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Hitting A Baseball: Discover The Secret Of Impact

Robinson Cano hitting a baseball post-contact. Photo courtesy: TheNYPost.com

Debating the intricacies of hitting a baseball (or softball) can be as bad as discussing religion or politics.  This is why we look to proven human movement science first.  Hitting a baseball is an imperfect skill.  It has a lot of failure built into the fabric.  The objective of every coach, instructor, or parent should be to build as many “fail-safes” into the system as possible.  Let’s talk about that…

(By the way, this post is a BEAST at a little over 1,300 words, so figure 5-7 mins reading time)

 

To Arm Bar OR Not to Arm Bar, this is the Question…

We’re going to explore the following, as they relate to impact:

  • Perry Husband & Effective Velocity,
  • 90-Degree Angle to the Spine Rule NOT True?
  • University of Miami Study: The Biomechanics of the Baseball Swing
  • Conclusion…

First I want to start by setting the table…

 

Perry Husband & Effective Velocity

Hitting a Baseball: Perry Husband Effective Velocity Pitching System

“Pluses” take-away from hitter’s reaction time, “minuses” add to hitter’s reaction time (images are pitcher’s POV). Photos courtesy: HittingIsAGuess.com

The one thing I like about Perry Husband’s contribution to hitting a baseball is he goes by “data, not feelings”.

He’s made a science out of a hitter’s reaction time.  Perry Husband has accumulated, “Over 10 years of study and testing of amateur hitters and two years of intense study of major league at bats in a 4 million plus pitch database.  At his site Hitting Is A Guess, Perry Husband explains his Effective Velocity system for pitchers:

The Downright Filthy Pitching Series is a very in depth study of speed as it relates to the hitter’s reaction time.  Initial velocity is the speed of the ball as the radar gun sees it, perceived velocity is the speed of the ball as the mind’s eye sees it and Effective Velocity is the speed it actually is.   Effective Velocity (EV) is the initial velocity plus the location effects of the pitch due to different locations having different reaction times…A 90 MPH pitch can and does equal many different speeds, depending on where the pitch is located. “

His data (photo above) suggests that a hitter has to be quicker to pitches up in the zone, and in.  And pitches down in the zone and away, give a hitter more time to adjust.  Perry Husband reports from his findings:

“Did you know that the highest exit velocities off Major League hitters’ bats come off the pitches in the lowest part of the strike zone? How about that the most homeruns hit are off pitches at the very bottom of the strike zone as well?”

Over the past year, I’ve softened to some of Perry’s hitting a baseball mechanics.  His information is vital to understanding if…

90-Degree Barrel Angle to the Spine Rule  NOT True?

Hitting a Baseball: Giancarlco Stanton 90-degree Barrel to Spine Rule

Giancarlo Stanton: 90-degree barrel to spine rule. Note: outside pitch slightly up in zone. Photo courtesy: MLB.com

CLICK HERE for the post that explains this Rule.  I received a few emails from people thinking I meant the front arm angle to the spine at contact.  Which would translate to arm barring…NO!  The preceding post link refers to the barrel, not the front arm to spine angle.

The shape of the front arm will depend on pitch velocity and location.  There are four ways a hitter gets to pitches at the top/bottom of the strike-zone, and/or inside/outside of the plate…

  1. Tilting at the waist with the upper body (the lower the pitch, the more the tilt),
  2. Back knee bend,
  3. Front knee bend, AND
  4. Front arm bar (pitch depth)

Another reader got upset saying that I’m teaching two different swings.  And enlightened me about his extensive study into the brain, and that taking a bent arm from the initiation of the swing and changing the shape to straight is impossible for the brain to do.  Wha???!  Are you kidding me?!  His “thing” was that the front arm had to stay bent the whole time.

Remember, Perry Husband said that the highest ball exit speeds and home-runs were off of lower pitches?  Do you think it could be because the front arm was able to extend at impact?  Creating a longer lever and allowing for a smooth transfer of bat speed (angular velocity) into ball exit speed (inertial force).  These are fundamental rules in the Conservation of Angular Momentum.

Look, if our goal as coaches is to get hitters 100% on-time, 100% swing effective, then we must take a serious look at the front arm bar.  High exit velocity is key to batted ball distance, and without it Launch Angles alone won’t score more runs.  Besides, how many commercial and/or passenger airplanes get off the ground without high horizontal velocity?  CLICK HERE for an interview we did with Perry Husband about his system.

One last thing to look into hitting a baseball…

 

University of Miami Study: The Biomechanics of the Baseball Swing

Hitting a Baseball: Josh Donaldson just past impact

Josh Donaldson game winning dinger high inside pitch. Photo courtesy: MLB.com

Major shout out to one of my readers and local lesson parents, Nieszka, for bringing this to my attention.  This study was done by Dr. David Fortenbaugh at the University of Miami (CLICK HERE if you want to download the 200+ page pdf).  Here’s the gist of how the study was put together:

  • Study Objective: to compare swings against pitches thrown to different locations and at different speeds.
  • AA-level Minor League Baseball players (n=43) took extended rounds of batting practice in an indoor laboratory against a pitcher throwing a mixture of fastballs and changeups.
  • An eight camera motion analysis system and two force plates recording at 300 Hz captured the biomechanical
    data.
  • The swing was divided into six phases (stance, stride, coiling, swing initiation, swing acceleration, and follow-through) by five key events (lead foot off, lead foot down, weight shift commitment, maximum front foot vertical ground reaction force, and bat ball contact).
  • Twenty-eight kinematic measurements and six ground reaction force measurements were computed based on the marker and force plate data, and all were assessed throughout the phases.

The findings?

According to the Study:

“A large number of biomechanical differences were seen among the swings against various pitch locations. More fully rotated positions, particularly of the pelvis and bat were critical to the batters’ successes on inside pitches while less rotated positions keyed successes against outside pitches. The trail and lead arms worked together as part of a closed chain to drive the hand path. Successful swings had the trail elbow extended more for HIGH IN and flexed more for LOW OUT, though batters often struggled to execute this movement properly. A distinct pattern among successful swings against fastballs, successful swings against changeups, and unsuccessful swings against changeups was witnessed; namely a progressive delay in which the batter prematurely initiated the events of the kinetic chain, especially when unsuccessful in hitting a changeup.”

 

Hitting a Baseball Conclusion

Hitting a Baseball: Miguel Cabrera

Miguel Cabrera “power-V” post impact. Arms extended, high moment of inertia. Note catcher’s glove position. Photo courtesy: ToledoBlade.com

So, let’s tie up everything we talked about in hitting a baseball…

On pitches low and/or away, the hitter has more reaction time (Perry Husband research), so tilting at the waist (on lower pitches) and extending the front elbow to impact is key (90-degree barrel spine rule).  And because the outside and lower pitches will be hit slightly deeper than inside and higher pitches, the trailing elbow will have more bend in it at impact (Miami Study).

There can be a harmonious relationship between an arm bar, and consistency getting to pitches up and in the zone.  CLICK HERE for this post that get’s into the different “catcher’s gloves” on how to do this.  HINT: it has to do with the “belly button” catcher’s glove.

Readers, I want to hear your thoughts on hitting a baseball in the Comments below…

#1 Youth Baseball Swing Fix To Deflating Bat Speed

 

Awhile back I posted the following to my Hitting Performance Lab Facebook fan-page (CLICK HERE if you haven’t “Liked” my fan-page yet…new content daily):

[fb_embed_post href=”https://www.facebook.com/HittingPerformanceLab/posts/565739680222497/” width=”400″/]

This video blog post will target one of the worst youth baseball swing offenders to deflating bat speed…bat drag.  In this article, we’re going over:

  • What is Bat Drag?
  • The science of Bat Drag (to hitting an unknown moving pitch), and
  • One way to fix Bat Drag.

 

What is Bat Drag?

#1 Youth Baseball Swing Fix To Deflating Bat Speed

Notice the difference in Charles’s barrel angle.

This is when the front arm “bars out” before the Final Turn.  Also known as “Casting.”  And it’s an oftentimes frustrating youth baseball hitting fix.

I received an email awhile back from James Brown (NOT the singer), that said:

…”I watched a video that perry husband had at the hitting hot stove at the abca in Dallas that showed analysis of the Homerun derby, and the furthest home runs by each individual competitor happened when their lead arm was extended early.  I think swing mass and leverage has a lot to power to the ball…  Think about having your hand slammed in a door.  Would you want a door with a short distance from hinge to knob, or a long distance?  Short would close faster, but do less damage.  Long will impart more force at a slower speed.”

James Brown’s email response was after I produced this youth baseball Shin-Soo Choo: Can Front Arm KILL Bat Speed? video post.

Here’s how I responded…

 

The Science of Bat Drag (to hitting an unknown moving pitch)

…”I see what you’re saying and agree…to hit the ball the farthest, a straight front arm would be ideal. Look at golfers for instance. But here’s the problem…a hitter in a game doesn’t know with 100% certainty: pitch location, speed, and pitch type.

So a hitter needs to turn quicker for the first half of the Final Turn, to get the barrel on the plane of the pitch as soon as possible.  Then extend on the pitch plane, depending on pitch location and speed.”

In the home run derby, hitters know the pitch speed, type – and for the most part – location.

I agree with Perry Husband in that hitters should make it a goal to get to impact with a long front arm.

However, I don’t agree in getting a hitter to bar that front arm out early on, pre-turn.

It’s a simple Conservation of Angular Momentum issue.  CLICK HERE for a short 2-minute Circus Physics video from PBS on this movement Principle.

An ice skater speeds up by tucking her arms in towards her rotating middle.  She slows down by extending her arms away from her rotating middle.

What’s going on here?

Rotating speed goes up when the rotation is tighter (bending the arms), but inertial mass decreases.  Inversely related, when the arms go out, her inertial mass increases, but her rotating speed decreases.  This is how Angular Momentum is conserved.

So, unless like Perry teaches, Pitch Recognition and Strategic hitting game plans against specific pitchers is supplemented, I don’t see the logic in teaching hitters to early arm bar, pre-turn.

Why?

Because barring the front arm out early will slow rotation down (think arm extended ice skater), and on higher perceived velocities to the hitter, high or inside the strike-zone, why would we want our hitters to turn slower at the beginning of the turn?

The bottom line? Youth baseball (or softball) swing game mechanics are slightly different than in batting practice.  “Five-o-clock” hitters typically aren’t very effective in games.  And let me tell you, all my pitching friends LOVE pitching to early arm bar hitters because they have a weakness to exploit.  Just like hitters that swing down on the ball and extreme upper cutters do.

One Way to Fix Bat Drag

Youth Baseball ALERT: Stop Arm Barring

See Cutch pulling his top hand, while bottom hand restrains that pull forward (look at muscles in left forearm and triceps). Photo courtesy: MLB.com

Typically, I have my youth baseball hitters practice the Catapult Loading System when we have an arm barring issue.  The finer points before a hitter lands in the Fight Position are:

  • Showing pitcher your numbers,
  • Hiding hands from pitcher, and
  • Slight downhill shoulder angle.

Another piece I’ve just added to the puzzle comes from Homer Kelly in his book The Golfing Machine.  The following quote may shed additional light on “educating the hands” to combat arm barring…

“Power Accumulator #1 (for right handed golfer) – is the bent right arm. Even though the right biceps is active, the backstroke is always made with the right arm striving to remain straight. But the straight left arm restrains this continuous extensor action of the right triceps with an effortless checkerin action. Consequently , during release, the right arm can straighten only as the left arm moves away from the right shoulder.”

You see, the problem with bat drag at the youth baseball level isn’t the move itself, but how the compensation is triggered.  What’s happening before the front arm bars out?  Is the hitter properly activating the springy fascia within the torso?

If you “Click here to ‘Get Instant Access'” button below, you can get a free video that explains:

  • Why the following advice: “Power is all in the hips”, “Load and explode the hips”, and “The hips lead the way” won’t produce the repeatable power you’re looking for…

  • Where power really comes from – the answers to how the body actually loads are validated by science…

  • The 3 Do’s & Don’ts that will help you execute this simple strategy without any hitches in swing quality…

Hanley Ramirez Hitting a Curveball Do’s & Don’ts

 

Hanley Ramirez: How-To Crush A Curveball

Hanley Ramirez Fight Position: photo courtesy: MLB.com

This post will clarify why the “Snapping Towel” concept is far superior than a hitter who “Sits Back.”  An efficient swing uses the Un-Weighting Principal, or Forward Momentum.  Basically, it’s a hitter getting a “head start”, and making an aggressive move towards the pitcher.

CLICK HERE to watch the Troy Tulowitzki Experiment and see how un-weighting can boost bat speed.

Most coaches, instructors, and even decent Major League hitters HATE what I’m about to tell you.  They say, early head movement speeds up the pitch.  They say, you can’t commit your body-weight to the front leg because you’ll be out in front of off-speed and breaking stuff.

This video blog post will REVEAL, they’re dead wrong:

  • WHY the Snapping Towel?
  • Importance of “getting shorter” in Fight Position, and
  • How-to train crushing a curveball.

 

WHY the Snapping Towel?

Hanley Ramirez at contact on a home-run

Hanley Ramirez low pitch contact photo courtesy: MLB.com

Would you rather have head movement before or after front foot landing?  The question isn’t IF the head is going to move during the swing, it’s when.  Thanks to proprioception.

Imagine how you snap a towel…here’s the “Snapping Towel” effect applied to Hanley Ramirez’s 2013 homer to left field off a Cliff Lee cutter going 85 mph:

  • Head moves forward and slightly down before landing,
  • Floats (slight pause) right before his Free-Fall forward,
  • Commits body-weight to front leg during Fight Position (landing), and then
  • Effectively snaps back into a spine angle up and over the catcher (notice head DOES NOT move here).

Can Hanley Ramirez’s Fight Position get better?  Sure!  He’s not using Gravitational Forces like he can by flexing his front knee a little more at landing.  I call this “getting shorter”.  Which brings us to the next point…

 

Importance of “Getting Shorter” in Fight Position (landing)

Josh Donaldson "Getting Shorter"

Josh Donaldson “getting shorter” photo courtesy: MLB.com

Because Hanley Ramirez DOES NOT “get shorter” into the Fight Position, he compensates by reaching for the Cliff Lee cutter.  Landing taller forfeits setting the pitch plane early.  And a compensating shoulder angle on a low pitch (more parallel to ground) limits force production.  It’s like letting the air out of a balloon.

But most importantly, in respect to hitting the curveball…

Getting shorter into the Fight Position also creates a defense mechanism to breaking and off-speed stuff.  Jaime Cevallos calls it, in his book Positional Hitting, a “cushion” or “double cushion”.  JK Whited of Baseball Rebellion calls it “pushing the pause button”.

 

 

How-To Train Crushing a Curveball

Mike Trout tilted shoulders on low pitch homer

Mike Trout tilted shoulder angle on low pitch homer (he’s the BEST at this) photo courtesy: MLB.com

Here are my top ways to train a hitter to crush the curveball, like Hanley Ramirez.  First of all, utilize the Break-It-Apart Drill to get hitters comfortable operating from a “paused” Fight Position.  Use the Rule of Variance in one or a mix of these THREE ways:

  1. Timing – move pitcher’s L-screen up or back 10-20 feet from hitter after a round of five swings.  OR keep L-screen where it’s at, and have two home-plates for hitter to move to between rounds,
  2. Plate Discipline – carve the plate up into inner or outer 2/3’s (green light to swing), and other 1/3 of the plate is where the hitter takes (red light).  This is for a zero or one-strike approach.
  3. Mixed pitches – pitcher doesn’t tell hitter what’s coming.  No pitch is off limits.  Hitters, please wear helmets 😉
  4. Pitch RecognitionDr. Peter Fadde’s interview post on this is HUGE, along with Perry Husband’s interview post on Effective Velocity.

#1 focuses on making adjustments to a change in speed (or reaction time).  #2’s objective is looking for a specific pitch in a specific location (not recommended strategy in games until High School Varsity).  #3 is the name of the game.