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Hitting Training For Baseball & Softball Swing Trainers | Hitting Performance Lab

Baseball Batting Drills For Youth: Make This Head Position Mistake And Dramatically Decrease Batted Ball Distance (Neck Brace Drill)

 

This is Part-2 of a 3-part baseball batting drills for youth video series coming straight out of the Catapult Loading System online video mini-course…

baseball batting drills for youth: The Catapult Loading System

Sick of struggling with getting your hitters to hit the ball hard with more consistency?  This is a simple 7-module online video mini-course that will help hitters weighing less than 100-pounds, hit the ball consistently over 300-feet in 60 days.  You’ll be able to dramatically increase power without sacrificing swing quality.

CLICK the Link below to…

baseball batting drills for youth

 

In this baseball batting drills for youth video post, I’ll be walking you through the Neck Brace Drill.  We’ll be going over:

  • The One-Joint Rule
  • Head movement that is okay
  • Jace Case Study: BEFORE & AFTER of Neck Brace Drill

 

The One-Joint Rule

Dr. Kelly Starrett from MobilityWOD.com, gives a perfect explanation of this in the following video (watch at about the 4:00 minute mark):

 

Baseball Batting Drills for Youth: Head Movement that is Okay

Baseball Batting Drills for Youth: Andrew McCutchen Breaking One-Joint Rule

Andrew McCutchen breaking One-Joint Rule photo courtesy: MLB.com

What’s better, and thanks to Dr. Kelly Starrett’s explanation above, we can look at what head movement IS NOT okay through impact:

  1. Chin to chest,
  2. Head back (like looking at the sky), and
  3. Ear into rear shoulder (for a righty, right ear to right shoulder).

Major League example of #1 is Andrew McCutchen (image to the right).  Major League examples of #2 are Bryce Harper and Derek Jeter.

The only head movement that is okay through impact is a slight head turn.  Generally speaking, the head position we want to model is during the follow through.

 

 

Jace Case Study: BEFORE & AFTER of Neck Brace DrillBaseball Batting Drills for Youth: Jace BEFORE/AFTER Neck Brace Drill

I was able to experiment with the baseball batting drills for youth Neck Brace Drill with Jace, who’s one of my 10-year-old hitters that is 66-pounds.

Tiny compared to his peers.

However, over the last 6 months of hitting with me, and off a traditional batting tee, he now consistently registers 50-54-mph Ball Exit Speed with a non-wood bat.

In other words, Jace has the ability to hit the ball well over 200-feet, depending on the launch angle of the ball.

Now, we’ve been wrestling with his ‘bobblehead’ position for quite some time, and a big THANK YOU for the tip goes out to Coach Todd Bradley, head softball coach at Campbell University, the difference in one 45-minute session using the Neck Brace Drill can be seen in the image to the right.

Just about the same soft tossed pitch height.

Jace is still not perfect yet, but we’re getting there.

I know the baseball batting drills for youth we talked about in this post, will help your hitters and their head positioning up to, at, and passed impact.

Click the following Amazon links to get the same simple foam Youth Neck Brace & Adult Neck Brace that we used with Jace.

Hitting Training For Baseball & Softball Swing Trainers | Hitting Performance Lab

Question: Does a Slight “Downhill” Shoulder Angle Before Landing Boost Baseball Swing Load & Bat Speed?

 

 

In this baseball swing load “shoulder” angle experiment using the Zepp (Labs) Baseball app, I wanted to use the Scientific Method to analyze what would happen to Bat & Hand Speed when we took 100 swings with a slight “Downhill” shoulder angle (about 8-10-degrees) versus another 100 swings with level shoulders.

The Feedback Lab parent testimonial about his 14 year old daughter Mia:

“Hey Coach,

It has been way too long but I wanted to share some information that happened yesterday. We are heading up to Chattanooga, Tennessee, the largest showcase in the southeast today. Yesterday was our last day to hit before the showcase and Mia was struggling with her power. We hit about 60-70 balls and Mia was hitting about 10% over the fence (she is usually 40%+). I was looking to make sure she was showing her number, which she was, hiding her hands, which she was, landing with a bent knee, which she was and etc., etc. It was getting late and we had to go and I told Mia she had only 6 balls left. I told her to show me her stance and I noticed that her front shoulder was equal to her back shoulder. I then told her to lower her front shoulder and raise her back one. That was the only change we made to her swing, Mia then hit the next 6 balls over the fence and 2 of them were bombs. I cannot believe the difference this one small change made.

Thanks,
Primo”

 

Background Research

Baseball Swing Load: Miguel Cabrera WSJ Info-Graphic

Wall Street Journal Info-Graphic at: http://gohpl.com/1NFi8qi

The best resource for getting educated on spinal engine mechanics is to pick up Dr. Serge Gracovetsky’s book The Spinal Engine.  For a teased out version of this,

CLICK HERE for a post I did that compared the pitching delivery, hitting, and an overhead tennis serve using this “bending sideways” technique.

Another good book from multiple authors on the subject of spinal engine mechanics, locomotion biomechanics, and springy fascia, check out the book Dynamic Body by leading author Dr. Erik Dalton.

Also, here’s a great Wall Street Journal post about Miggy Cabrera titled, Miguel Cabrera: The Art of Hitting.  Check out what the illustration says in the middle of the red circle above…

 

Hypothesis

Based on the above baseball swing load experiment research and one of the other countless online hitting testimonials I get about “bending sideways” benefits, I think using a slight “Downhill” Shoulder Angle will boost Bat Speed at Impact by at least 3-mph, and Hand Speed Max by 2-mph.

 

Baseball Swing Load: “Downhill” Shoulder Angle Experiment

Baseball Swing Mechanics Experiment: Zepp Baseball App

CLICK Image to Purchase Zepp Baseball App

Equipment Used:

Setup:

  • Tyler Doerner, my intern for the summer and a hitter in HPL’s The Feedback Lab, is a redshirt college Freshman.  He did the baseball swing load shoulder angle experiment.
  • Tyler broke the swing into two steps: 1) get to landing position, pause for 1-2 seconds, 2) then swing, to better control the shoulder angle during the tests.
  • So, there was an absence of forward momentum in this experiment.
  • The two tests in the experiment were counter-balanced.  Which consisted of eight blocks of 25-swings done in the following order ABBA BAAB.  “Level Shoulders” were letter ‘A’, and
    “Downhill Shoulders” were letter ‘B’.  200 total swings were completed in the experiment, 100 per test.  Counter-balancing helps remove the “getting tired” and “not being warmed” up factors.

 

Data Collected (Zepp Baseball App):

Baseball Swing Load: Zepp Screenshot of Shoulder Angle Experiment

Look at the significant jumps in average Bat Speed at Impact & the Attack Angle…

Data Analysis & Conclusion

  • There’s a significant 4-mph JUMP in average Bat Speed at Impact with the “Downhill” Shoulder Angle.
  • Average Hand Speed Max only increased by 1-mph with the “Downhill” Shoulder Angle.
  • There was a small change in Time To Impact, in favor of the “Downhill” Shoulder Angle.
  • Not a big change in the Bat Vertical Angle at Impact.
  • And there was a significant 3-degree angle change in Attack Angle with “Downhill” Shoulder Angle.

Notes

  • We found a slightly bigger increase in average Bat Speed at Impact with the “Downhill” Shoulder Angle compared to my Hypothesis (4-mph versus 3-mph).
  • I thought there was going to be a bigger difference in Hand Speed Max, than how it turned out.
  • What was surprising was the 3-degree angle change of the attack angle.  A 10-degree Attack Angle is a typical line drive.  Once you start to get into the 15-20 degree range, you’re looking at more of a home-run launch angle.
  • The “Downhill” Shoulder Angle is actually something we’re working in Tyler’s swing.  He tends to let go of his angle a little too soon.
  • I find that before and after Ball Exit Speed readings with my local hitters who’re familiar with the “Downhill” Shoulder Angle, can increase from 1-3-mph when this it the only mechanic we’re working on.

The Bottom Line?

In this baseball swing load shoulder angle experiment, we can clearly see with the “Downhill” Shoulder Angle that there’s a significant 4-mph jump in Bat Speed at Impact, AND a surprising 3-degree boost in the Attack Angle.  The “Downhill” Shoulder Angle is a piece of what I call the Catapult Loading System.  The BIG-3 are:

  1. Downhill shoulder angle,
  2. Hiding hands from the pitcher, and
  3. For #3…
Hitting Training For Baseball & Softball Swing Trainers | Hitting Performance Lab

 

Batting Cages May Be Dangerous To Repeatable Power

“Textimonial” from Kyle – Stephen’s dad – the same night (he’s in white, I’m in blue)

I know you what you’re thinking, “Okay, so what’s wrong with hitting at the batting cages?

We’ll get to that…

But before we do, let me set the stage for what I’m about to share with you…

A glimpse into an online hitting lesson I gave to my hitter Stephen at The Feedback Lab.

I was granted permission from Kyle Harrington (Stephen’s dad), to share his 12-year-old son’s latest online hitting session with me (session #3 of 6).  They’re out of New Jersey (and I’m in Fresno, CA)…

 

What Was To Be Corrected

  • Hiding his hands from the pitcher
  • “Downhill” shoulder angle pre-turn, and
  • Maintaining 90-degree back leg angle during turn and finish.

 

Stephen 2-Months Later…

In the above video, I mentioned the difference between comparing a swing off the tee versus at the batting cages.  It’s not really an apples to apples comparison, BUT if they can repeat what we’re trying to get them to do off a tee, then the feeling to repeat it is there.  Here’s what his analysis showed:

  • Great downhill shoulder angle,
  • Much better with hiding his hands from the pitcher (could polish a little here), and
  • Much better body angle on his finish.

3-Points Worth Noting…

  1. Dad had mentioned to me, in the past 2-months, that they’ve been testing hand, butt, and hamstring tension, which might have also had an effect on Stephen’s outcomes.
  2. Stephen will be working on a better barrel launch angle using variance training mentioned in the above video.  Pay attention to the Bat Angle Experiment I referenced in the video.
  3. I give feedback based on Tony LaRussa’s “Pat & Pop Method”.  First give a “pat” on the back (what they did or are doing well), then reveal the “pop” (what they’ll be working to improve their swing).

Coaches, this is critical!!  Athletes don’t just need to be broken down all the time.  Build them up first, then offer up the constructive criticism.

 

The Danger in Batting Cages

And I’m not talking about Happy Gilmore style…

Someone smart once said:

“Practice like you play, so you play like you practice.”

Most coaches have their players do what’s referred to as “massed practice”at the batting cages.  For example, if you needed work on hitting off speed and breaking pitches, a massed practice would look like the following scenario…a pitcher throws each hitter:

  • 15 fastballs, then
  • 15 curveballs, and
  • Lastly 15 changeups…

But this isn’t what it’s like in the game.  The hitter rarely knows, with 100% certainty, which pitch, speed, and location they’re getting.  So practice MUST reflect this dynamic in training.  And hitting at the batting cages limits the amount of variance we can work into our practice.

I do a few things with my more advanced hitters (mechanically speaking), to mix things up:

We may not practice all these at once.  Coaches, our objective with our hitters is to move them to the verge of “meltdown” with variance.  Then bring them back.  Then rebuild.  I hope this helps!

Hitting Training For Baseball & Softball Swing Trainers | Hitting Performance Lab

“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.