Baseball Hitting Techniques-Good, Better, Best
Whenever you have a conversation about hitting, it always revolves around technique. Baseball hitting techniques are varied. Players swing many different ways. What we believe as coaches will dictate what technique our players are going to use. We will have a discussion today about good technique, better technique and the best.
Kids are willing to try things to make themselves better. As coaches, we want to help them reach their potential. These two facts make for a great combination. However, coaches need to be sure that what they are trying is what is best for the player.
There are three predominant swing camps. No, we are not discussing linear v. rotational hitting. We beat that conversation to death. Anyone holding on to either side is full of hot air. We are referring to pushing the knob to the ball, connection or barrel to the ball.
By watching a video of a player’s swing everyone that is at least a little open-minded can see that players move forward (linear), then plant their front side and rotate (rotational) so there are elements of both in every swing. Too much of one or the other and you have an ineffective swing that needs work. The real questions now are what the right swing pattern is with the hands? The other one is how do you achieve it as a hitter?
So we dig into the three options. The first way that we will review is the knob to the ball method. As with most things in hitting this is a delicate topic. I believe there is a place for this phrase when you are coaching hitting. The problem is it is a cue for individual players who’re getting their hands stuck behind them, not a great hitting method.
Knob to the ball
Why isn’t it a great hitting process? Naturally, it creates problems that a player can only address with athleticism. Many players, especially young hitters, don’t possess enough athletic ability to be successful consistently using this method.
The first problem that swinging “knob to the ball” creates is that it forces the hands out in front of the swing creating a contact point in front of the body. That means the batter has less time to decide if it is a good pitch to hit. The batter is also making contact with the ball with their arms extended further from the body most of the time creating less power.
The second problem with “knob to the ball” hitting is swing plane. The hands getting in front early creates a downward swing path. This swing plane will cause the hitter to hit a lot of groundballs. Hitters don’t like groundballs; pitchers do, so hitters are forced to manipulate the swing plane. The manipulation that most hitters will use is to drop their back shoulder excessively. Yes, the back shoulder should be lower than the front but in a straight line. Dropping or dipping the back shoulder is an unnatural curved spine position that will promote an extreme uphill swing plane.
Players that hit with the “knob to the ball method can be successful if they are great athletes and spend a lot of time working to create compensations for the flaws in their swing. If a player can have success, then you can’t say that it is a bad way to hit. So, we will call this method good. There is a better way though and let’s face it unless there is some physical reason why a player can’t do something better why wouldn’t you teach them the better way.
The connection method is the primary focus of a rotational swing. Back when the debate between linear and rotational hitting was raging connection was a term that was preached by the rotational side. Connection only means that you keep your hands stationary around the shoulder area of the body as you rotate your core to the pitch. The point of this is so that when you rotate you don’t drop the barrel of the bat too early and lose all of your power before the bat enters the hitting zone.
“Connection,” is not a great method to use when hitting. It is better than the “Knob to the ball,” way because it keeps the hands in closer to the body and creates a better leverage position at contact for more power. With the hands closer to the body it also promotes a deeper hitting zone which translates to more time for the batter to decide whether they want to swing or not.
Connection still doesn’t create the maximum amount of time for a hitter’s decision process though. It also requires a considerable amount of athletic prowess to establish timing for off-speed pitches. Both of the previously stated systems need a hitter to wait until they recognize a pitch before they can begin generating power.
The problem is that force in both swings starts from the time the player starts their forward momentum. When a player stops this movement at toe touch to wait for an off-speed pitch, the player loses some of their power.
The players also have to restart the rhythm of their swing. Not being able to have a continuous swing stride to finish is the biggest flaw in most hitter’s swing.
Barrel to the ball
The barrel to the ball method has a lot of similar traits to the other two methods except for barrel path.The question you are asking yourself or should be asking yourself, right now is why is it any better than the other two methods then? I will tell you in a single sentence. The barrel to the ball method creates power through barrel movement. You don’t need to move your body to create energy this means that your body movements can be used to create timing. Great concept, right?
How do you describe the Hitting of Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, or Albert Pujols? I would describe it as effortless. That is what a barrel to the ball swing will create for your players.I will explain the process and the benefits as simply as I can.
Breaking down the mechanics
There are similar pieces to every swing. There is a load phase, a stride phase, and a swing phase. How players do these things vary. Sometimes to their benefit, sometimes to fix a flaw and sometimes to mask a weakness.
In the load phase of any swing, the players draw their body back to gather their weight into their back foot. Loading is done in preparation to stride and then swing the bat.
With the first two methods, this phase is critical because it is the first chance that a player has to create a window for timing. A player can load back and wait in that position for a short period to change how soon they will get to the swing phase where contact with the baseball occurs. Players are encouraged to maintain quiet hands during this phase of the swing to keep the swing simple.
With the barrel to the ball method, the player loads in the same way but the load is just a process to get the body moving the bat creates the power by starting to make progress in this phase. A player should tip the barrel up, and back this is where the power starts.
During the stride phase, the player is starting to generate power by shifting their weight forward. The stride is considered to be the time when the hitter’s weight stops going back and begins to move forward until the front toe touches the ground. When the toe touches the ground, we call it toe touch, and in the first two methods, it is the last chance to create timing in the swing. Players will often try to land soft and stay back with their weight at this stage.
The problem with this is that when you try to stop or stay back at this point, you break the kinetic chain working in your swing. Or you have a situation where you will lose stretch in your “spring X pattern,” as Joey Myers would say in his book, “The Catapult Swing System.”
In the swing phase, the hitter has to put the sweet spot of the bat into the path of the ball to make contact. The “knob to the ball technique teaches players to swing inside the ball. The reason for that is the natural barrel path is going to take the bat from the inside to the outside on a downhill trajectory. No hitter is trying to do this so they must compensate for the bat path.
When using the connection process coaches will talk about taking the hands to the ball. A hitter needs to master the separation of the hands because if a player maintains the connection through the swing, they will not be able to reach the outside corner without a long bat and their feet as close to home plate as possible.
The barrel to the ball method allows a player to use the barrel momentum to generate power so they can separate their hands from the body. The ability to separate with power makes it easier for players to hit any pitch in the hitting zone.
Benefits of barrel to the ball
In the stride is where the real advantage of the barrel to the ball method starts to come out. Because we are using the momentum of the barrel to create power what our body does in this phase is only used to create timing. A hitter can speed up or slow down this part of the swing. It doesn’t affect the amount of power they are releasing in the swing phase.
The barrel to the ball swing method will allow you to rotate your hips to the front while keeping your hands back and upper body slightly closed. By doing these two things, you are in effect holding off your swing longer. Doing these two elements gives a hitter the ability to generate power in their swing. At the same time that they recognize what the pitch is. Using the barrel to the ball system also means that you will hit the ball deeper so you can maintain leverage for power and gain time before needing to release the swing. More time before releasing the swing means more time for pitch recognition.
The attributes of the barrel to the ball method make it the best way to hit a baseball. Because it allows the batter to wait longer and do more while they are waiting it will make hitters better than they have ever been. This hitting method has been proven throughout the history of baseball and is still going on today. Players like Ted Williams swung the bat with these principles. Major leaguer Josh Donaldson among others is using this swing system to make themselves better hitters as we watch today.
A hitter is only going to be as good as his mechanics and abilities allow them to be. As a coach, you should try to find the best swing pattern to bring out the potential of your players. To get a more in-depth with the barrel to the ball approach that I have described you should read two books.
The first book is “Elite Swing Mechanics,” by Bobby Tewksbary. Bobby is a great swing guy. He has worked long and hard to understand the swing mechanics of some of the most successful hitters ever to play the game. He has also worked with hitters from young kids to big leaguer’s and makes hitters better.
The second one is the book I mentioned before, “The Catapult Loading System,” by Joey Myers. Joey does a great job breaking down the science of what the body does during the swing. He is a lot like Bobby in the fact that he has dedicated a lot of time and effort to the subject of hitting and understanding how we get the body to do what we want.
Both of these guys have a similar background as well. They both played D1 college baseball and couldn’t get much beyond that because their swings failed them. They both tell in their books how what they didn’t know hurt their pursuit of their dream of playing baseball.
Being the difference
I implore you to be the coach that stops crushing the dreams of kids around the world because you didn’t know what to teach them. Explore the world around you. Examine the efforts of others and find the right answer for every young baseball player you coach. You never know who might become the next Teddy Ballgame with the proper teaching at the right time. You could be watching your T.V. one afternoon and see the kid you taught to hit when he was eight hitting a home run in front of 50,000 screaming fans.
Or you could be the guy that inspires the next book about hitting or pitching mechanics by a baseball player who didn’t quite make it all the way. Don’t worry though they usually thank their coach for teaching them to learn more from their failure than their success.
Time to take your newfound knowledge and put it to the test. Before you run out to the field check out the post, “Youth Baseball Batting Practice-Tips for progress” This will give you a good plan to take what you are working on and maximize your ability to get there.