There are two parts to hitting. You have the style which is unique to the individual holding the bat. Then there are mechanics. 95% of all great hitters have the same mechanics. I will explain this as I go on. If you have doubts after that, I will gladly prove it. Anyone who doesn’t believe me, just drop a comment at the bottom of this page and I will get back to you with all the visual evidence you need.
Here it goes. I have been working on this for a long time. Hitting has been something that I have worked hard on. Not only as a player but as a coach and instructor for as long as I can remember. I have always had the ability to watch someone else’s swing and make it better. Can’t say the same for my own though.
Hitting when kids start out should be simple. Then when players get older, it should be kept even more straightforward. Hitting a baseball is hard enough. The worst thing that can happen to is hitter is to start to think about how and not when. Ted Williams summed it up best. “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.” Source: The 2006 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia (Pete Palmer, Sterling Publishers, 02/25/2006, Page 5)
The stance is probably the most important part of hitting. If you don’t start in the right direction, it is very hard to get where you are going. What every part is hitting is going to have is ratios and numbers it is for the coaches, not the players. Players emulate. Just try to get them to emulate someone good.
Balance is Key
Everything in hitting starts from the ground and goes up. A stance should be balanced 50/50 front and back. 40/60 front and back at the most. The hitter is not doing anything at this point except waiting. No sense in getting one leg more tired than the other. Save the energy home runs don’t come easy.
Feet should be a little wider than shoulder width. This stance will vary slightly with style. Style and swing are two different things there is a lot of different styles. Some player will have a square stance. Others will prefer to be open or closed.
Knees should have a slight bend to them. Be athletic. At this point with young players, I don’t waste time teaching them to get on the balls of their feet. Instead, I just ask them if they can jump. Jumping is one of the most athletic actions a person can do. If a player has a bad stance, they will not be able to jump without moving to a much different position.
Hitters should bend slightly at the hips. The player should be leaning toward home plate a little, but don’t let the chest get past the knees.
The hands should be about chest high just below the arm pit maybe a bit lower or higher depending on the player’s style. Arms should be bent to form an upside down “V” shape from the hands to the elbows. Elbows should be down at the player’s side without touching.
At this point, about 60 – 80% of you are thinking back to your Little League days and remembering your coach yelling at you to get your back elbow up. Your coaches were wrong. Don’t perpetuate the myth. If a kid rests their elbows against their body, then you will want to tell them to get their elbow up. Otherwise, their elbow is good. That back elbow is going to drop into the “slot” which is right on the back hip.
The player’s grip will vary a little. Ideally, you would like the “knocking knuckles” to line up. Those are the second row of knuckles on each hand. Some players will get a little over rotated, or a little under rotated that is fine. A good way for young players to get used to setting up an acceptable grip is to have them point their index fingers while holding the bat. If the player is pointing both fingers in the same direction, they are doing something right.
The player should be looking at the pitcher with both eyes. Make sure the front shoulder is a bit lower than the back shoulder to allow for this. If the front shoulder is high, it will make it harder for the batter to get a good view of the pitcher and the ball.
Load or Prepare
In this phase, we switch themes. The stance is a lot of science with a touch of flare or personal expression. The loading process or preparation to swing is all about science. The player’s weight is going to shift from 50/50 balance to about 60/40 to 70/30 back to front.
The key to this is that the weight has to shift to the inside of the back foot. For that to happen, the back knee is going to have to bend more. The hands will move up and back slightly making the front shoulder turn in toward the middle of the player’s body. This motion will also cause the back elbow to rise slightly.
This step doesn’t have a start or an end. It is the beginning of the swing, and some players will tap a toe or cock their front knee to begin it, but, it hard to define when it starts, and it doesn’t stop until the player is ready to LAUNCH into the swing.
The launch position is when it all happens or doesn’t. I like to teach hitters that they should get to the toe touch position( see below) on almost every pitch. Toe touch is the last chance a player has to stop their swing without much effort.
The launch starts when the player’s weight stops going back and begins to go forward. Usually, the front foot is off the ground at this point. The player will use their back foot to push themselves forward.
The hitter should also be moving their hands back or keeping them where they are as the body starts moving forward. When the body moves forward, and the hands go back or stay where they are it is called “Separation.”
Back to Launch
The front foot will land toe first. Then it will roll down to the heel. This motion promotes falling softly. Toe touch is when the toe reaches the ground. Then heel plant when the whole front foot is in contact with the ground. These are two separate steps in the swing process. If you have a player whose entire foot lands at the same time they are going to have trouble staying back and inside the baseball.
At this point, will still have a slight bend in the front knee. The thrust of the back leg will make the back knee bend more. Imagine trying to push something heavy. The back heel should be off the ground. In some players with a very aggressive swing, their back foot will come off the ground completely (Frank Thomas & Albert Pujols).
At this point, the player’s hips will drive forward rotating from facing home plate to facing the pitcher. There is a thrusting motion from the pelvis. This thrust creates the whip of the bat through the hitting zone. The photo on the left shows good hip thrust. The one on the right is not as good.
A hitter must maintain their spine angle (leaning in toward the hitting zone) throughout this process. A lot of young players have a tendency to want to swing their arms to move the bat. Turning with their upper body first will make them straighten up and lose their spine angle. This type of mechanic will also break the kinetic chain of the swing process, and the player will lose power. In the photos, you can see the player on the left has a more noticeable spine angle and has stayed behind the ball. The hitter on the right is not bad but having trouble.
The hands follow the launch in the swing sequence. The back elbow gets to the slot. Meaning the elbow drops down onto the back hip(see above photos). That is the swing. The player is then going to push their hands out toward the baseball. Players do not swing the bat with their arms. The player’s hips swing their arms and punch out at the baseball. If the player does all of this the follow through will be beautiful.
The follow through or finish, will be “hands high” above the front shoulder that has now rotated around almost to the where the back shoulder started if the player maintains their spine angle. The finish can be one handed or two it does not matter as long as the hitter has maintained both hands on the bat through the hitting zone.
The hitting zone is the area where the bat is in a position to put a ball in play. The bat enters the zone just after the hands start moving until the hands reach the player’s front hip. The player will want to keep their hands in a palm up, palm down position until the end of the hitting zone. When a player rolls their top hand over early leads to more ground balls.
At no time should a players bat go any further back than it is in the load/prepare phase of the swing. From The point that the player has started to launch everything that begins in the back works to the front and everything in the front works back. This process creates torque in the swing. Torque equals power.
O. K. now how to coach all of that
In most cases, you are not going to do anything other than teaching a player the stance. Once they get to the right starting point, they are going to take care of the rest all by themselves. If you come across a player that struggles or is an arm swinger, there are simple drills that coaches can use to correct these problems. One would be a staple of almost every hitting coach/ instructor in the country. It is called the “Fence drill,” the player will stand an arm’s length from a fence or wall and slowly work through the swing points until they can swing the bat without hitting the fence or wall.
Another good drill for players who do not launch is to put them, so their back foot is about 3- 4 inches away from a wall or fence and have them load and launch then swing without the bat hitting the fence or wall behind them. Anything more than that really should involve a professional hitting instructor, or you can reach out to me I can give you tips if you email me a video of the player swinging.
Remember the above is for the coach to know what they are looking for when a player is hitting. Please don’t put all of that information into the head of a 5-year-old trying to play T-ball. Simplify the information and use keywords like “Launch,” “Rotate,” “Punch” and “Finish” to get your players doing what they need to succeed.