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Giancarlo Stanton: Closed Stance

STOP Pulling Off The Ball, Increase Batting Average, and Boost Power By Using The Closed Stance?

 

I know, I know,

Some well meaning coaches will think, “Well, a closed stance cuts off a hitter’s vision, and/or restricts hip movement”

I get it.  I used to believe the same thing a couple years ago,

…But what I found in my research was counter-intuitive, yet very promising for hitters.

Giancarlo Stanton: Closed Stance

Giancarlo Stanton using his “closed stance”. Photo courtesy: MLB.com

You don’t know what you don’t know, right?

My process is to chew and digest the science, observe how elite hitters apply the movements, and then try it out!

As you’ll soon find out, Giancarlo Stanton did his homework before making this particular change in his swing.

Since there may be many of you raising the same objections I started with, I wanted to discuss:

  • Addressing the above “Study of Planes” video, then we’ll move on to…
  • Analyzing the small change that has netted BIG results for Giancarlo Stanton this season.

 

Study of Planes

My good friend Seo Perales shared the above video with me a few years ago.  By the way, he’s a multiple level black belt in Brazilian Jujitsu.

We love comparing notes because we both like to seek and explore human movement principles that are validated by science.  The only difference is, in his line of work as a Jujitsu instructor, he wants to learn how to break down the body, and I’m into maximizing its effect.

The above video demonstrates the science of movement planes.  What are considered weak and strong planes of movement from a Judo perspective.

I think you’ll find the video enlightening.

Now, you may be thinking, “A Judo video? Really?!  What can I learn from a video about Judo?”

If you find yourself camped out in ONLY baseball or softball circles, then you’re missing out on A LOT of useful information that will take your hitters to a whole other level.

The video is very applicable to hitting.

Furthermore,

My good friend Lee Comeaux from Texas, who teaches professional and amateur golfers, also brought the power of movement planes to my attention about a year ago…

He told me draw an “X” in the batter’s box from opposite corners, and have the hitter stand on either line when hitting.  He’s very versed in Thomas Myers’s book Anatomy Trains.  He says hitters standing on one diagonal leg of the “X” encourages the springiness of fascia.  He taught this to his 15yo daughter, who has hit over .600 the last couple years playing Fast-Pitch Softball in Texas, which is one of the hotbeds for both baseball and softball competition in the country.  Oh and by the way, she also hit a half dozen homers as well.

The second part of this post, I wanted to share the tipping point in addressing Giancarlo Stanton’s new closed stance…

Giancarlo Stanton & The “Dreaded” Closed Stance

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me in writing this post, came from this MLB.com article by David Adler titled, “Closing time: Stanton’s stance fueling surge: Marlins slugger’s home run tear lines up with change to batting stance in June”.

You can go there and read the full article, but I wanted to tease out the quotes from Giancarlo Stanton (and some of David Adler’s commentary), and how Stanton arrived at the batting stance change…

I just said I was going to try it. Honestly, I had about 30 minutes of work, maybe 45 minutes, before the game,” Stanton told MLB.com Sunday, when he crushed his Major League-leading 45th home run against the Mets at Citi Field. “And then 10 minutes before the game, I was like, ‘This feels more comfortable.'”

Stanton was already having a helluva year, so it’s interesting to me that he made the change when he did, typically a change like this follows a slump.  However, this wasn’t a spur of the moment decision – like it sounds from that quote – he did his homework, which you’ll read about shortly…

“My best striking position is closed,” Stanton said. “It’s not smart to try to completely change something in the middle of the season. But if you are 100 percent committed to it … well, you’ve got to be. You’ve got to trust what you’re trying to do. If you change something, you want results right away, otherwise you try to go back. But I trusted it completely and let it ride.”

Sounds contradictory doesn’t it?  To have the attitude that you can’t completely change something in the middle of the season – especially when you’re already doing well!!  But then he says you MUST commit to giving the change time – that is – IF you’ve done your homework beforehand.

I’ve heard some parents and coaches say mid-season changes aren’t smart.  I don’t like to think that way…WHY?  Because if you don’t guide the hitter, the hitter will make changes on their own.  And if they don’t get highly resourceful on the subject, then this could lead to DISASTER with all the junk hitting info on the net these days.

David Adler did fantastic research illustrating the evolution of Giancarlo Stanton’s closed stance in this Tweet:

In the earlier mentioned article, Adler states…

“Stanton’s closing of his batting stance has correlated with his massive power surge. On June 18, he had 17 home runs in 282 plate appearances; since June 19, he has 28 in 236.

When Stanton hits from those positions [open or straight up], his front side can come open before the pitch arrives, leaving him exploitable.

The closed stance is a natural counter. When Stanton is already turned inward to start, his rotation drives him into the pitch, instead of causing him to fade away from it.”

By the way, for those not doing the math:

  • From start of season to June 18th, he hit 1 homer every 16.5 plate appearances, and
  • From June 19th on, he hit 1 homer every 8.4 plate appearances

He cut his rate in half!!!!  The closed stance was the ONLY change to his swing in that time frame, so this makes an interesting case study with a decent sample size of plate appearances.  See for yourself with the following David Adler Tweet:

David Adler adds some terms of comparision you may be familiar with…

“With his adjusted stance, Stanton has been driving the ball in the air more often. His rate of fly balls and line drives, per Statcast™, has risen from 41.5 percent prior to June 19 to 50.3 percent since. Stanton’s average exit velocity on those balls has increased from 97.6 mph to 100.8 mph, the highest in the Majors over that time.”

I don’t care that Stanton is a beast, if you increase your Line Drive and Fly Ball Rates (Launch Angle), and Ball Exit Speeds that much, you’ll make a lot of Ground-ball teams VERY VERY upset.  Small hitters CAN and DO take advantage of this formula too.  Statcast has given hitters the cheat codes to increase offensive productivity!

Furthermore, in the Adler article…

“[His stance] gets him in the position he wants to be in. It looks like it’s keeping him on the ball more, and he seems like he’s seeing it better,” said Christian Yelich, who’s played alongside Stanton as long as any current Marlin — since 2013, when he was 21 and Stanton 23. “Some guys have different problems than others. You go about fixing them or covering them in different ways. It’s all about feel. That’s what works for him, that feel.”

Look at that bold sentence once more because that is one of the most critical keys to this whole thing.  Yelich is also tapping into making extreme adjustments, for example, Stanton’s challenge in the past has been pulling off, maybe because of when he tragically got hit in the face a few years ago.  Whatever the reason, the extreme adjustment (a closed stance), helps him stay on the ball longer.

CLICK HERE for a video I did on how to make adjustments…the scientific term for this is “Paradoxical Intention”.

Now, here is where the article gets into the research that brought Giancarlo Stanton to the point of taking the stance change seriously…

“But at a level of the game where emulation is fundamental, success begetting imitators, Stanton found his prototypes: Nolan Arenado, Matt Kemp, Adrian Beltre, prominent hitters who do close off. He recognized past greats, too: Hall of Famer Andre Dawson works as a special assistant to the Marlins, and he hit with a closed stance in his playing career. Stanton didn’t copy the technical aspects of their batting stances, but their accomplishments gave him precedent to actually make the change himself.

Some on Twitter have written this change off as a band-aide, avoiding a true fix.  A true fix?  Are you kidding me?!  Cutting his home-run per plate appearance rate in half IS NOT a true fix!?  Dude!!  Success leaves clues.  These people are saying Giancarlo Stanton is “playing to the slice”, where a golfer who chronically slices the ball will angle his body at setup so they don’t have to fix the real problem…which is not squaring up the club face at impact.

This is a poor attempt to protect an inflexible teaching philosophy, and sheer laziness on their part to get educated on their craft they claim to know a lot about.  You instructors seriously think Giancarlo Stanton is not “squaring the ball up” at impact since June 19th and is just “playing the slice”?  That is laughable.  You don’t know what you don’t know, right?

This is the problem I have with instructors with inflexible hitting systems…they’re WILLFULLY IGNORANT to experimenting with things that could push their hitters forward, especially movements validated by science.  We’re ALL in this together, and we’re ALL helping hitters.  It’s NOT about your ego or protecting “your brand” coaches.

But I digress…

Here’s some insight into Giancarlo Stanton’s thought process with the change…

“I just know the guys with success,” Stanton said. “Arenado and Kemp, those guys, you know you can have a high average with it. So that kind of gave me the green light to try it…I knew it could work. Not very many people did it. But I know people like Hawk and them did it in the old days — and it worked for them, too.”

 

The Bottom Line…

Giancarlo Stanton: Tweet About Closed Stance

A day or two after re-tweeting Homer Bush’s Tweet about Giancarlo Stanton’s closed stance, I received this response from @Omaha_Outlaws4…

I understand your objections that a closed stance may cut off a hitter’s vision, and/or restricts hip movement.  You’ve heard me talk a lot about “keeping the back foot sideways”, well, this plays right into that.

Matt Nokes is religious on restricting hip movement to the point of impact with keeping the back foot sideways.  Homer Bush agrees in this interview.  So are the Backspin Tee guys Taylor and Jarrett Gardner.  LIGHT BULB! The closed stance does this naturally.

The main benefit of restricting hip movement at impact (includes keeping back foot sideways) that you’ll hear from Nokes, Bush, and the Gardner Brothers, is to keep the barrel in the hitting zone longer.  This increases BA and Slug%.

Here’s my advice:

  1. Chew and digest the science,
  2. Observe how elite hitters apply the movements, and then
  3. Try it out!

If it doesn’t work after giving it the ol’ college try, then toss it.

As many of you know, I will gladly eat crow and change my hitting system IF you can show me the science, swing experiments, and many elite hitting examples that I can’t ignore the issue.

This is an informal Part-1 to a Zepp swing experiment I’ll be doing on the Giancarlo Stanton closed stance in the near future.  So stay tuned…

How to Become a Hitting Expert When You Come Across “That Guy” (Baseball Hitting Drills For Youth Included)

So, this is what I have to deal with on a weekly basis…

I also want to apologize in advance, this is a little bit of a rant.

Before going into the baseball hitting drills for youth, here’s some context,

It all started when I posted this image of Buster Posey in his ‘Float’ position on Twitter (CLICK HERE for Twitter thread):

Baseball Hitting Drills for Youth: Buster Posey 'Floating'

Buster Posey photo courtesy: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The caption I put over the Twitter image stated: “Hitting Misconception: ‘Keep the back knee inside the foot’. Buster Posey is ‘floating’ with his knee over ankle…”

This is when my conversation with @13tys started…

@13tys: his knee is inside his foot! No?

@hitperformlab (Me): nope, knee floating slightly off center of ankle.

@13tys: just showed the same pic to my 11yr old and asked him, reply “are you stupid? His knee is inside his ankle”.

(This is when I get the feeling that I was dealing with “that guy”)

@hitperformlab: he’s kind of bias don’t you think? Lol

@13tys: just showed the pic and asked. I usually use my 9 and 11 yr olds to call a spade a spade. They don’t know baseball politics.

@hitperformlab: it’s not the ideal angle, I’ll find another. You believe in keeping the knee inside at all costs?

@13tys: you don’t have to, but the further back it goes, the tougher u make hitting. Already tough enough w/o that much movement!

@hitperformlab: C’mon man! Had to prove to your 10yo I’m not “stupid” lol. Just did simple Google image search.

(Here are the two images of Buster Posey I posted to the baseball hitting drills for youth Twitter thread)...

Baseball Hitting Drills for Youth: Buster Posey 'Floating'

Buster Posey photo courtesy: www.BayAreaSportsGuy.com

AND

Baseball Hitting Drills for Youth: Buster Posey 'Floating'

Buster Posey photo courtesy: InWriteField.com

@13tys: still, we are looking at the same thing and seeing different things. To me, that knee is still not on top of the ankle.

(by the way, in the beginning of our Twitter conversation, I said “knee floating slightly off center of ankle”)…

@hitperformlab: let me get my 2 year old to comment on your comment lol

@hitperformlab: Posey is creating torque in his back hip. Also depends on the severity of the leg kick, Posey’s is about medium…hope this helps

@13tys: creating torque?? Seriously? This is y kids are so confused by their “hitting coaches” #keepitsimple

(Then like the “good American citizen” he is, posts a screenshot of the definition of “Torque”)…

@hitperformlab: I’m talking to you, not to kids. Read Dr. Kelly Starrett’s book The Supple Leopard.

@13tys: sorry, My experience and knowledge come from yrs in cages & video w/ the best hitters ever, some come from books on crossfit

@hitperformlab: book that’ll rock you’re isolated hitting world? Anatomy Trains by Thomas Myers.

(Then there was radio silence…)

FIRST of all, if spending years in the cages AND analyzing video of the best hitters ever, magically made you know EVERYTHING you need to know about effective hitting, then we wouldn’t have the problem we do today with guys like this, coming up with effective baseball hitting drills for youth hitters.

“That guy” is a soaked sponge, and has reached his ceiling of knowledge when it comes to hitting.

Baseball Hitting Drills for Youth: Alex Rodriguez Barrel Down

Baseball hitting drills for youth: Alex Rodriguez NOT keeping barrel above hands like he said. Photo courtesy: NewsDay.com

If experience, cage work, and analysis were the only standard of learning the swing, then we’d all have to accept what Alex Rodriguez shared about the secret to his swing during the 2015 World Series FOX Sports broadcast…

How he talked about keeping the barrel above his hands when hitting.  And we ALL know how well that little tip would help our hitters 😛

And SECOND, this “talking down to you” TWEETitude, is a sure sign of an inferior coach, nevertheless, a knucklehead for a human being.

Slightly off topic…

Read this Business Insider article titled, “4 behaviors are the most reliable predictors of divorce”.

Guess which one of the ‘4 horsemen of the apocalypse’ is the worst offender in marriages…

CONTEMPT (aka, the “talking down to you” attitude).

Okay, back on topic…

Look, if we as coaches don’t have a solid foundation in human movement principles, validated by science, then we’re pissing in the wind!  Without this foundation, conversations about hitting would model a Merry-Go-Round.  Many of you have experienced this ridiculous insanity in popular online hitting forums.

Look at this slow motion video of Buster Posey.  Look at the difference of the back knee position (over the ankle, slightly off center) at the 0:03 video mark, versus at the 0:09 video mark during the fall forward…

Here’s the holdup with hitting coaches, even ones I agree with on a majority of things,

They think that the back knee MUST stay inside the foot at ALL times.  So, they teach ALL their hitters to do this, often putting the hitter’s back knee in an unnatural and awkward position before Forward Momentum.

If you think this knee position is healthy, then CLICK HERE to learn how bad putting the knee into a ‘knee valgus’ position is to our youth athletes from FunctionalMovement.com.

In addition,

These same instructors may also suggest and teach there hitters that when the back knee gets over the ankle, that it’s a BAD thing.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The shifting of the knee back over the ankle should have a purpose.  A couple baseball hitting drills for youth concepts:

  1. A timing mechanism that I like to call the ‘Float’, AND
  2. Creating torque, or stability, in the back hip.

 

Baseball Hitting Drills for Youth #1: Using the ‘Float’

A ‘Float’ is a timing mechanism the hitter uses just before falling forward.  It generally can be observed as a slight weight shift back towards the catcher before falling forward.

With the ‘Float’, the severity of the knee shift will depend on the leg kick.  The higher the leg kick, the more the shifting of the knee over the ankle may have to happen.

For example, Willie Mays didn’t have much of a weight shift (or Float) back, he just fell forward with a slide step:

However, watch slow motion video of Josh Donaldson, who has a high leg kick, and you’ll see him virtually ‘pause’ on one leg, before his fall forward:

Baseball Hitting Drills for Youth #2: Creating Hip Torque & Stability

Okay, so what is creating torque to stabilize the back hip mean?  Let Dr. Kelly Starrett, Physical Therapist and owner of San Francisco CrossFit, at MobilityWOD.com explain its importance:

Here’s a baseball hitting drills for youth coaching cue that I use…

Borrowed from Dr. Kelly Starrett, I say to my hitters “screw the back ankle into the foot”.  I also advise them to point the back toe slightly inward towards the pitcher at setup, and to keep it there while screwing the ankle in.  The keyword is slight, not a lot.

Take a look at this video of Jose Bautista fouling a ball off, and watch how he ‘bows’ his back knee in, but at about the 0:06 second mark (when he begins his fall forward), the back knee starts to shift back towards the catcher…his back hip and thigh bone are searching for stability after being put in an unstable internally rotated (knee valgus) position at setup:

Now, CLICK HERE to watch this video clip of Ted Williams, and keep an eye on the back knee action between the 0:06-0:15 video mark.  Sorry, this YouTuber disabled the embed code so I couldn’t embed the video here.

What did arguably one of the best hitters of all time do with his back knee prior to Forward Momentum.  Boy, didn’t it shift back over the ankle?!

How about this homerun hit by Asdrubal Cabrera (watch the slow motion chest view at the 0:41 second mark)…

One more video…

Check out Matt Kemp.  As you can see, he starts with his back knee inside his foot, then watch for his back knee action prior to Forward Momentum:

Now, is this making baseball hitting drills for youth more complicated, like Mr. @13tys said?

Heck no!  It takes about 5 to 10-mins to explain to my 7-year-old hitters, and they begin applying it in their swings.  Easy peasy.

So after looking at all this, here’s the point of my baseball hitting drills for youth rant…

Don’t get caught up drinking the cool-aid of other hitting experts, blowhards, or “That Guy” without questioning what they’re saying.  Remember, we aren’t just observers.  We’re amateur scientists in a way.

I don’t claim to know it all.  And am still learning.  But I know for a fact, I’m on a better road than “That Guy”.

Look, I don’t mind being challenged, but if you don’t back up what you’re saying with human movement principles, that are validated by science, then you’ll lose.  We aren’t debating baseball hitting drills for youth philosophies or theories…we analyze through the lens of validated science.  Physics, Engineering, Bodywork, Biology, Chemistry, and Biomechanics.

I DO NOT care what level you played or coached at.

I DO NOT care if you’ve digested a million hours of slow motion video footage of only the BEST hitters.

I also DO NOT care if you’ve logged more hitting lesson hours than it takes to fly to Mars!!

If you don’t understand the human movement “rules”, then you DO NOT understand high level hitting, or better yet, high level human performance.

I know this may upset some of you out there.  But I don’t care.  The days of being “That Guy” are numbered.  If you aren’t moving with us, then you’ll be left behind.  And that’s the truth.

 

Matt Kemp: Unique Ted Williams Power Secret

Matt Kemp faulty “braking” Functional Lines? Yep, look at his left shoulder higher than his right during the finish. Photo courtesy: ThinkBlueLA.com

Imagine if I asked you to take a ride in my 2-year-old son’s favorite sports car and ultimate luxury vehicle, the Lamborghini Aventador…cherry red.

Costs about $400K, has 720 horse-power, and goes zero to sixty-mph in 2.8 seconds.  I’m drooling just thinking about it.  What if I also told you it had no brakes.  The manufacturer just “forgot” to install them.  If you know I have a lead foot, then would you still want a ride?

I tell my hitters that someone like Matt Kemp or Ted Williams are using both rotational and anti-rotational systems during the swing.

Think of them as acceleration and braking systems, and both are important to a friction-free swing.  Our focus today will be optimizing these systems during the stroke.  We’re going to highlight:

  • The science of accelerating & braking systems,
  • Matt Kemp & Ted Williams (who has the more efficient braking system?)
  • How to tune-up your acceleration & braking system.

 

The Science of Accelerating & Braking Systems

Graphic of Thomas Myers's Functional Lines in his book Anatomy Trains

Front & Back Functional Lines from Thomas Myers’s book Anatomy Trains. Photo courtesy: AnatomyTrains.it

Thomas Myers in his book Anatomy Trains talks about 9 different fascial lines found throughout the body that inter-weave and inter-relate during human movement.  We’ll be highlighting one in particular called the Functional Lines (pictured right).  CLICK HERE for a brief background on springy fascia.

Thomas Myers says that Functional Lines mainly come into play in the following athletic events:

  • Shot Put, Javelin, Discus, and Hammer Throws,
  • Tennis,
  • Golf, and of course
  • For hitters like Matt Kemp & Ted Williams

Thomas Myers says,

“These lines enable us to give extra power and precision to the movements of the limbs by lengthening their lever arm through linking them across the body to the opposite limb in the other girdle.”

Imagine a big “X” painted on your chest and back, connecting the right shoulder to the left hip, and vice versa.  Thomas Myers refers to them as Front Functional Lines (FFL) & Back Functional Lines (BFL).  He uses a couple different examples to illustrate the braking system in action:

“Pitching a baseball or bowling a cricket are perfect ways to engage these lines: the wind-up involves a shortening of the BFL and a stretching of the FFL, while the pitch itself reverses that process, shortening the FFL and stretching the BFL.  In the final act, the BFL acts as a brake to keep the strong contraction along the FFL and the momentum of the arm from going too far and damaging joints involved in the movement.”

You still following me?  It’s okay if not.  We’ll simplify in the next section…

Matt Kemp & Ted Williams (who has the more effective braking system?)

I want to compare Matt Kemp to Ted Williams because they have similar body types, according to Baseball-Reference.com:

Simplifying the acceleration/braking systems, we can just follow the front shoulder to see who is being more efficient with their Functional Lines.  Consider Ted Williams:

Ted Williams front shoulder path

Follow yellow arrows tracking Ted Williams’s front (right) shoulder path…photo left to right: 1) Down, 2) Up, and 3) Down again.

Now, check out the difference with Matt Kemp:

Matt Kemp front shoulder path

Follow yellow arrows tracking Matt Kemp’s front (left) shoulder path…photo left to right: 1) Slightly Down, 2) Up, and 3) Up again.

That’s right, Matt Kemp finishes with his left shoulder up!  Not convinced?   Check out the photo of his finish at the beginning of this post.  He’s not being very efficient with his braking system.  Matt Kemp is leaving repeatable power on the table (which is scary!)…to polish, he’d have to:

  • Get more downhill shoulder angle before landing,
  • Show more of his numbers to the pitcher, and
  • Focus on finishing “barrel down” with his top hand release.

 

 How-to Tune-Up Your Acceleration & Braking Systems

There are a couple quick exercises and stretches that Thomas Myers recommends to tune-up both Functional Lines:

  1. Engage BFL (Alternating Supermans) – 2 sets X 12 reps each side.  Focus on moving the body as a whole.  Arm and leg are to be lifted at exactly same time.  Head stays in line with spine.  Don’t arch head back like in video.
  2. Engage FFL (Alternating Supermans) – same as #1, but do Alternating Supermans on your back.
  3. Stretch BFL (Triangle Yoga Pose) – Hold position on each side for a deep breath count of 5-10.
  4. Stretch FFL (1/2 Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch w/ Rotation) – hold position on each side for about 60-seconds.  Keep the abs and “down knee” glute contracted during stretch.

Do the above four 1-2 times daily for 3-weeks.