Debating the intricacies of hitting a baseball (or softball) can be as bad as discussing religion or politics. This is why we look to proven human movement science first. Hitting a baseball is an imperfect skill. It has a lot of failure built into the fabric. The objective of every coach, instructor, or parent should be to build as many “fail-safes” into the system as possible. Let’s talk about that…
(By the way, this post is a BEAST at a little over 1,300 words, so figure 5-7 mins reading time)
To Arm Bar OR Not to Arm Bar, this is the Question…
We’re going to explore the following, as they relate to impact:
- Perry Husband & Effective Velocity,
- 90-Degree Angle to the Spine Rule NOT True?
- University of Miami Study: The Biomechanics of the Baseball Swing
First I want to start by setting the table…
Perry Husband & Effective Velocity
The one thing I like about Perry Husband’s contribution to hitting a baseball is he goes by “data, not feelings”.
He’s made a science out of a hitter’s reaction time. Perry Husband has accumulated, “Over 10 years of study and testing of amateur hitters and two years of intense study of major league at bats in a 4 million plus pitch database“. At his site Hitting Is A Guess, Perry Husband explains his Effective Velocity system for pitchers:
“The Downright Filthy Pitching Series is a very in depth study of speed as it relates to the hitter’s reaction time. Initial velocity is the speed of the ball as the radar gun sees it, perceived velocity is the speed of the ball as the mind’s eye sees it and Effective Velocity is the speed it actually is. Effective Velocity (EV) is the initial velocity plus the location effects of the pitch due to different locations having different reaction times…A 90 MPH pitch can and does equal many different speeds, depending on where the pitch is located. “
His data (photo above) suggests that a hitter has to be quicker to pitches up in the zone, and in. And pitches down in the zone and away, give a hitter more time to adjust. Perry Husband reports from his findings:
“Did you know that the highest exit velocities off Major League hitters’ bats come off the pitches in the lowest part of the strike zone? How about that the most homeruns hit are off pitches at the very bottom of the strike zone as well?”
I don’t agree with some of Perry’s hitting a baseball mechanics, but this information is vital to understanding if…
90-Degree Barrel Angle to the Spine Rule NOT True?
CLICK HERE for the post that explains this Rule. I received a few emails from people thinking I meant the front arm angle to the spine at contact. Which would translate to arm barring…NO! The preceding post link refers to the barrel, not the front arm to spine angle.
The shape of the front arm will depend on pitch velocity and location. There are three ways a hitter gets to pitches at the top/bottom of the strike-zone, and/or inside/outside of the plate…
- Tilting at the waist with the upper body (the lower the pitch, the more the tilt),
- The back leg angle (thanks Ryan Lehr), AND
- Late front arm bar…
Another reader got upset saying that I’m teaching two different swings. And enlightened me about his extensive study into the brain, and that taking a bent arm from the initiation of the swing and changing the shape to straight is impossible for the brain to do. Wha???! Are you kidding me?! His “thing” was that the front arm had to stay bent the whole time.
Absolutes like “front arm bar the whole swing,” or “bent front arm the whole swing,” are a no-no. The former amplifies inefficiencies in the hitter’s strike-zone, particularly inside and up. The latter doesn’t allow a hitter to optimize batted ball distance. There needs to be room for both.
Remember, Perry Husband said that the highest ball exit speeds and home-runs were off of lower pitches? Do you think it could be because the front arm was able to extend at impact? Creating a longer lever and allowing for a smooth transfer of bat speed (angular velocity) into ball exit speed (inertial force). These are fundamental rules in the Conservation of Angular Momentum.
One last thing to look into hitting a baseball, and whether to early arm-bar or not…
University of Miami Study: The Biomechanics of the Baseball Swing
Major shout out to one of my readers and local lesson parents, Nieszka, for bringing this to my attention. This study was done by Dr. David Fortenbaugh at the University of Miami (CLICK HERE if you want to download the 200+ page pdf). Here’s the gist of how the study was put together:
- Study Objective: to compare swings against pitches thrown to different locations and at different speeds.
- AA-level Minor League Baseball players (n=43) took extended rounds of batting practice in an indoor laboratory against a pitcher throwing a mixture of fastballs and changeups.
- An eight camera motion analysis system and two force plates recording at 300 Hz captured the biomechanical
- The swing was divided into six phases (stance, stride, coiling, swing initiation, swing acceleration, and follow-through) by five key events (lead foot off, lead foot down, weight shift commitment, maximum front foot vertical ground reaction force, and bat ball contact).
- Twenty-eight kinematic measurements and six ground reaction force measurements were computed based on the marker and force plate data, and all were assessed throughout the phases.
According to the Study:
“A large number of biomechanical differences were seen among the swings against various pitch locations. More fully rotated positions, particularly of the pelvis and bat were critical to the batters’ successes on inside pitches while less rotated positions keyed successes against outside pitches. The trail and lead arms worked together as part of a closed chain to drive the hand path. Successful swings had the trail elbow extended more for HIGH IN and flexed more for LOW OUT, though batters often struggled to execute this movement properly. A distinct pattern among successful swings against fastballs, successful swings against changeups, and unsuccessful swings against changeups was witnessed; namely a progressive delay in which the batter prematurely initiated the events of the kinetic chain, especially when unsuccessful in hitting a changeup.”
Hitting a Baseball Conclusion
So, let’s tie up everything we talked about in hitting a baseball…
On inside and/or higher pitches, where a hitter’s reaction time is less (Perry Husband research), the hitter needs to focus on faster rotation by keeping a slight bend in the front arm to impact (Conserv. of Ang Mom).
There’s more distance the barrel has to travel, so the trailing elbow will be more extended than it would on lower and outside pitches (Miami Study).
On pitches low and/or away, the hitter has more reaction time (Perry Husband research), so tilting at the waist (on lower pitches) and extending the front elbow to impact is key (90-degree barrel spine rule). And because the outside and lower pitches will be hit slightly deeper than inside and higher pitches, the trailing elbow will have more bend in it at impact (Miami Study).
Can the hitter do this without having two different swing approaches? Yes! We have to build “fail-safes” into the swing from the start. And to do that, keep at least a slight bend in the front arm at initiation of the Final Turn. It’s more messy to go from straight-to-bend-to-straight (early arm bar), than it is to go from bent-to-straight (late arm bar).
Readers, I want to hear your thoughts on hitting a baseball in the Comments below…
I’ve spent 11+ years in the corrective fitness industry, and have too many alphabet-soup certifications to bore you with.I also played four years of Division One baseball at Fresno State from 2000-2003.
It’s NOT how you study, but what you study that counts.I apply human movement principles (or rules), validated by science, to hitting a baseball and softball.
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