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“Staying Closed” for Fastpitch Softball & Baseball (NOT What You Think)

 

Josh Donaldson: Stay Closed & ADD Bat & Ball Exit Speed

Looks as if Josh Donaldson is reaching out with his barrel to touch the catcher’s glove! Josh Donaldson photo courtesy: www.todaysknuckleball.com

In this article, we’ll compare the swings of Oakland Athletic’s (now Blue Jays) Josh Donaldson and Toronto Blue Jay’s Jose Bautista (aka Joey Bats).  In the video, we’ll discuss:

  • Donaldson v. Bautista metrics,
  • What “staying closed” means to spine engine mechanics, and
  • Where Josh Donaldson might be leaking force at impact.

 

Josh Donaldson v. Jose Bautista Metrics

This section is split up as follows:

  • Physical
  • Swing analysis
  • Key offensive stats

 Physical

Tale of the tape (according to Baseball-Reference.com):

  • Josh Donaldson – 6’0″, 220lbs
  • Jose Bautista – 6’0″ 205lbs

Swing Analysis

Both hitters:

  • Use a distinctive leg kick,
  • Have an early start to their swings (pick up front foot when pitcher breaks the hands)
  • Use forward momentum,
  • Stay tight in final turn,
  • Use Catapult Loading System (down shoulder angle & show numbers to pitcher), and
  • Start their first name with the letter “J”.

Key Offensive Stats

Here are FIVE key offensive stats based on a 162-game average (Baseball-Reference.com in May of 2014):

  1. On-Base Percentage (OBP) – JD* = .351, JB** = .365
  2. Slugging Percentage (SLG) – JD = .467. JB = 489
  3. On-Base + Slug (OPS) – JD = .818, JB = .854
  4. Doubles – JD = 36, JB = 28
  5. Homers – JD = 24, JB = 31

*JD stands for Josh Donaldson

**JB stands for Jose Bautista

So why does Jose Bautista come out on top even though he’s outweighed by 15lbs?  Consider this…

Josh Donaldson: CLICK HERE to see a scatter graph of his dinger disbursement in 2013 (according to ESPN Stats & Information Group).  In the 158 games he played in 2013 (24 homers) his…

  • Average true distance was 391.3 feet, and
  • Average speed off the bat was 103.7 mph.

Jose Bautista: CLICK HERE to see a scatter graph of his home-run disbursement in 2013 (according to ESPN Stats & Information Group).  In the 118 games played (hand/wrist injury) in 2013 (28 homers) his…

  • Average true distance was 400.3 feet, and
  • Average speed off the bat was 104.8 mph.

The bottom line?

Jose Bautista Staying Closed

Jose Bautista photo courtesy: MLB.com

Joey Bats played 40 less games in 2013, but still outhit Josh Donaldson.  So let’s answer the question of how Bautista hit each homer, on average, 9 feet further, and drove the ball 1.1 mph faster off the bat.

Let’s begin building a case as to where Josh Donaldson may be bleeding force at impact…

 

What “Staying Closed” Means to Spine Engine Mechanics

Most confuse the meaning of the coaching cue “staying closed”.  The hitter DOES NOT “stay closed” with the bottom half.  For maximum energy transfer, the pelvis should open when the body weights the front foot after striding.  Both hitters seem to prematurely open their pelvis before the heel hits the ground.  This isn’t efficient!  We’ll talk about:

  • The truth about staying closed,
  • The importance of heel strike to locomotion, and
  • Swinging in sand: effortless power or powerless effort?

The Truth About Staying Closed

Jose bautista Impact

Jose Bautista photo courtesy: MLB.com

In the video, we apply two of three coupled motion of the spine actions, according to Dr. Serge Gracovetsky’s book The Spinal Engine:

  1. Side bending (evidenced by a down shoulder angle), and
  2. Axial rotation (hitter shows numbers to pitcher, while pelvis stays parallel to the plate)

In the video, we clearly see both hitters do this.  Donaldson more than Bautista.  I mentioned both hitters prematurely open their pelvis before heel strike.  Let’s look at the gravity (pun intended) of doing or not doing this…

The Importance of Heel Strike to Locomotion

In the book, Gracovetsky offers one of several meanings for maintaining a healthy spine using spinal engine mechanics (p. 168):

“…the compressive pulse generated at heel-strike is essential to the locomotion process.  The shape of this pulse must be very specific if maximum energy is to be transferred from the earth’s gravitational field to the rotating pelvis.”

Both hitters “stand tall” before falling forward and “getting shorter” into the turn.  This lifting of the torso is like running versus walking.  When running, our heel hits the ground creating a compressive force that is equaled to NINE-times our body weight, Dr. Gracovetsky says.  Gravity pulls our body down (Un-Weighting Principal), and at heel strike, the ground pushes back in a compressive force.  The greater the force, the faster the pelvis opens.

The following is where I foreshadow the problem with Donaldson…

Swinging in Sand: Effortless Power or Powerless Effort?

Josh Donaldson Staying Closed

Josh Donaldson photo courtesy: MLB.com

Dr. Serge Gracovetsky offers this example in the book (pgs. 168-169),

“Running or walking on soft sand is not easy and is very tiring,  In this particular case, the energy leaks into the sand, the impact force is reduced, and the compressive pulse through the spine is attenuated [disabled] as the total energy recovered is reduced.”

The compressive force is softened by the sand, which doesn’t allow the pelvis to turn using efficient spine engine mechanics.  To maneuver, the brain has to recruit big muscles to do the work.  This is why you get a workout walking on sand…it’s powerless effort, rather than effortless power.

Donaldson is basically turning his pelvis using muscle mass (like walking in the sand).  Whereas Bautista looks more effortless because he’s using efficient spine engine mechanics, gravity, and gravitational reaction forces…

 

Where Josh Donaldson May Be Leaking Force at Impact

In the video, you’ll see Donaldson start opening his pelvis five frames before he weights his front foot.  His front foot looks like it almost “hovers” over the ground for 3-4 frames.  Opening the pelvis without a true compressive force (gravity and gravitational reaction forces) would be like hitting a baseball while standing on sand!

Bautista starts opening his pelvis only two frames ahead of weighting his front foot.  Joey Bats experiences a higher compressive force at landing than Donaldson does.  This is why “staying closed” with the upper half, and committing the body to landing on the front foot is crucial to an average increase of:

  • 9 feet to batted ball distance, and
  • 1.1 mph to ball exit speeds.

Post UPDATE: after Josh Donaldson was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015, this post was picked up by the Canadian National Post (Just above the Jose Bautista image).  Also, there was an “upgrade” to his hitting mechanics since this post was first published in 2014.  CLICK HERE for a link to an Athletics Nation article talking about a difference in J.D.’s 2013 & 2014 swing mechanics.  In 2015, Josh Donaldson reverted back to his minimalist “barrel tilt” 2013 hitting mechanics.

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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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30 replies
  1. Bob
    Bob says:

    Nice presentation again Joey. Boy … you are a guy who gets right down to the nuts and bolts – where the rubber hits the road. The way I see it, and just to add something to what you are saying, Jose is waiting and his swing is more explosive than Josh. Josh more or less eases into his swing, and that lets the energy out more slowly – like pinching the opening of a balloon and letting the air come out gradually. Jose takes a pin and punctures it so it blows right up.

    Reply
    • Joey Myers
      Joey Myers says:

      Bob, you’re right on! Check out Dr. Serge Gracovetsky’s book The Spinal Engine I referenced in the article. It’s $100 but well worth the insights. This article really cuts to the chase when coaches ask about minimal or no stride. These options don’t allow gravity and gravitational reaction forces to work for a hitter. These stride minimalist hitters become “energy-hogs”, and never really transfer 100% of their body’s potential and kinetic energy into the ball.

      Reply
  2. Tyler Doerner
    Tyler Doerner says:

    I was watching your josh donaldson and jose bautista video and was reading the article where i saw that opening the pelvis before heel strike is bad. So does this mean that I should keep my front foot closed until right before it hits the ground? Then open it up 45-75 degrees? I guess the question is when should i start opening my pelvis. Right before or after heel strike?

    Reply
    • Joey Myers
      Joey Myers says:

      Tyler, it’s not bad to open the pelvis early before landing. Bautista does this too. The problem is efficiency. Bautista uses Gravitational Forces better. The important thing is to commit your body weight forward and land with an open front leg (foot at 45-70 degrees).

      Reply
  3. Winn
    Winn says:

    Joey – great analysis and very useful information for coaching.

    A question on Donaldson’s front foot hover. The first pitch (could not tell on the 2nd) looked like it may have been off speed, could Donaldson be early, and using the hover as a slight hesitation to hit the off speed?

    You may have looked at 20 pitches and he does this on every pitch. I am only asking based off the one pitch.

    Reply
    • Joey Myers
      Joey Myers says:

      Winn, great question and one I posed to Dr. Serge Gracovetsky over email. He seems to think Donaldson is keeping his weight “back” enough not to commit on the off speed pitch. I teach more of get the foot on the ground and use the front knee bend to buy more time, like what Jaime Cevallos says. Teaching what J.D. would prove difficult to young hitters. My advice is to teach Cevallos’s “cushion” or “double cushion” method, instead of the “hover”. I’d rather have a hitter committing to their front side, then snapping back during the Final Turn. This commitment taps into Gravitational Forces better, and you can definitely see the different ball exit speed and batted ball distance affect between Bautista and Donaldson.

      Reply
  4. Joe
    Joe says:

    Joey,

    Just checking out your study of forward momentum with Hank Aaron after finding the Willie Mays picture and watching clips of him.

    In this Donaldson/Bautista article, both are using foward momentum but are opening their pelvis prior to heel strike with Donaldson doing so more so than Bautista.

    You are not advocating that the pelvis open before heel strike, are you? The pelvis opens as a result of heel strike/foot plant due to GRF. It is similar for pitching. Correct?

    Reply
    • Joey Myers
      Joey Myers says:

      Joe,

      No, I don’t teach my hitters to open their pelvis pre-stride foot touch down. This would be difficult for younger hitters to do anyway. We want them to use the ground reaction forces to spin the pelvis. The coupled motion of the spine can work in space without gravity. But when you add ground reaction forces, it amplifies the effect.

      Most likely Donaldson, because he starts so closed off, has had to develop premature opening of the pelvis to compete against inside pitches. It works for him because of how much forward momentum he gets.

      Reply
  5. Joe
    Joe says:

    Joey,

    Based upon what you stated this article, why did Texas pitch him on the inner half yesterday when he opens his front foot so much? Yes, the Texas pitcher might have tried to get it further inside like the previous pitch, but I’m throwing sliders away.

    Reply
    • Joey Myers
      Joey Myers says:

      Joe, Donaldson is REALLY good at ‘blocking’ his shoulders from opening too early. He’s staying spring loaded till the last possible second. His hips don’t get in the way like guys that stride closed do.

      Reply
  6. Justin Cole
    Justin Cole says:

    Donaldson crushes Bautista now if you were to do a comparison of those same stats. He has actually crushed him pretty much since the article was written. Age drain by Bautista, or did Donaldson make some adjustments that improved his ability to consistently drive balls?

    Reply
    • Joey Myers
      Joey Myers says:

      Justin, I fear you may be right, and most likely there’s some psychological challenges as well…Andre Agassi went through similar growing pains later in his career.

      Reply

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  5. […] in 2012, based in part on tips he took from watching video of Toronto slugger Jose Bautista. In this fascinating video dissecting their respective swings, HittingPerformanceLab.com says Donaldson and Bautista both start their swings the same way, but […]

  6. […] in 2012, based in part on tips he took from watching video of Toronto slugger Jose Bautista. In this fascinating video dissecting their respective swings, HittingPerformanceLab.com says Donaldson and Bautista both start their swings the same way, but […]