated the bat, using the knob, to approximately 15 MPH (22 to 24 inches in about 1/5 second = 8 MPH average). This would be about average for a baseball swing. I weight 240 lbs. and shifted my weight forward about 18 inches. If the weight shift and extension theory is correct, the bat head should undergo a marked acceleration as the hands and body's forward progress slows and the kinetic energy is transferred.
To reach maximum bat speed, the batter must apply torque from initiation to contact and keep the hands in a circular path. Greater Bat Speed = Hitting the Baseball Harder

Mechanics that Generate Bat Speed
Many test have shown that rotational mechanics are far more efficient than linear mechanics in developing bat speed. In order to understand the mechanics of how rotational energy, developed by the body, is transferred to develop bat speed, it is important to have a good comprehension of the forces acting on the bat that can effect it's rate of angular displacement (bat speed). Other than the effects of gravity, drag do to airflow and other more minor factors acting on the bat, there are two main forces doing work on the bat that determines bat-speed.

Energy of Rotation
The bat will undergo angular displacement when the path of the hands is also undergoing angular displacement. In other words, as long as the path of the hands stays in a circular path, angular bat speed will be developed. A straight hand path will not cause the bat to undergo angular displacement, thus generating no added bat speed.

The concept that a substantial portion of a good hitter's bat speed is derived from the circular path of his hands may be better understood if we think of swinging a ball on the end of a string. As long as we keep our hand in a circular path, the ball will continue to accelerate in a circle. But once the hand-path straightens, say you took off running with the string, angular displacement slows. The same is also true for the bat head. Forward movement of the body or thrusting the hands straight out during the swing causes the hand-path to straighten and adds nothing to bat speed.

Torque is the result of two forces being applied to an object from opposing directions that cause the object to rotate about a point. Forces in the same direction may cause the object to accelerate, but will not cause the object to rotate about a point (no angular displacement). --- Example: Loosening a lug nut with a 4 prong tire wrench. - You would push down with one hand while pulling up with the other. - Pushing down (or pulling up) with both hands would not cause the nut to rotate.

Regardless of whether the batter uses linear or rotational mechanics, ONLY the combination of rotational energy and torque and the length of time those forces are being applied to the bat will determine the rate of angular displacement. It is important to remember that mechanics that accelerate the hands in a straight line and apply forces of both hands in the same direction can not develop maximum bat speed. To reach maximum bat speed, the batter must apply torque from initiation to contact and keep the hands in a circular

Rotation and the Stationary Axis

It has long been accepted that in order to develop power, the batter must have forward body movement during the swing. Charley Lau's rule #6, The Ten Absolutes of Good Hitting states; Making a positive, aggressive motion toward the pitcher. It was believed that in order to develop the required kinetic energy for the swing, the body needed to move forward 12 to 18 inches. But over time most coaches have had to concede that a hard, aggressive move is not necessary. Today they recommend a short soft stride while still maintaining that a weight shift is essential.

Many coaches do not understand there is a clear destination between the body's movements to the launch position as compared to the body mechanics of the actual swing. Most hitters do stride forward as they prepares to swing. But once the actual swing is initiated, hand acceleration and body rotation begins, there is no further forward movement of the body. Lateral and rotation movements of the body do not occur at the same time --- Test after test have concluded that forces required for accelerating the bat head in an arc are not generated from lateral movement of the hands and body. The rate of angular displacement of the bat is derived from torque and rotation energies around a stationary axis.

The batter has rotated to the launch position and completed his timing step. The front foot has been firmly planted. Forward motion has flow to a stop and he is ready to initiate the swing. Now, it is as if a stake had been driven down through the head and body, out the butt and into 6 feet of concrete; this will be the axis the batter will rotate on.

Rotating around a stationary axis (neck and spine) is a ground-up movement where the knees, hips and shoulders all rotate in unison. One does not lead the other. The lead knee and leg rotate and straighten to drive the front hip in an arc back toward the catcher at the same rate the back leg rotates the back hip around toward the pitcher. Both hips rotating evenly are what allow the axis to remain stationary. Using the large muscles of both legs will maximize the power of rotation. --- Developing energies capable of hitting a ball 500 ft. means the batter need not tense-up for a 400 ft. fence.

When the batter understands that bat speed is derived from rotation not weight transfer, even how he prepares the launch position will also undergo changes. Terms like, back to center or you must first transfer your weight back before going forward will be meaningless. He will have no thoughts of forward movement. All concentration will be on developing rotation around a stationary axis. Many of today's better hitters do not have forward body movement even during the timing step. They simply lift the front foot, plate it back in the same spot, and rotate.

As the batter takes his position in the batter's box, a line through his shoulders would point back toward the pitcher. As he prepares for the swing he will have about 60% of his weight over the back leg and the body may be tilted away from the pitcher at about 10 degrees. The lead knee and leg will rotate the lead hip and shoulder (around the spine) away from the pitcher. Some refer to it as an inward turn of the shoulder. A line through the hips and shoulders would now point in the direction of the second baseman. This should bring the hands, center of axis (spine), and pitchers mound in line. Contrary to what many golf and baseball instructors would have you believe, this should not be thought of as a coiled position. With this model, we do not want to create tension by stretching muscles around locked joints. The feet and knees should be allowed to pivot the body to an extended ready but tensionless position.

Does Bat Speed = Pop
Most batting instructors would agree that there is a correlation between the velocity of the bat and how far a hit ball will travel. Yet, I have noted that two players swinging the same bat on about the same plane with comparable bat speeds may vary greatly in the power they display. One might hit balls well over 400 ft. while the others would carry only 300 ft. This would seem to be contradictory until you take into account when the maximum bat speed occurred during the two swings.

The bat speed that really counts is that attained at (or by) contact. Swing mechanics of a great hitter allows him to generate higher bat speed much earlier in the swing than average hitters. Players with a lot of pop in their bat expend all of the body's rotational and torque energies before and at contact. After contact their limbs and torso are how in a relaxed and coast mode. The follow through portion of the swing is from the momentum of the bat pulling the arms up and through.

Average hitters are still expending energy to gain bat speed for 20 to 40 degrees (poor hitters past 60 degrees) of bat travel after the bat passes the contact point. Some coaches would contend that gaining speed after contact is beneficial because of the driving through the ball effect. --- The facts do not support this theory. --- The ball is in contact with a 35 oz. wood bat moving at 70 MPH for about 1/2000 of a sec. During this time the bat moves less than 1 in. (about 3/4 in.) --- Not much space for driving through or (I might add) wrapping around the ball.

The Illusion of Power
It didn't feel like I swung hard, but the ball seemed to explode off the bat. Most of us has experienced this sensation personally or heard others reflect on their experience. One might wonder, what was mechanically different in that swing and why can't it be repeated.

There is a strange paradox that occurs with the baseball swing. I refer to it as The illusion of power. --- While warming up in the batter's box or hitting off of the tee, we can feel a sense power in the swing as we load-up and drive the top hand toward the ball. The harder we push on the bat through the contact zone the greater the pressure felt in the palm of the hand, and therefore the greater that sense of power.

The problem is, the sense of power we feel in the hands is actually the pressure felt from the resistance (inertia) of the bat to acceleration. The pressure felt is in reality an indicator of the lack of bat head acceleration. If the bat head had truly accelerated the pressure felt in the palm would have been alleviated or at least lessened. With linear mechanics, that sense of power means much of the bat speed is attained after the bat passes the contact zone.

If we were practicing our hitting and happened upon the mechanics of a swing that would really accelerate the bat, the pressure felt in the palm as the bat passes through the zone would be much less and it wouldn't feel natural or as powerful. --- We would probably make changes to correct it in a hurry.

NOTE: Linear mechanics gives a batter the illusion of power. --- A great hitter experiences the centrifugal pull of a highly accelerated bat head.

Wrist Action or Torque

Most coaches think the wrist play an important role in producing power and quickness for the baseball swing. But the muscle groups that flex and un-flex (abduct and addult) the wrist are a comparably small muscle group and could have only a limited impact on the generation of bat speed. Therefore, I would like to offer a different observation I drew from my research of what appears to be the snapping of the wrist.

For a ball to be hit over 400 feet, the bat head must be accelerated to a speed in excess of 70 MPH in less than 5/30 of a second. About half that speed is developed in the last 1/30 of a second. The large amount of inertia that must be overcome to accelerate the bat head 35 MPH or more in 1/30 of a second requires far more energy than the muscles in the hands, wrists and arms can produce. That kind of energy (about 3 torque HP) must come from the large muscle groups in the legs, back and shoulders.

The question then becomes; how is the energy transferred from the large muscle groups of the body up and on out to the bat head? I'm not going to cover the entire sequence at this time (omitting the initiation mechanics of the swing), but confine my remarks to the mechanics that appear to be wrist action or snapping of the wrist just prior to contact.

To explain the mechanics of how the large muscles are involved in this transfer, I am going to describe the swing mechanics of a Ken Griffey Jr., or hitters of his caliber, just prior to making contact. --- The large muscles in his legs and back have rotated his hips and shoulders to a point where the belly button and chest are now facing the pitcher. His lead shoulder is now starting to rotate back in the direction of the catcher. This means that the lead arm, and thus the bottom hand, are now being pulling back toward the catcher as the bat approaches contact. --- At the same time the rear shoulder (and top hand) are rotating around toward the pitcher.

This pulling back of the bottom hand as the top hand is being driven forward, generates a tremendous amount of TORQUE on the bat. Torque is the result of forces being applied to the bat from opposing directions that causes an object (the bat) to rotate about a point between the two hands.

So, in the swing of a great hitter, what appears to be wrist action is actually the push - pull action of the hands generating a large amount of torque. This torque was developed from the large muscle groups and causes the bat head to be greatly accelerated. --- If the batter does not initiate the swing with torque and rotational forces, he will not be able to obtain the position of power required to apply maximum torque to the bat before contact. This is especially true for pitches on the outside part of the plate.

NOTE: Mechanics that would have both hands being thrust forward (both applying forces in relatively the same direction) produces much less torque. --- This type of mechanics just can not generate enough bat speed and power to produce a great hitter.

The Fence Drill & Bat Inertia

As I understand it, the fence drill should help the hitter develop a swing that allows him to hit the ball with real authority, like Mantle and McGuire. But I would suggest that it may be a good idea for you to test the concept yourself before teaching it to your players. --- Stand close enough to a fence so that the bat will reach from your belly button to the fence. Without moving away from the fence, self-toss (or have someone feed you) balls and see just how effectively you can hit. --- Good luck.

I have often wondered where the idea for the mechanics used in the fence drill came from. Why would we think that accelerating the heel of the bat (or the hands) while keeping the bat head back during a good portion of the swing would result in greater bat speed and a shorter stroke than actively trying to accelerate the bat head from the start? I am sure faulty information from the scientific community regarding the transfer of kinetic energy (crack the whip) is partly to blame. But I think the major part of the idea was derived from a few coaches viewing hitters on film or videotape.

While watching a hitter swing in slow motion, one would note that the hands are accelerated a good distance before the bat head arcs outward with much authority. I would agree that most of the angular displacement (or arcing out) of the bat head occurs as the hands nears it's full forward travel component. An overhead view of the swing will clearly show this. My problem is with the conclusion that therefore the batter should delay applying forces that generate angular bat head acceleration until later in the swing. Rather, I would contend that the large resistance offered by the inertia (resistance to acceleration) of the bat head retards the batters effort to gain more angular displacement earlier. Although the arcing out of the bat head in the early part of the swing may appear slow on film, it is important to keep in mind that it takes a great amount of force over time to overcome inertia an attain a higher rate of angular acceleration.

Delay in applying forces to overcome inertia until later in the swing will not lessen its impedance to bat speed development. Great hitters initiate the swing with torque and rotational forces to develop as much bat speed as early in the swing as possible.

Keep Your Shoulder In There

I am firmly convinced that the rule, Keep your shoulder in there, has been a major deterrent to the development of good hitters. It leads to a slower development of bat speed and, along with creating other biomechanical problems, it can cause the wrists to roll prematurely. The rule certainly has merit during the stride and pre-launch positioning, but far too many coaches think it also applies during the swing. They contend that rotating the shoulders at the start of the swing will cause the players head and body to fly out. Many coaches also claim that shoulder rotation leads to problems of seeing the ball and reaching the outside pitch. Ironically, at the same time they claim that shoulder rotation will cause the swing to go wide. Additionally, many coaches contend that the main role of the shoulders is to provide a platform for the arms to swing from. Lastly, they believe that shoulder movement is intended to clear out the front side and allow the hands to come through.

I think we can all agree that a great deal of the energy for the swing comes from the hips. However, I would ask that you consider the following: what would happen if I picked up a bat and popped my hips while holding my shoulders still? Would I develop any bat-speed? -- Now be careful if your thinking that energy can just mysteriously jump from the hips to the bat. It would seem logical that for energy from the rotating hips to be transmitted up and out to the bat head - the torso and shoulders would also have to rotate. But, implying that shoulder rotation may be just as important as hip rotation may cause some (above mentioned) coaches to challenge your credibility.

Now suppose that I pop my hips and rotate the shoulders, but had enough slack in my arms that the hands did not move. Did I generate any bat speed? -- The point I'm trying to make is this: No matter what batting mechanic you choose, it can only have an impact on bat speed when it causes the hands to exert a force on the bat. This is why I have trouble with mechanics that would have the batter opening his hips while keeping the hands back. Hip rotation without a corresponding acceleration of the hands would be nothing more than a positioning move, not to generate bat speed. The same could be said for clearing out the lead shoulder.

When we consider the mechanics that a great hitter uses to generate bat speed, it is important to keep in mind that the bat does not know if a superstar or a machine is swinging it. The bat can only react to the forces being applied to it. The objective should be to define the forces acting on the bat that generate bat speed. Then, and only then, can we understand and develop mechanics that deliver those forces.

The keep your shoulder in there rule does have merit during the stride and balance procedure a batter takes in preparation for the swing. However, any premature opening of the shoulders before the initiation of the swing will result in a loss of power. It is a valid argument for coaches to be concerned with a hitter bailing out, which leads to many problems. But the solution is not to have the batter keep his shoulders in place and become an arm swinger. Generating higher bat speeds requires the energies developed by the large muscles in the legs, hips and back to be transferred up and out to the bat. That transfer can only take place by the rotation of the entire torso - shoulders included.

I will conclude by pointing out that the shoulders (and body) should rotate around a stationary axis (the spine). Therefore, the head and center of balance will also remain stationary during the swing. When batters rotates around the proper axis, they will not have a problem with bailing out. The problems begin when the center of rotation is not the center of the body.

Get Your Arms Extended
Full extension of the arms and hitting power seem to be synonymous to most batting authorities. Invariably, when a long home run is hit during a game, the commentator will declare; Boy, he really got his arms extended on that one. Also, sports photographers apparently think that a batter with both arms fully extended is the only position worthy of being photographed. This is the position they will invariably use whenever home run power is the theme of the picture. Never mind the fact that when that frame was shot the ball had long since left the bat and was soaring somewhere over the shortstop's head. This would still be portrayed as the position responsible for the power in the swing.

I think most coaches would agree that the lead arm will be fairly extended as the bat makes contact with the ball. The question then becomes, what is the timing of the extension of the top hand and arm? --- Extension of the back arm at contact is mainly determined by the amount of torque applied at initiation and rotation of the hips and shoulders. If the shoulders and hips have fully rotated, bellybutton and chest are facing the pitcher, the back arm will have extended very little at contact.

But, if on the other hand, there is much less rotation, say the chest and bellybutton are more facing the second baseman, then the back arm will need to be extended further. Therefore, the only time the back arm of a great hitter will near full extension at contact is when he is fooled by the pitch and just waves at the ball or is swinging at a ball on outside part of the plate.

To reach outside pitches, the rotation of the shoulders must slow to allow the lead arm to cast out farther to get the meat of the bat on the ball. This will also cause the back arm to be more extended at contact. On pitches from the middle-in portion of the plate the back arm will NOT be even close to full extensions. It will be in the form of the classic L position as shown in the drawing. As illustrated, the back arm is far from being fully extended at contact. After the ball is well on it's way, momentum and centrifugal force of the bat will pull the back arm to full extension.

At contact, both the lead arm and leg are straight. While both the back leg and arm form the classic L. The hips and shoulders will have fully rotated. The lead shoulder is now pulling back toward the catcher. This is the power position of the great hitter at contact.

Rolling the wrists before or near contact is a serious mechanical flaw that results in loss of power and consistency. During my research, which related to how energy is transferred in the swing, I concluded that premature rolling of the wrists is a killer flaw. In the study, I identified 26 major league baseball players players whose wrists consistently started to roll prior to contact. The batting average for this group was .224 and their average homerun production was 2.1 per year. Three year later, only 4 of those players were still in the major leagues.

The early rolling of the wrist causes the lead elbow to start breaking down-and-in too soon. This alters the natural trajectory or plane of the swing. Most players who finish their swing low will also have a problem with the wrist roll. Limited shoulder rotation and having the body too vertical or tilted toward the pitcher at contact are also characteristics of the wrist roll.

The rolling over of the wrist is a natural part of the baseball swing when it occurs at the proper time. It will naturally take place when both arms come almost to full extension and they form the V position.

Good hitters will have rotated their hips and shoulders about 90 degrees at contact, and now the V position and the rolling of the wrist occurs when the bat is close to pointing at the pitcher. Even on outside pitches where rotation is much less, the bat should have rotated 15 or 20 degrees past the contact point before the back arm nears full extension and the arms and the wrist start to roll. --- Hitters who have little shoulder rotation and mainly use the arms to accelerate the bat can reach full extensions while the bat head is farther back in the swing. This allows the wrists to roll at or before contact.

Quick Hands

Early in the spring, high school baseball tournaments attract large numbers of professional scouts. Along with relying on their stopwatches and radar guns, the scouts must make crucial judgments based on what they see. When asked, What is the most important thing you look for in a young hitter? Very often the scout responds, Does he have quick hands? or How quick does he get his hands into the contact zone?

I would agree that the hand-path of a great hitter does accelerate rapidly. But, I also believe that the prevailing perception of how to attain quick hands has been a big deterrent in developing good hitters. The concept is this: if you just quickly extend or throw your hands at the ball, the bat head will snap through like the crack of a whip. Unfortunately, this concept has not only wasted many hours at the batting cages, but it has also destroyed many players dreams.

When referring Quick Hands, I am mainly concerned with the perceived role of the top hand in the development of bat speed. Hitters are taught to accelerate the bat by driving and extending the top hand back in the direction of the pitcher. But, far from driving the top hand forward, great hitters like Williams and Sosa initiate the swing by pulling with the top hand back toward the catcher. This would be very simular to an archer pulling on a bowstring. The force of the rotating body against the lead arm will quickly accelerate both hands in an arc toward the pitcher. Thus, to maximize the torque that is applied to the bat, the direction of the force of the top hand should not be initiated in the same direction as the bottom hand.

Average hitters rotate (or clear out) the shoulders primarily to give the arms a platform to swing from (extend from would be more accurate). This is why average hitters believe that to have power - they must have those powerful arms. This is not the case with great hitters. I can't stress the following point strong enough: DO NOT RELY ON THE MUSCELS OF THE ARMS TO ACCELERATE THE HANDS. --- With Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and hitters of their caliber, the role of the hands are to impart the bat with torque (get the bat to rotate about a point between the two hands). Any attempt to force the hands forward ahead of rotation impedes the natural arc and timing of bat head acceleration.

Transfer Your Weight to a Stiff Front Leg
Linear weight transfer to the front leg is helpful in developing inline energy for some athletic movements such as pushing a shot or medicine ball. Neither is intended to have a circular trajectory. Boxers stride and transfer their weight forward as they deliver a blow straight out to an opponent's mid-section. Average hitters also use simular mechanics as they attempt to accelerate the bat head (in an arc) by transferring their weight and pushing straight out with the top hand. But linear mechanics are inherently inefficient in developing angular velocities.

The power source of the great hitters is derived from rotational forces around a stationary axis. Rotational energy is very efficient in accelerating objects in a circular path. The lower body mechanics for developing rotational energy used by Barry Bonds to hit a baseball 400 feet is almost identical to those mechanics used by John Daly to hit a golfball 1000 feet. That's right, the power source for the baseball swing is basically the same as the power source for the golf swing. In both swings the energy is developed from rotation around a stationary axis. It is important to remember that rotation around a stationary axis is generated from the ground up. The rotation of the hips and torso comes mainly from the action of both legs. Using both legs (pushing in opposite directions) to rotate the hips is what keeps the center of rotation stationary. Rotation of the hips is not generated from the actions of the arms or swinging of the shoulders. In fact, just the opposite is true.

Rotation is the power source of a great hitter. But, generating power is not worth a dime if the batter's mechanics cannot efficiently transfer the energy into bat speed. Of what use would a 1000 horsepower engine be if the transmission slips? --- You can not efficiently transfer rotational energy into angular bat head acceleration with linear mechanics.

NOTE: Yes, we do hit off of a fairly straight front leg. But we should not think of it as throwing our weight onto (or against) a stiff front leg. The batter's lead knee will be well flexed and pointing at the plate as the swing starts. Then, the lead knee and leg rotate and straighten to drive the front hip in an arc around toward the catcher at the same rate the back leg rotates the back hip around toward the pitcher. So yes, at contact, full rotation of the hips will have occurred and thus the front leg will have fully extended. --- When the arms reach full extension and the bat is sweeping past the pitcher, the pulling action of the bat's momentum can pull the body forward enough that the weight on the back foot becomes light or may even clear the ground. But this comes from the bat's reaction - not casting weight forward.

Stride With Your Front Toe Closed

A good hitter will always stride with the front toe closed. Batting coaches have preached this rule since the first game was played. If you stride with the toe open, the hips are sure follow. What young hopeful hasn't heard those words of advice time and time again?

I have no real problem with the intent of the rule. But, I do have a problem with the batting mechanics that made the rule necessary. Many of the great hitters, Ted Williams for example, developed their swing without the aid of an instructor and yet have no problem with their hips opening too soon. What is it about the mechanics of great hitters that allows them to perform that loose powerful swing without worrying about their front toe? One might then wonder; what is it about the batting mechanics we teach that makes the hips want to open to soon?

The top hand is the dominant hand for most average batters. This would be the right hand for a right-handed hitter. If, while observing the swing of an average hitter, the bat were taken away and we observed only the hand-path of the top hand, it would closely resemble that of a boxer delivering a blow straight out to the midsection of an opponent. If you were to stand up and simulate delivering such a blow, you would quickly note that the front toe and hips would want to open to facilitate this type of action. Open-hips is a more powerful position whenever pushing (or driving) straight out with the hand is required. --- Sawing a board for example.

In the swing of a great hitter, there is no tendency for the top hand to drive straight back at the pitcher at the start of the swing. The direction of force of the top hand is AWAY from the pitcher. During the initiation of the swing, the great hitter PULLS on the bat handle with the fingers similar to the way an archer pulls on the bowstring. Now, the body is not setting up to extend the top hand and there will be no tendency for the hips to open to a driving position until later in the swing. Therefore, striding with the front toe closed would be a natural position. The lead knee will also want to be in a flexed closed position to maximize body rotation.

Swing Down At the Ball

I am sure it is quite obvious to everyone that if the bat head starts above the batters head and makes contact at his knees, the bat must have been swung downward sometime during the swing. The problem is, to many coaches think swing down at the ball means the bat is still on a downward angle when it strikes the ball (as in the Two-Tee Drill). They would contend that hitting down on the top of the ball results in the ball leaving the bat with more backspin. Note: A ball with backspin will carry farther. --- But, when I recall my old pool shooting days, I seem to remember I more often hit the bottom half of the ball when I needed backspin.

One of my main concerns with having the bat angling downward in the contact zone is the problem it would cause in making consistent contact. Most players have enough trouble making contact when the path of their bat is inline with the path of the ball. This way, if their swing is a little early, they will pull the ball. If they are a little late, they will hit it to the opposite field. The timing would need to be near perfect to make contact if the bat is just passing down through the path of the ball.

Swing level
I think most coaches would agree that the bat should pass through the contact zone in a level position. But some may offer different views if we were to ask; level in reference to what? --- An 85 MPH fastball is angling downward (in reference to the plate) at about an 11 degrees as it passes through the contact zone. Therefore, should the batter swing level with the path of the ball, or level with the plate?

During the swing a hitter's body will be slightly leaning away from the pitcher (front leg straight, back leg bent). This places the rotational plane of his hips and shoulders angling upward at about 10 to 15 degrees. Once again, should the swing be level with the rotational plane of the body - or the plate? --- Or, would you still think the bat should be angling downward in relation to the plate?

Which of the following most closely describes Mark McGwire's swing at contact?
1. Bat angling downward 10 to 15 degrees
2. Level with the plate
3. Angling upward 10 to 15 degrees

Let Go Of The Bat With Top Hand
With the better hitters, all bat head acceleration occurs before contact. The follow-through is actually the coasting out segment of the swing. The traditional swing would have the batter finish with both hands on the bat. But many coaches think it is beneficial to a player's mechanics to let go of the top hand after contact.

Those that teach throwing weight onto a stiff front leg will also probably find it necessary to teach letting go of the top hand. For the batter to keep both hands on the bat and have a full follow-through, the hips and shoulders must be allowed to freely rotate. At the completion of the traditional follow-through the shoulders will have rotated too (or past) the facing the pitcher position. This allows the lead elbow to release down-and-in and the hand-path to arc back toward the catcher. But, if the batter's hip and shoulder rotation is limited, he will find it necessary to release the top hand.

Keeping weight on the back leg and having the body slightly tilted away from the pitcher will allow for full rotation. Throwing weight onto a stiff front leg and bringing the body to a more vertical position will have the effect of limiting hip rotation. You can check this out for yourself. --- Stride with the front toe closed. Now, cast your weight onto a stiff front leg and note how restricted your hips are.

Many batters let go of the top hand in varying degrees. It is one thing to let go by choice but if your mechanics are forcing you to let go - you may want to make some changes. --- Swinging at an outside pitch can also result in less shoulder and hip rotation and therefor the need to let go of the top hand.

Keep Your Back Elbow Down
Rear elbow down - vs - Rear elbow elevated.

Starting the swing with The back elbow up is on almost all coach's Bad Advise list. Initiating the swing with the rear elbow down may constitute the right mechanics for the weight-shift and extension model. In that model, as the swing is initiated, the direction of force of the top hand is directed toward the pitcher. As the batter turns and drives with the top hand, having the elbow already down places the arm in a good driving position for these mechanics at the start of the swing.

With the stationary axis model, as the batter initiates the swing, he does not push the top hand toward the pitcher, he instead pulls with the fingers of the top hand back toward the catcher to maximize torque (ala Sammy Sosa). Therefore, his mechanics would want the elbow in a more elevated position (in-line with the direction of pull) to accelerate the bat head back onto the intended plane of the swing. With the elbow flat down at the side, he would not be in as good a position to apply force on the bat opposite to that of the bottom hand (back toward the catcher).

NOTE: Cause of the uppercut swing
Dipping of the back shoulder as the front rises is part of the mechanics of a swing with too much of an uppercut. In order to help a player rid himself of these bad habits and swing with the shoulders and arms on a more productive plain, we must first have a good understanding of what is occurring in his swing that is causing the back shoulder to dip. The looping or uppercut swing is most common when the hitter loads up his swing in order to hit with more power.

With many players, the top hand is by far the most dominant hand and he feels more powerful when the hand is lowered so that the forearm is in a more horizontal position for driving. Weaker hitters lower the forearm to horizontal much earlier in the swing than do better hitters. In the process of lowering the arm to horizontal, the whole backside drops as he positions his body to turn and extend the arms. The opening of the front side is also more of a body-positioning move rather than to generate body rotation.

In the process of lowering the hands to the loaded position, the palm of top hand will rotate from vertical to a horizontal (palm up) position. It is that early rolling hand action that accelerates the bat head in too much of a downward direction causing the dreaded looping or uppercut swing. --- It is also the inclination of a batter to get his body into a position to extend the top hand that promotes the tendency for the front toe to turn toward the pitcher and the hips to prematurely open.

You're Pulling Your Head Off The Ball

I would caution coaches to be very careful in correcting hitters who they believe are pulling their heads off the ball. If the batter is stepping in the bucket or is falling away from the plate, then he obviously has a problem that needs correcting. But in many cases the problem appears to be that the batter is turning his head and taking his eyes off the ball before contact. --- Here is where I advise a lot of caution before messing with a player's mechanics.

When I was coaching, I, like most coaches, considered pulling the head off the ball to be a problem that effected many of the young hitters. In 1991 and 1992 I taped the swings of hundreds of high school and college players. What I found while reviewing those swings in frame-by-frame action was very surprising. I discovered that very, very few hitters were pulling their heads out before the bat passed through the contact zone. Yes, their heads were being pulled out but it happened later during the swing's follow-through.

I can fully understand why many coaches might disagree. It certainly does appear that hitters are pulling their heads out before contact. But we must remember that the entire swing takes less than a half of a second. The time from contact to follow-through is about 1/30 of a second. Our eye reflexes are just not fast enough to clearly see the difference in head movement between contact and follow-through.

I have seen (and heard) on video tape many coaches yelling at their hitters that they are pulling their heads out. When I reviewed the swings frame-by-frame, the players head and eyes were just fine through contact --- it was the back shoulder being pulled through by the reaction of the bat during follow-through that forced the hitters head out. --- In most cases, if the batter is told he is pulling his head out, he will try to correct his non-problem by slowing his bodies rotation and relying more on his arms to swing with. --- I wonder how many young players have had their progress slowed by well-intentioned coaches trying to solve problems that didn't exist.

Swing For the Fence - Ruin Your Mechanics

I think all coaches would agree that setting goals is an important tool in the development of good athletes. The goals should challenge the athlete to be the best he can be. The setting of a goal that does not place the athlete far ahead of his past achievements is an insult to his courage. My dad used to say, Son, it is far better to shoot for the moon and reach only the peak of a mountain; than to aim for the foothills an attain it.

When setting goals for hitting the baseball, a strange inconsistency arises. By far, the number one prize of batting is that gratifying sensation a player experiences in hitting a long home run. The soothing vibes of power the bat resonates through the hitter's body is something a player will never forget. However, many batting coaches have discovered that the mechanics they are teaching will breakdown if the hitter attempts to swing with home run power. The player must be made to understand that home runs should not be sought after. They are something that just happens when the hitter least expects it.

The coach must convince the players that to be successful they must hit the ball on the ground back up the middle. His most worrisome time is right after a player hits a home run. How can he make sure that he and other players do not strive for another one? He has spent weeks convincing the players to forget about the fence and just hit it up the middle. If the hitter should endeavor for something more than mediocrity it could ruin his mechanics forever.

I can think of no other sport where striving to attain it's most prized goal is declared mechanically taboo. The paradox is so sad but true. With the mechanics coaches have been given to teach, the more power the hitter attempts to achieve the weaker the results. But the real sad part is, we have found it easier to lower the goals than to perfect the mechanics. When the seven-foot high-jump couldn't be attained with the mechanics being used, they didn't advise the athletes to settle for a lower mark or they might ruin their form. Records from the four minute mile to a twenty foot pole-vault would never have been achieved by teaching that adversity should lead to the lowering of expectations.

I feel there is a touch of arrogance in claiming that since a coach can't teach an average player to hit with power, those that have power must have been born with pop in their bat. Is it possible the top hitters may not using the mechanics they teach? It may be time to acknowledge that teaching linear mechanics will not allow a hitter to attain the bat speed required to consistently hit the ball hard.

By initiating the bat properly with torque and rotational energy, the average tension free swing of the hitter carries plenty of bat speed to clear the fence in most any direction. His main concern is timing and getting the plane of his swing in line with the ball. If he is a little high on the ball, it will be a sizzling grounder. Hit it square and you have a frozen-rope to the gaps -- a little low and bye, bye.