Baseball Hitting Drills For Kids: The UGLY Truth About Hitting Ground-Balls

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(WARNING: this baseball hitting drills for kids post is a 4,500+ word beast, but will be worth the next 20-mins of your life. ENJOY!)

And by the way, even though I labeled this a “baseball hitting drills for kids” post, it’s not going to give drills.  This post’s objective is to guide coaches in picking the “right” drills to help kids get the ball in the air.  In other words, you’ll learn a key principle to develop your own methods, rather than a few below average drills.

Without further adieu, the RANT…

Right off the bat (pun intended),

I’m going to pick a fight, and upset some people in talking about baseball hitting drills for kids…

So here goes.

Drum roll please…

Teaching Baseball Hitting Drills For Kids To Primarily Hit Ground Balls Is Idiotic & DOES NOT Make Sense

What do you think of that?

Fired up?!

If so, then GOOD.

Okay, so this baseball hitting drills for kids RANT has been brewing in me for some time now…

AND it came to a boil when I promoted the BackSpin batting tee swing experiment blog post on Facebook, titled Baseball Batting Cage Drills: A Quick Way To Hit Less Ground-balls

You can CLICK HERE to read all the “classic” Facebook comments posted to the BackSpin Tee promo.

And a flood of baseball hitting drills for kids Facebook comments came in,

Mostly from coaches…

High School to College…

baseball to softball…

Chiming in about how effective it is to teach their hitters to hit the ball on the ground.

…And claiming how terrible of an idea the Backspin Tee is promoting more line drives and productive batted balls in the air. And by the way, a line drive is a ball in the air!

They go on and on about:

  • How many games they’ve won with grounders,
  • How fielding percentage is way lower than fly-balls,
  • That it’s much easier to catch a fly ball,
  • How great outfielders track fly balls,
  • How more can go wrong with the defense keeping the ball on the ground,
  • If their team hit more grounders, then they’d score more runs,
  • How some of the most winningest coaches in college baseball history, Gordie Gillespie and Augie Garrido as examples, stress keeping the ball on the ground to their hitters,
  • How you HAVE TO TEACH a 5’6″, 135-pound High School hitter to hit the ball on the ground because his batted ball distance maxes out at 250-feet!  And,
  • How even pro coaches and “great hitting instructors” never promote hitting fly-balls.

For those fired up by my statement above…

Does that about cover ALL your arguments for WHY hitting a ground-ball is far superior than putting a ball in the air?

Baseball Hitting Drills for Kids: On Path Bottom Half

On Path, Bottom Half image courtesy: Backspintee.com

By the way, those arguments WILL look like swiss cheese in a moment.

But before I get there, and even more disturbing…

 

You Don’t Put Backspin on a Ball by Swinging Down

Some, not all, of these Facebook comments shared how to put consistent backspin on the ball by swinging down on it…

The keyword here is “consistent”.

They even go so far as to believe that young hitters HAVE TO swing down on the ball to get backspin because they’re not “strong enough” to put backspin on it like Major League hitters!!

Wa!!?

Watch the 2014 MLB All-Star home-run derby highlights, and note which part of the ball these guys are hitting (top half or bottom half?)…

On-path bottom half is the answer.

NEWS FLASH!  This is just as true for young small hitters, as it is for MLB hitters.

It’s written into the rules of Physics.

Can’t break those rules if you’re on earth, sorry.

And if YOU STILL don’t believe me, read this MLB article titled, “Jon Lester Shows Importance Of Launch Angle”. The article goes onto to say how Lester ranks second among Major League hitting pitchers with an average Ball Exit Speed of 92.5-mph.

So, what’s the problem?

Quoted from the article:

“…(He ended up with four hits on the season in 71 plate appearances, a .065/.108/.065 line.) Part of it is that, like many pitchers, contact was an issue — Lester’s 42.3 percent strikeout rate was above the 37.7 percent average for pitchers.”

How could Lester hit the ball so hard without finding much hitting success?

Again, quoted from the article:

“…it’s because 19 of Lester’s 24 tracked batted balls failed to get above 7 degrees of launch angle. Sixteen of those 19 failed to even achieve positive launch angle, which is to say that he pounded the ball into the ground constantly.”

In other words, to get the ball in the air, the hitter MUST have a positive launch angle.

Translated?

The barrel MUST be traveling UP to impact for consistent backspin to occur (revisit Backspin Tee ‘On Path Bottom Half’ graphic above). NOT down!

If the hitter has a negative launch angle (barrel traveling down to impact), THEY WILL:

  1. Put topspin on the ball which will cause the ball to dive and NOT carry,
  2. Strikeout more,
  3. NOT get many hits, and
  4. Professionally speaking, NOT make it past A-ball (if they’re lucky enough to make it that far).

One last thing about baseball hitting drills for kids point #4, Aaron Miles, who played 12 years of professional baseball (9 years in the Big Leagues with White Sox, Cardinals, Rockies, and Dodgers), told me these downward swing path hitters got weeded out by AA-ball.

By the way, Aaron Miles is 5’7″, 180-lbs, which is impressive that with his size he competed for 9 Major Leagues seasons and did quite well.  You don’t play that long in the Big Leagues, with his size, UNLESS you’re doing something right.  Success leaves clues right?!

Am I making myself clear on this ‘down swinging’ backspin issue?

Side note, aside,

Before I crush the “Pro-Ground-ballers”, along with their inferior baseball hitting drills for kids,

I want to get something out of the way first

 

Hitting Ground-balls have their Place

…in situational hitting, which depending on the game, can make up between 2 to 10% of a team’s at-bats.

Of course, we don’t want to put a ball in the air on a hit-and-run or with slap hit.  That’s moronic!

Even I know that.

Baseball Hitting Drills For Kids: Launch Angle Diagram

Launch angle diagram comparing ground-balls to balls-in-the-air. Baseball hitting drills for kids infographic courtesy of the Colorado Rockies and the guys from BackSpinTee.com.

What I have a baseball hitting drills for kids beef with are coaches teaching hitters to hit the ball on the ground…ALL THE TIME!

Using this as their primary hitting objective.

And, by the way, HERE’S THE KICKER…

DID YOU KNOW…

Line drives are balls in the air?

Doesn’t take a physics professor to see that.

What’s more…

 

Pitchers Want Hitters Hitting the Ball on the Ground!

What vertical part of the zone do pitching coaches teach their pitchers to primarily use?

“Keep the ball down!”…is what they say.

Now, what part of the ball are pitchers HOPING hitters hit by keeping the ball down?

That’s right!  The top half of the ball.

Because, as the Backspin Tee ‘On Path Bottom Half’ graphic above shows, hitting the top half of the ball induces a top spin, driving it into the ground.

In other words,

PITCHERS WANT HITTERS TO HIT THE BALL ON THE GROUND!!!

It’s all about seeking pleasure and avoiding pain…

Pitchers know that they don’t get hurt (as much) with a ground-ball than with a ball-in-the-air.

So WHY the heck are hitting coaches teaching their hitters to primarily hit ground-balls?!

You following me here?

Or is this some LARGE conspiracy of pitching instructors undermining our hitters?

Let me give you another bit of baseball hitting drills for kids advice…

Don’t listen to pitching coaches teach hitting.

Unless, they’re aware of this strange duality between pitching and hitting strategy.

You see, they’ve been conditioned to induce ground-balls, so whether they’re conscious about it or not, to hitters, they’re promoting the VERY THING they use to get hitters out.  

Most of the pitching instructors in my area, who also teach hitting, instruct their hitters to swing down on the ball.

Coincidence?

CLICK HERE for a link to a Beyond the Boxscore article titled, “Scooter Gennett and ground balls”.  The sub-title says it all, “Scooter Gennett’s offense has declined every year since he broke into Major League Baseball, are ground balls the reason?”

Okay, moving on…

Before getting into picking apart each of the individual “Pro-Ground-ballers” arguments I included at the beginning of this post,

I want you to answer the following question…

Which is Better? A Ground Ball Pitcher or a Fly Ball Pitcher

Let’s wet the whistle with a FanGraphs.com article titled, “Which is Better? A Ground Ball Pitcher or a Fly Ball Pitcher”

This article is an interesting MUST READ for all.

However, one graphic I wanted to draw your attention to, is this one:

Fangraphs Ground ball Metrics

AVG = Batting Average, ISO = “Isolated Slugging%” or Raw Power, & wOBA = weighted On-Base AVG. Baseball hitting drills for kids graph compliments of FanGraphs.com

What’s obvious in the results for each type of ball in play, is the value of the Line Drive (highlighted in yellow).  I think even “Pro-Ground-ballers” agree that the line drive is the way to go.

But if given a choice to pick the lesser of two evils, the Pro-Ground-ball coach will unanimously pick the ground-ball.

But look at the difference in productivity between the Ground-ball and Fly-ball…

  • A 32-point increase in Batting Average with Ground-ball over a Fly-ball, however
  • A 358-point INCREASE in ISO (or raw power) with Fly-balls over Ground-balls…AND
  • A 115-point INCREASE in weighted On-Base Average with Fly-Balls over Ground-balls, which according to FanGraphs.com,

“Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value. While batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage fall short in accuracy and scope, wOBA measures and captures offensive value more accurately and comprehensively.”

Well Fly-balls, it’s unanimous…2 out of 3 will get you in the Hall Of Fame 😛 lol

Also, since we’re on the subject, check out this Launch Angle infographic of Bryce Harper that was posted by @PinkmanBaseball:

Oh HAPPY DAY!

Key in on Bryce Harper’s offensive productivity from 10 to 30-degrees of Launch Angle!

Did you pick up on the KEY message?

Killed two birds with one stone there…

Key Message #1: This shows hitters aren’t productive unless they’re swinging UP to the ball (not down)…

Key Message #2: And if a 9-degree Launch Angle, or less (see ‘Backspin’ image #2 above), is a ground-ball, WATCH how B. Harper’s average AND power numbers skyrocket once he gets to over a 10-degree Launch Angle.

Situational hitting aside, remind me again WHY we’re teaching baseball hitting drills for kids that promote grounders?

So far, I hope this has helped the ‘fence-sitters’ see the light…

Now, let’s zero in on those not even close to the fence.

You know who you are.

I may not get you over to the ‘Light Side’ reading this whole post…

BUT,

The information will fester in your single-minded brain, like an open wound…

And with time, I’m confident you’ll make your way to the Lighter Side of effective hitting.

Don’t worry, I’ll be a patient grasshopper.

I don’t care what level of play you coach.

YOU WILL BE MINE Ferris Bueller!

Onwards…

The “Pro-Ground-ballers”, go on and on about…

 

How many games they’ve won with grounders

This is a subjective statement, and an exaggeration at BEST.

I mean, of all the baseball and softball games being played on the planet, how many late inning heroic game winners are being hit on the ground?

AND, of those game winning ground-balls, how many of those WERE INTENDED to be on the ground by the hitter and/or coach?

Here’s what I want ALL coaches to do…

Track your game winning hits, and report back.

Don’t cheat though “Pro-Ground-ballers”, and fudge the numbers to save face.

My hypothesis is, ground-balls WILL NOT be the number one game winning vehicle.

I’ve seen too many game winning balls-in-the-air (line drives and fly-balls), in my playing career, to accept that ground-balls get the job done better.

The “Pro-Ground-ballers”, go on and on about…

 

How ground-ball fielding percentage is way lower than with fly-balls

This statement proves a statistically flawed argument.  Here’s the information that we need to put it to the test:

The New York Mets infield plays a defensive shift against Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on April 16, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The New York Mets infield plays a defensive shift against Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on April 16, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. (Baseball hitting drills for kids photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

  • Total number of ground-balls hit in 2015 MLB season, and
  • Total number of  fly-balls hit 2015 MLB season.

I’m willing to bet, there were WAY more ground-balls hit than fly-balls in 2015.

More statistical data points translate to lower overall averages.  And the reverse is typically true of less statistical information.

Riddle me this,

…if fielding percentages for outfielders are higher, then WHY don’t we teach our pitchers to pitch to the top of zone, than the bottom?

Doesn’t that sound logical?…“Hey, if our outfielders are the better fielders, then get hitters to hit more balls to them.”

Here’s what I thought up ALL BY MYSELF,

There are FIVE fielding infielders (including the pitcher), and only THREE outfielders.

There’s more space in the outfield and less fielders…WHY don’t we hit it out there?

Even my four year old can see the superiority in that baseball hitting drills for kids strategy.

One of my readers Brian Ingram, shared this:

“Just read the article about the flawed ground ball approach and wanted to say I completely agree. also wanted to add on to the idea of 5 infielders vs 3 outfielders, (which I thought of too as soon as I read the title and was happy you touched on it) was that those 5 infielders have less total area to cover on ground balls than the 3 outfielders do on balls in the air.

And the space where ground balls get through is far smaller than the area where balls in the air go for hits. Also, like you showed in the article, ground balls are either hard or soft. Balls in the air though can be shallow line drives, deep line drives, deep fly balls, and bloop hits.

In addition, higher chance of getting on base from things like bad reads, ball getting lost in the sun or lights, wind issues, knuckling line drives, etc.

Also outfielders have a limit of the outfield fence on how far they can go back to catch a ball. Infielders don’t have to deal with those issues, which also count as hits not errors leading to the discrepancy in fielding percentage. All of those things taken into consideration leads to the conclusion that odds of reaching base safely is much high hitting the ball in the air than on the ground. All in all I loved the article and couldn’t agree more.”

Thanks for sharing that Brian (who’s applying to be in the Kinesiology Department at Fresno State in the Fall).

Did I mention this was a RANT?!

Here’s another thought to consider (referring to the superiority of fielding percentages in the outfield),

In using a defensive shift, WHY would we put an extra infielder into the outfield, if the outfielders – statistically speaking – were better at fielding?

They don’t NEED anymore help!

Because according to you, outfielders HAVE TO BE BETTER fielders than infielders right?  That’s what the stats tell us!!!

Yoda and The Force

Yoda (The Force) photo courtesy: BusinessInsider.com

Or how about this…

Since we shifted the infielder positionally into the outfield, does he/she instantaneously inherit the stellar fielding percentage of playing on the luscious outfield grass?

Sounds like “the Force” in Star Wars 😀 haha

Statistically speaking, comparing an infielders fielding percentage to an outfielders is comparing apples to oranges.

Are we done here?  Good.

The “Pro-Ground-ballers”, go on and on about…

That it’s much easier to catch a fly ball

Is it?

Steps to processing a ground-ball:

  1. Field it,
  2. Throw it,
  3. Catch it.

Steps to processing a fly-ball:

  1. Move under it,
  2. Catch it.

Hey look!  One less step!  You may be onto something here…

But are you?

I played the outfield from my sophomore year in High School through all 4-years at Fresno State, so I know how easy AND difficult it is.

Again, you’re one of three fielders in the biggest part of a baseball or softball field.

Ask Jose Canseco how easy it is to catch this “fly ball”:

Also, ask an infielder going back to catch a fly-ball in the shallow outfield, with a converging outfielder coming towards them, how easy catching that fly-ball is.

At Fresno State, legendary Coach Bob Bennett constantly had us working on this type of drill called “Pop-fly Priorities”. We were drilled to the point of throwing up, AND even still, occasionally the ball dropped into ‘no-man’s land’ in games.

I’d love to take the “Pro-Ground-ballers” out and hit you fly-balls, and have you track them down.  They’re much harder to track than you think.  And things move A LOT faster in the outfield, most of the time you’re on a dead sprint to get from point A to B.

And, when an outfielder makes a mistake, runners advance at least one extra base.  If infielders bobble a ball, typically, they still have time to recover and get the out.  In other words, an outfielder’s mistake is magnified.

Besides, my friends who’ve played in the Big Leagues say the outfield is where misfit infielders go, which brings the quality of overall outfield play down at the highest level.  Ask any converted outfielder how challenging it is to track a ball effectively off a bat 😉

Which leads me to,

The “Pro-Ground-ballers”, go on and on about…

 

How great outfielders track fly balls

But you’re thinking, well, MLB and college outfielders (both baseball and softball) are great athletes, and they track and catch everything in the air.

They don’t.

Not even ‘cans-of-corn’ are off limits to being dropped.

Don’t believe me?

Go to YouTube and type in “mlb dropped fly ball”, and count how many, what you think are ‘cans-of-corns’, are dropped.

And for you college coaches who still don’t agree…?

This season, track how many balls are dropped by your outfielders this year…

AND the result of that action.

Then track how many ground-balls are dropped by your infielders this year…

AND the result of that action.

My point is, NOT ALL fly-balls to outfielders are caught, and when they aren’t, extra bases are taken.  Heck, extra bases are taken if an outfielder takes a bit too long fielding a line drive/ground-ball in front of them!

If an infielder drops a ball, most of the time, it’s no big deal, at least if the runner isn’t fleet of foot.  All is forgiven, minimal damage done.

Not outfielders, no-no.

The “Pro-Ground-ballers”, go on and on about…

 

How more can go wrong with the defense keeping the ball on the ground

My good friend Taylor Gardner, and owner of the BackSpin batting tee, shared a CLASSIC baseball hitting drills for kids response to the aforementioned statement on Facebook (and one I echoed earlier in this post).  He said:

“Groundball supporters…why do pitchers try and keep the ball down in the zone? ……………..They WANT you to hit a groundball. If you don’t believe that, then start telling your pitchers to live about chest high in the zone and see how many pop ups you can get in the game. Ha ha…you should bring your center fielder into the infield and play with an extra infielder because you seem to be so scared of the groundballs (which are better right)?”

This is a common argument amongst Little League coaches…

“Hit the ball on the ground because the other team can’t play catch!”

But what happens when they meet a team that can play catch?  What then?

Spoiler ALERT!

They get beat.

And IF they get a runner on base, then they’re another ground-ball away from a double play!!!

If the other team can play catch, no more getting runners on base because of errors…no more auto-runs to second after a walk.  NOTHING.  Your team is DONE.

This is WHY, when and if my 4yo son plays baseball, his team will be the most disciplined group of young men at playing catch.

If I come across YOUR ground-ball hitting team, we will CRUSH YOU.

You better have quality pitching, because YOU WILL LOSE!

And you won’t know how it happened…why it happened…or what happened. (Well, if you’ve read this, then you will know what happened, and shame on you for not seeing the writing on the wall beforehand…trick me once, shame on you, but trick me twice, shame on me!! lol).

Worst of all, your troops won’t be able to recover because you’ve taught them baseball hitting drills for kids that primarily focus on hitting the ball on the ground.

Have you ever been in a hopeless situation like that?  It’s only a matter of time, if you keep doing what you’re doing.

What’s more,

Guess what happens to ground-ball fielding difficulty after graduating to the BIG field…?

  1. Infielders are deeper – increasing their fielding range,
  2. Athletes get more athletic – enabling them a farther “reach”,
  3. Players get better at playing catch (skill acquisition), and
  4. With 90-foot bases (instead of 60 to 70-foot), fielders have more time to field, gather, and throw.  In other words, more can go wrong with fielding a ground-ball, and the defense still recording a putout because they have more time.

But you “Pro-Ground-Baller” Little League coaches don’t care anyway, it’ll be the next coaches problem when they get into Middle School.

Fastpitch softball is a little different…the young ladies will grow into the “smaller” field.  However, points ONE through THREE above still hold true.

One last baseball hitting drills for kids point I want to make on this, comes from a Beyond The Box Score article titled, “Do Hard Hit Ground Balls Produce More Errors?”

The data from the above post analysis suggests errors don’t start consistently climbing until Ball Exit Speeds (the speed of the ball coming off the bat) reaches around 95-mph.  This data comes from Major League players, by the way.

It goes to show that you have to hit the ball pretty dang hard to force the defense to make an error.  To put a 95-mph BES into perspective, this ball has the ability to travel 380-feet with an optimal ball launch angle (1-mph of BES = 4-feet of distance).

Are your High School hitters hitting even 85 to 90-mph Ball Exit Speeds in games?  If not, then maybe you should re-work your ground ball hitting strategy.

The other thing I’ve heard from Pro-Ground-ball coaches is, “Well, you can’t get a bad hop in the air.” Really!?  So you’re banking winning versus losing on something out of your control?  In other words, you’re “hoping” and “praying” for the ground-balls your hitters hit to take a bad hop?!  Ridiculous.  Errors are a gift, not something you should expect.  And at the higher levels, there are less “gifts”.

Here’s a clue, don’t focus on things you CANNOT control.  Focus on the things you can, which is crushing balls in the air.  This is a pitcher’s worst nightmare.  Where focus goes energy flows.

The “Pro-Ground-ballers”, go on and on about…

How some of the most winningest coaches in college baseball history, Gordie Gillespie and Augie Garrido stress keeping the ball on the ground to their hitters

MANHATTAN, KS - APRIL 26: Head coach Augie Garrido of the Texas Longhorns looks out onto the field from the dugout during a game against the Kansas State Wildcats at Tointon Stadium April 26, 2008 in Manhattan, Kansas. Kansas State defeated Texas 4-1. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

MANHATTAN, KS – APRIL 26: Head coach Augie Garrido of the Texas Longhorns looks out onto the field from the dugout during a game against the Kansas State Wildcats at Tointon Stadium April 26, 2008 in Manhattan, Kansas. Kansas State defeated Texas 4-1. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

This is where I really get fired up because this kind of baseball hitting drills for kids statement is:

  1. A “That Guy” type of comment,
  2. Ignorant.

It’s a great example of making a blanket statement WITHOUT knowing who you’re talking to.

What’s interesting to note is after this person said this, and I responded with the following, they never responded back.

Now, I can’t speak for Coach Gordie Gillespie, but here’s my connection to Coach Augie Garrido…

Coach Garrido played for Fresno State (my alma matar) back when Coach Pete Beiden was the head coach.

I believe, Coach Garrido also played with Coach Bob Bennett (but I could be wrong there), who was my coach the first three years I played at Fresno State.

Whether he played with Bennett or not, Coach Garrido learned from Beiden, just as Bennett did.

So having never played for Garrido, I have a pretty good idea that Coach Beiden rubbed off on Garrido as he did on Bennett.

And Coach Bennett, NEVER told us, in the three years I played for him (and even me – a smaller hitter), to ever hit the ball on the ground…UNLESS I was popping up to much, which is adjustment advice, OR for situational hitting).

So my baseball hitting drills for kids hypothesis with Coach Garrido would echo the same Bennett-Beiden philosophy. I don’t think Coach Garrido compiled a collegiate record of 1950-919-9, and has taken his teams to 15 College World Series primarily by instructing his hitters to hit the ball on the ground.

Somebody close to Coach Garrido, ask him, and get back to me…PLEASE!

I’m dying to be proven wrong.

Besides, head coaches in the college and professional ranks are generalist.

What I mean by that is…

They typically don’t meddle in hitting or pitching aspects with a fine tooth comb.  They have assistant coaches that do those jobs.  I can count on one hand how many times, in 3-years, Coach Bennett gave me hitting advice.

Head coaches should be like the CEO of a corporation…their concern is with big picture strategies, not on how TPS Reports are suppose to be written.

Well, I commend you for making it this far!

Either you’re:

  • NOT one of the “Pro-Ground-ballers” anymore, OR
  • You’re ONE for a beating! lol

I assure you this rant is almost over, just a few more holes I need to cut…

The “Pro-Ground-ballers”, go on and on about…

 

How you HAVE TO TEACH a 5’6″, 135-pound High School hitter to hit the ball on the ground because his batted ball distance maxes out at 250-feet!

Baseball Hitting Drills for Kids: Orin Hirschkorn 300-Foot Homer

Text from dad after 11yo son Orin hit a 300-foot bomb, weighing in at 98-pounds.

I’d LOVE to see the look on the face of the High School coach that said this, after I told him on Facebook that I have two 11yo hitters that hit the ball over 300-feet, and get this, they did it while weighing less than 100-pounds…AND not just once, but multiple times!!

I’m sure the look was precious.

Obviously, this coach isn’t teaching effective mechanics, and doesn’t know any better.

I don’t care the size of the hitter, I’m going to teach them all how to drive the ball.

Yes, a smaller hitter’s role on the team may require them to be better at putting down a sacrifice bunt, hit-and-run, and/or slap hit (especially if they’re faster), but ALL hitters will know how to drive the ball.

Driving the ball SHOULD BE the default, NOT hitting the ball on the ground.

And last, but certainly not least…

The “Pro-Ground-ballers”, go on and on about…

 

How even pro coaches and “great hitting instructors” never promote hitting fly-balls

This statement is also subjective.  Please define “great hitting instructors”.

Does what Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols say about hitting make them a great hitting instructor?

Did Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn do a COMPLETE job of analyzing in retrospect, how they did what they did?

Ted Williams came close, but still was quite far from filling in between the lines (for me at least).

How about Dusty Baker in his hitting book.  Mike Schmidt? Charlie Lau?

Look, I’m not putting down any of these legendary people, but we have to have a higher standard than just somebody’s hitting “philosophy”.

We have to teach human movement principles that are validated by science, to hitting a ball.

Simple as that.

So, my first baseball hitting drills for kids question to you is, if you believe the above statement, then whose kool-aid are you drinking?  Who do you consider a “great hitting instructor”?

And last time I checked on FanGraphs, Ted Williams, Pujols, A-Rod, Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado, Bautista, and Donaldson ARE NOT trying to hit the ball on the ground.  Don’t believe me? Look at their ground-ball, line drive, fly ball, and home-run to fly-ball ratios.  I guarantee you’ll see ALL of them being below average in their ground-balls rates, while being above average in the others.

Please check…I’ll wait.

Oftentimes, what Major League hitters say they’re doing is not what we see them do on slow motion analysis.  What’s real and what’s feel are two totally different things.

I GUARANTEE, most of the effective hitting gurus online, are telling their hitters to drive the ball IN THE AIR.  Again, that includes line drives.  NOT on the ground.

Wayne Gretzky looking to pass

Wayne Gretzky image courtesy: http://forum.mmatd.com/

And by the way, my hitting friends and I may not agree on everything when it comes to hitting, but this we do.

So you can keep telling yourself these baseball hitting drills for kids stories (i.e. the “Pro-Ground-ballers” statements above), and get mediocre results with your hitters…

Or you can follow what Hockey great Wayne Gretzky says,

A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

Teaching hitters to primarily hit ground-balls is ‘where the puck is.” Teaching them to hit the ball in the air is ‘where the puck is going to be’.

If you’re not growing, you’re dying.  Swallow your pride, and come over to the Light Side!

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Joey Myers

I’m a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA), the International Youth and Conditioning Association (IYCA), and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).I’m also a HUGE supporter of the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA).

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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33 Comments

  1. Tre'

    Joey, it’s the American sports way… Win by beating the level your on instead of develop to play like the best in the world… Recently in my situational hitting, I’ve had my guys swing the same, but look and hit different parts of the ball. It’s still in the early development stage, but it’s looking good so far.

    • Joey Myers

      Coach Tre’, you hit the nail right on the head. Play for the current level is obviously being enforced here. I’d echo your situational approach, the only difference would be if you want them hitting the ball on the ground (for instance, on a hit-and-run), then they focus on getting to the top half of the ball. Otherwise, ‘on-pah bottom half’ should be the default message.

  2. Djura

    Great article Joey! I still can’t believe adults who have baseball experience or coaching kids believe in hitting grounders. I think if you ask a 8 year old kid where or how to hit the ball they will know the answer… All we have to do is make sure they do it. The fact that you have to break it down and explain this point in many different angles and give detail explanations goes to show how many people are not doing their homework and not thinking about the kids future. That in itself shows those adults personality flaws. The funny thing is some my read this and still think their doing it the right way! At any rate, it’s so obvious that at some point you have to just figure people just don’t want to omit their wrong… Man if I hear one more time that the kids should hit the ball on the ground because the fielders (7-9 age) can’t throw them out I’m going flip out!!! To start, teach them to throw!!! I wonder if anybody reading this can ask their teams how do you want to hit a ball, general big course, what would be the results. So fly, liner or ground…. I beat all 12 of my kids (7-8) would say to hit line drives…I get back to you about it…and I have a few kids new to baseball…

    • Joey Myers

      What’s funny Djura, is that kids intuitively know what to do, but oftentimes don’t know how to get the result. That’s why our input is so important. And if we teach them what they naturally don’t want to do (hit the ball on the ground), then well, we get a major mental circus later in the careers for these athletes…if they survive in the sport. And unfortunately, the smaller body types won’t, unless they’re fleet of foot.

  3. Vito

    What statistic is lacking here is the contact ratio
    According to my gamechanger 3 compiled years of stats resulted in the ground ball hitter has made contact 20 % of the time more than a fly ball hitter
    This allowed his on base ratio to increase much more than ten fly ball hitter and also helped move runners and had more rbis than the fly ball hitter
    I don’t know why but Fly ball hitter strike out more- probably because they want to hit homeruns but I don’t know why
    Also for a speedy runner, it is more advantageous to hit grounders
    He can beat it out.

    • Joey Myers

      Vito, I see where you’re coming from. However, we have to look between the stats at what’s going on. I assume you’re talking about Little Leaguers here, and I fear ineffective mechanics are the culprit. Most kids at that level are being taught to swing down on the ball. This results in the barrel being on plane very little, and a lot of impact inconsistency. There’s also A LOT of bat drag (the bad hitting flaw) at that level, which results in the same inconsistent impact and little time the barrel spends on plane of the pitch. I feel the MLB stats article about Ground-ball v. Fly-ball pitchers gives us a more accurate picture because mechanics aren’t in question. Plus, like I mentioned the article, the majority of Little Leaguers aren’t being taught how to play catch (or not frequently enough). Nonetheless, I think those GameChanger numbers are dirtied by ineffective mechanics.

  4. Vito

    Does anyone know?
    Where is the ball hit that PRODUCED the most hits ??
    Either outfield gap ?
    Flairs over 1st baseman ?
    I am only logically answering I would think , it’s up the middle
    If it is, then ground balls is the answer
    One will need to know where all the batted balls of all time for hits are hit . Does anyone know ??
    Until then, get on base anyway you can
    And just teach timing

    • Joey Myers

      Vito, good question. Maybe someone can point us to an article that shows this. All I know is there’s A LOT more space in the outfield than their is on the infield…on there is less defensive coverage in the former.

  5. Djura

    One thing I think is important is expectations in light of our understanding. So you noted that you have kids who are under 100 pounds and at age 11 hitting 300+….For the ones reading this article I think that was the biggest and most important point (11 year old hitting 300+) besides the fact some people refuse to teach lifting the ball…That’s still amazed me…Hey all-star hit grounders…ask the beat kid in your leave to hit griunders and wait for his reaction…so why does Joeys kids do well…well it’s because he knows one of the secrets to hitting which is know your facts and potential!!!! Yea I know that doesn’t sound like a secret but if you believe God or some natural gift could only do that than it is a secret to you!!!! So when your 11 year old hit the ball 250 you didn’t say great hit or wow that was awesome, well maybe you did as the kids are learning and improving but more importantly you knew the “secret”…And it’s applied this way, in some kind of discussion……. “yea that laser was nice but guess what kid… your size and work ethic tells me (I.e., inherent to your body type) we have 75 feet more in you… The physics says so!!!”…… “So when we (kid and instructor perhaps Joey having the “secret” discussion) see that 250 foot shot others see what they want…a nice shot for an 11 year old…something else perhaps, he was born a hitter or God apparently picks our ball players amongst us…., it doesn’t matter what they think, it matters what we think, we see and know that we left 75 feet off that shot…that we (I.e., kid and coach) have to “discover ” how to enhance or improve our swing in order to reach 300+ (I.e., our potential)”… So the “secret” is knowing your potential… Once you understand that than and only than you will realize that hitting grounders is not what should be taught. Sorry Joey, I didn’t mean to go off in a tangent again!!!!

    • Joey Myers

      No, great points Djura. And let me remind EVERYONE, the hitting “secret” you talk of Djura isn’t just effective mechanics validated by science, but hard work. It took the hitter I posted about (Orin) about 2 years to get there. He worked hard fine-tuning his swing during that time. Here’s video of Orin’s first 300-foot homer:

      Also, please note, he’s not the only hitter I have that is capable of that. I have another one, who’s more of what we’d call a natural born hitter, Eddie Bay Saldivar (same age as Orin), who hit his first couple homers under 100-lbs…but when he sprouted up and gained another 15-lbs, so 115-lbs…in one year, hit over 40 homers…to all fields…and frequently batted ball distance was over 300-feet. Yes, size DOES help. But I think, more importantly, effective mechanics are more critical, AND are we hitting the top or bottom half of the ball?

  6. kyle

    Great Rant!!!! I love it…. Right on again!!! Ground balls work in LL, Middle School and High School on crap fields. Everywhere else they kill a hitter. Great RANT.. Need more…

    You want to really piss people off? Then get on the “Inside the ball”. Every hitting flaw, every out you make, every ground ball was because you “weren’t focused” on “inside the ball”.lololoolol.

    Watch guys take BP and focus on inside the ball and watch all the ground balls.

    In golf, “inside the ball” is called timing or sequencing. If you rush the shoulders, you are over the top…aka “Outside the Ball”. In golf, you NEVER adjust your hand path the stop coming over the top. Because you can keep your hands as tight to your body as you want, and you can still slice the ball 60 yards “staying inside” … Because it doesn’t work. It can’t work because your shoulders always dominate your club (or bat path).

    If you are fast with the shoulders, you are over the top 100% of the time. The way to not be over the top is to let the swing unwind from the bottom up.

    So… to stay inside the ball, it’s not hands… That’s a superficial way of looking at it.

    Watch Manny Ramirez, or any of the greats. The hands only get narrower to the body because of desperation to get to an inside pitch, or when they are late. The longest homers have hands and lead arm flex set at a fixed angle when rotation starts.

  7. Djura

    Last comment before I bore you… I wish there was a chart by size that disclosed height and relative weight potential…Obviously there would be margin of errors and it would be “only” estimates…. But the chart or table would be a general starting point or an educational guess that included sound science… So the chart can be approached with body types and expected max distance if the balls were hit at the best angle for distance… So I think age doesn’t matter but height and weight…This would provide parents, coaches, instructors …etc. points of references… Shoot I know this kid who has been going to an instructor for years and while his parents don’t have much they still pay their hard earn dollars and I think there is no way in hell that a few years of instruction could only get this kid hitting to the point where he’s reach…I think there are charts with ball exit speeds…

  8. Bob

    Joey … This is one of your better rants, but you have to be exaggerating! You can’t be serious … are there STILL coaches who teach their kids to hit down? I really find that hard to believe to be honest. It’s not even an argument Joey. Just leave it. One of the more potent stats for pitchers now is Ground Ball Percentage. Pitchers that have high GBP figures are considered the best in the biz. We look at batting averages and say that 300 is darn good – 350 is excellent … and anything over that is off the charts. But do these guys who stick to this ground ball stuff think that those players are striking out 7 out of 10 times? The majority of those outs are ground balls. A pitchers job is not to get strike outs! No … a pitchers job by anyone’s standards is to try and fool the hitter into either swinging at a bad pitch, disguising a good pitch as a bad one, or getting them to miss-hit it. And if you consider what a ‘miss-hit’ is … it’s a pop up, or a grounder. But here’s where the stats get fuzzy. A ground ball will ALWAYS be a ground ball, but a Pop-up is a 10th of a centemeter away from being an extra base.

    It’s been shown that teams that hit higher % of fly balls produce as much as 12 times the runs – (That’s 12 times!). The object of offense in baseball is to advance runners. Once it gets past the infield … someone is running. The main objective of a fielder is NOT to catch fly balls … it’s to stop runners from taking extra bases! My son is a center fielder – and a very good one. His defensive responsibility includes protection of the infield. Second base is key to offense in the game. That’s why they say “He’s in scoring position.” Teams that hit ground balls have a more difficult time stealing (and running in general) because the outfield can move in. What this does is allow the catcher to completely sell out and unload on his throws. He doesn’t have to worry as much about accuracy, because if he misses the bag, the runner stays there anyway – he has protection! Teams that can force the outfield to play deep because they hit the ball in the air have a higher rate of stolen bases – and extra bases.

    This is just one example that crushes the ground ball debate, and there are dozens more. So Joey … my advice is to just leave it. You aren’t going to convert anyone. You can’t think of this debate in terms of hitting a ground ball, or hitting a pop-up. Fly balls are different because runners can still advance, but the ground ball VS pop-up argument must be looked at as ‘balls on the ground’ VS ‘balls in the air’ – and in that instance, it’s a complete no-brainer. Balls in the air are WAY … WAY … WAY more desireable.

    • Joey Myers

      Bob, you brought up more GREAT points I didn’t even think about. I’m done with this for sure. If after reading this ‘rant’, and a “Pro-Ground-baller” is still a “Pro-Ground-baller”, then I chalk it up to a fragile ego (mostly male) that doesn’t want to admit defeat…not even a lot of therapy WILL NOT help with that. I just hope to face more of those types of coaches, so my team can CRUSH them.

  9. Djura

    Vito I agree that speed helps when trying to beat out ground balls but I would add that speed makes a double into a triple too. Without repeating or having a discussion that ends up in circles, I just would like to ask if your 11 year old hit balls 300+ would you still give that kid the advice of just get on base however you can… Or just go out there and HIT like you know how! My point is when its stated to ” get on base anyway you can” is the logic of hitting grounders because if you reach your potential there is no way the general approach is hit grounders… Additionally, I agree that nobody should try to lift the ball for homeruns as homeruns ought to be accidents from the approach of I’m hitting this ball “HARD”… My view is that you look or approach the ball to hit it really hard but that’s not the same as trying to hit a home run. Not the same! Also if you try to square (knuckle it out) the downward path of the ball makes it easier to see that angle and you learn to undercut the ball from feel if hitting 10000 balls…Than errors under become homeruns and errors over become really hard hit grounders…That doesn’t even go over that approaching the downward ball for grounds inherently ruins your swing… Another way of saying it is it a self for filling notion, I teach to hit grounders because the kids can’t really hit but they can’t really hit or lift the ball because trying to hit grounders ruins there swing… Once your in that loop there no way out until you revisit those ideas… For example I send my kids to school and my expectations to start are they will get an A until they show me that they can’t but I have to see the effort first or else anything less than an A due to lack of effort is not acceptable…so starting out with hitting grounds is not like saying you can get D… It’s worst because not only are there a lack of high expectations but the kids are also being set up to be poor hitters… To me it come down to knowing the expectations… If you know the expectations than usually people what they have to to reach them… One thing I don’t get is if we went to driving range and parents had their kids drive a few golf balls and once they left the kids were like… Man that was awesome.. I want to play golf… Well the parents usual say ok son/daughter… When we get home I’ll talk to some fiends so do some research and find you the best golf instructor that we can afford…In baseball the culture is different… Most have played.. And most can hit, throw and catch…and most teach what they know which is great and awesome for that bonding time but why does this happen in golf… Or in advance math…etc… Well read the article once more and when Joey said his 11 year old hits the ball 300+ Would that be where you would think…why is he doing that when he can get on base hitting grounders or would that be the point where perhaps we can say that there has to be something different between what we are doing….~DM

  10. Djura

    Bob – the angle you covered on how ground balls affect the defenses and offenses was great. I really apreciate that knowledge. There are many reasons to generally stay away from the ” ground ball” theory but I’ve not heard the angle of defense positioning before…The advent of Hindsight makes what you said so obvious but I don’t think I would have ever really thought about it in that way but than again I’m coaching 7 and 8 years in a REC league…There’s nothing better than learning new things to make me a better coach. At least for me I try to always think that we are all ignorant, but only about different things… I’m ignorant about sheep herding and will continue to be ignorant about sheep herding! I was ignorant about the angle of defensive positioning when facing a team who likes the ground ball theory (general) and now I’v just learn something… Funny now that I was taught that angle a wide range of idea start popping into my head. Thanks for sharing Bob!

    This makes me think of two of the best advices I got when I was just about to coach tball… My first was from a friend of mine who played MLB… We played softball locally, we could talk baseball all day…

    Once he said, you know when you talk about hitting sometimes you say something and you actually don’t do it that way yourself…He said your going to coach baseball now, you know you automatically become a hitting coach… Before I can tell him to stop being an idiot he said..

    If I were you I would grab a bat and swing it by a mirror and just see what happens and think about how you would communicate what you see and feel…More importantly do you understand what your seeing and feeling…Does it all make sense…Does it match? Is what you see exactly what you thought you would see?
    I thought he was pulling my leg but I tried it…For me this open my eyes and made me see new things just like what Bob taught me which also opens my mind to new ideas or possibilies that never occurred to me before.

    And my second was my first day of coaching TBall. I remember telling my wife that that was harder than I thought. I remember telling her some kids can’t follow basic instruction…I asked my wife who’s a teacher by education and a stay at home parent now, how do you think I did… She turned around and said, Djura, First you need to know what to expect from 5 and 6 year olds and most importantly what is there potential at that ages…I’m not saying your not good at baseball or you don’t know baseball really well but you can’t teach for shit and you have idea what your doing! And I love that your trying really hard and you care…She said remember talking about how teaching is an art in itself and how you were so pissed at the engineering professors who were brilliant in research and engineering but the worst teachers you ever had…………………………………………………………..

    I remember it like yesterday, she said I don’t care about what you know or think you know about baseball…you have to take the time to teach yourself how to teach kids or you shouldn’t be coaching them… And the last one hurt at the time…she said you know this also applies to our son too… And she was right! Hitting and teaching how to hit are different skills…the funny thing is people learn differently too which also makes hitting weird as people feel different things when they swing… So How does this all tie into hitting grounders, I have no idea!!!! I just seem to always start going on a tangent….

    But I would bet money that if Joey had his kids weighting less than 100 pounds hitting 300+…. And had 100 people who were about to coach watch some batting practice… How many of those people would say….

    Man Joey got lucky with those kids who were born to hit, who God has blessed (which I agree but just not blessed or chosen to hit a baseball), Its crazy that there not hitting grounders or …..it appears that Joey knows one or two things about hitting and more importantly one or two things about teaching it….So what does “that guy” who wants grounders say or notice????

    I hear all the time on the field… You not going to be Babe Ruth… I want drop kick those adults…Seriously… Saying that you going to be the Babe is one thing and I disagree which that idea. But saying you can’t be the Babe is different….To me what I see is a culture in baseball that is institutional and difficult to break…The ties are deep! And this leads to people not questioning what they learned or think is true… My parents were sheep herders from Eastern Europe and My Dad was really old when he had me…I never played catch with him he never gave me advice on how to swing a bat…For some this means nothing and for others it’s something… To an extent I was never indoctrinated in that culture…

    My dad taught me something that I thought was amazing… He said, Djura, just remember don’t let “you” get in the way of you! After thinking about it I would either just play catch with my son and feed him some balls to hit and say nothing while taking him to professional who I trust or I have to try my best to figure it out…. For some the answers may mean more than being right or wrong…It may mean somebody, some moment something may not be what they thought… It can be a culture which is a part of them…Generally people don’t like giving up a part of who they are or some group….The fact is the numbers are coming out and the science is exposing it all and the as a result the culture is changing…. Nonetheless I see and hear people all the time taking about all the baseball ideas…. To me talking baseball is like talking about politics and religion… The institutional push back is strong and aggressive….

    So if I can add something to our great American sayings…..perhaps us baseball people can use it…

    If I were you, between great friends…. Don’t talk politics, religion and BASEBALL!!!! Who would have known!!!! That shit is funny!!!! Alright I’m out and sorry for the rant….

    ~DM

    • Joey Myers

      Thanks for sharing those thoughts Djura. You’re right, it’s a fine line from being dad and coach. It’s the Goldilocks Golden Rule…you don’t want to instruct too much, or not at all…but just right. Every kid is different, so that comes with a teaching “feel”. Yes, playing and coaching are different skills that need to be developed at different times in our lives. However, I think both can be complementary to each other. In other words, make High School athletes do hitting lessons with younger hitters, and I mean 7/8yo.

  11. Djura

    All things being equal, size becomes the difference maker ( I.e., same mechanics)….but notice as size can make that difference in a positive light what I noticed at our sports complex is size makes a negative difference… Many many big kids just can hit harder and longer based on the size and this leads to not discovering the “Real” swing…or max potential…. So evaluating potential one can conclude that a small kid who hits nearly as far as a much much bigger kid has reached more if there potential or that they were born with it… Another way of saying is being big can give you false feedback and eventually lead to failure if under the wrong supervision or ideas…. So it’s like somebody who can’t hit for distance buying a 350 composite bat….The devil is always in the details…I’m seriously out as I have work… Later! ~DM

  12. Bob

    Djura … You’re welcome. I’m not really a baseball coach, I just watch my son (Quin) and ask him what he did and why. I’ll give you another example of a play I thought of that actually occurred. Quin is a great hitter – he hits it hard, and the other teams know it. He hits left. He was up to bat with a guy on second base, and the guy on second took off to steal third. The catcher caught it pretty clean but the guy got a good jump and it was a close play at third. The left fielder was nowhere near being able to cover the throw because Quin can hit hard to that field, so the catcher wound up to throw and then pulled it down – he didn’t make the throw. It would have been a really close play but the risk was high because if he misses … it’s an easy run. So the guy comes blasting into third and slides in head first, and there’s no ball there – BUT … he slides too hard and it’s on that kind of synthetic dirt and he slides right past the bag, by about a foot or so! It takes him a second or two to collect himself and he’s scrambling like mad to stay in contact with the bag – but there was no throw so he didn’t have to worry. Now think about this … if that catcher had seen the left fielder right on top of the play … he makes the throw and they get the tag. As it was … Quin hit the guy home. Consistently hitting the ball in the air and keeping the out fielders out by the warning track is a much easier way to manufacture extra bases, especially if you have some speed.

  13. Bob

    I should have noted that on the team Quin played for, the coaches stressed that they wanted to take the other teams infield right out of the game, and make their pitcher and outfielders beat you. He would say … “If their infielders are make outs … you’re not hitting the ball well enough.” He wanted their approach at the plate to be … “Make it unplayable for their infielders.” That doesn’t always mean swing for the fences, but he wanted them to put the ball out where their fielders had to chase it down and you could run.

  14. Coach Helke

    I have been coaching baseball since 1992. I have always taught the upward angle of the swing to try and match the angle of the in coming ball. I wrote an article in May/ June 2016 issue of The Baseball Observer Digital Magazine titled: Want to Hit? – Stop Swinging Down! As with you – using science, biomechanics and physics research to actually support this subject vs. conjecture or “theory”.

    Here is one of the pieces I quoted:

    SUPPORT RESEARCH
    Alan Nathan (professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois) while testing the theory that an optimally hit curve ball can be hit farther than an optimally hit fastball (the effects of back spin) states: “One additional thing easily can be seen from the contour plots: If your goal is to hit the ball as far as possible, swinging down on the ball—i.e., with a negative attack angle—does not appear to be a good idea.” (Optimizing the Swing, Nov 2015) It’s a long read.

    Also according to Nathan’s research, approximately 80% of all balls hit with a slight upward swing angle of +10 to +15 degrees become hits.

    Keep swinging!

    • Joey Myers

      Preaching to the choir Coach Helke!! 😛 Thanks so much for sharing this. Still A LOT of people outer would look at you like you have a third eye for saying that…especially in 1992!!!! I love the quote from author of the book Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand: “You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.” 🙂

    • Joey Myers

      You’re right! Extreme uppercuts and swinging down are EXTREMELY stupid to consistent barrel up a 95+mph FB. Matching the upward plane of the downward traveling pitch (about 5-degrees for 95+mph) is EXTREMELY smart. Can’t be consistent otherwise. By the way, pitchers throwing 95 to 100-mph in the Big Leagues is the exception, not the rule.