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  • How To Fix The Hitting “Guru” #57 Problem Once And For All – A New Year’s Resolution…

Consider the following Tweet from Matt Pierce, who I highly respect in hitting circles…

I love what Matt is saying here, and I agree with him 100%!  I’ve wanted to address this for some time, but couldn’t figure out how to frame it without coaches thinking I’m delusional.  However, I’m about to reveal this is a Mount Everest “ask” because:

  1. We can’t control what we can’t control (e.g. other people’s actions or reactions).
  2. We don’t know what we don’t know (knowledge – and/or common sense – isn’t always what people are seeking).
  3. People don’t want to leave their chosen “tribe” (when we put many years into thinking one way, it’s hard to change, no matter the mountain of evidence to the contrary).
  4. Fixed Mindset is a REAL thing (nothing is more fragile than a 40-year-old male ego).

At the end of this post, I will share 11 things I think cuts to the heart of the debate (HINT: it has to do with a case of “mistaken identity”)

PLEASE NOTE: I’m no saint in this conversation, so let me get that out of the way.  I’ve been called “unprofessional” in some of my responses on the Socials.  I own that.  I’m not a robot devoid of emotion.  To my defense though, I do let people have their say, and seldom “hide” or delete Social media comments – no matter how ridiculous – because I feel coaches should see us with all bumps and bruises.

Now, let’s address Matt’s big asks:

  • Want for coaches to stop mocking other coaches.
  • Want for coaches to stop blasting guys bc of the level they coach.
  • Want for coaches to stop using the word guru in describing a coach that they disagree with.
  • Want for coaches to spread info without the need to attack others in their teach…

It starts with the fact…

 

We can’t control what we can’t control (e.g. other people’s actions or reactions)

Here is one of my personal rules for posting on Social media: DO NOT respond to another hitting person’s Social media post, Tweet, etc. that I don’t agree with.  And I see A LOT of garbage out there, believe me.  But I don’t feel the need to tell them so…I keep my hands to myself.  Imagine for a moment, you sell a hitting aid, book, or online course, and you get one the following dandy comments… (think about how you’d react)…

And here’s a YouTube comment on one of my videos…

If you can’t read the YouTube comment, then it’s because the image is too small…here you go (incorrect spelling and grammar intact)

“This video is silly to me.  First and most importantly, you do not teach any player especially a young player how to hit deep fly balls or “in the air with power.  Why and the hell would you do that? Don’t pollute the internet with this garbage any longer.  Btw, every hitter “gets shorter”. It is impossible to gain any ground and not drop. There is no strategic advantage in it nor should it be stressed in instruction.  It’s a natural part of any swing and has nothing to do with power or hitting fly balls.  Your messing up swings with shit.”

By the way, the above comments aren’t too bad, I have others 10X as bad.  Look, I don’t mind healthy debate, but it MUST be respectful, and no respectful conversation can start with any one of the above comments.  Sue me for coming off as “unprofessional” in responses.  Good times is Taylor Gardner (Backspin Tee), Matt Lisle, and I snapshotting them on our phones, and laughing over drinks…true story.

So NO, we cannot control how others react or respond.  Building the case of our “mistaken identity” solution is starting to take shape.  Now, let’s address the fact…

 

We don’t know what we don’t know (knowledge – and/or common sense – isn’t always what people are seeking)

As you were reading those dandy comments above, were you thinking, “I don’t think this person knows about the Hitting Performance Lab.”  Therein lies the frustration.

To their defense, they’ve only seen ONE post or ad from us on the Socials.  They…

  • Don’t know us from “Adam”.
  • Haven’t done their homework.
  • Have been burned by others in the industry (a clue to our “mistaken identity” solution…).

I don’t take the comments personal anymore.  They don’t understand how we’re:

  • Applying human movement principles validated by REAL Science to hitting a ball, NOT because-I-said-so “bro-science”.
  • Leading close to 40,000 coaches on this journey.
  • Sharing nearly 300 FREE blog posts that hold nothing back when it comes to breaking down the what, how, and why of our system.
  • Blessed to have an Amazon best selling book on hitting, over 11,500 books sold and downloaded, and has accumulated well over 100 Amazon books reviews with an average star rating of 4.3 out of 5 (includes both first and second edition of The Catapult Loading System).
  • Gifted frequent positive testimonials from our readers on a weekly basis via Social media and over email, which you can read on our About page.

So yes,

  • We’re dealing with people who don’t know what they don’t know.  And,
  • We can’t control what we can’t control.

…Coaches, we MUST understand this.  Building the case of our “mistaken identity” solution is picking up speed.  Now, let’s address the fact…

 

 

People don’t want to leave their chosen “tribe” (when we put many years into thinking one way, it’s hard to change, no matter the mountain of evidence to the contrary)

I talked to Dr. Tom Hanson about this recently.  Consider the “Church of Baseball” or “Politics of Baseball”.  The idea is that based on our life experiences, we stick close to our current “tribe” for fear of missing out, being ostracized, and/or being abandoned when seeking another tribe.  Even if the “other” tribe provides a mountain of evidence to the contrary of our thinking.

I call it wearing hitting “beer goggles”.  Refusing to take off the distorted glasses to seek real facts and actual truth.  In 2013, I completely jumped out of the hitting industry, refused to read or watch anything hitting, and completely pivoted to researching Physics, Bio-mechanics, Engineering, Body Work, etc.  I didn’t understand it at first, but kept reading and re-reading – eventually it started to sink in.

We’re seeing this “beer goggle” theory play out in the Politics right now.  Most of you have seen ridiculous comments on your Facebook feed from others…past or current friends about Political issues. I’ve seen people on both sides “un-friend” each other because one believes one thing and the other believes the complete opposite.  People are retreating to their tribe’s boxing corner, and staying there.

Look familiar?  Because it’s happening to our hitting community.  People become attached to certain hitting “gurus”, a word I know Matt said not to use.  I had quite a few talks with a current professional hitter, who has had quite a few cups of coffee in the Big Leagues, saying many “gurus” are out there trying to reinvent the wheel.  And what he means by that is, they’re teaching the same thing as everyone else but calling it something different and claiming ownership.

The reality is originating something new occurs with far less frequency than innovating something new.  Give credit where credit is due coaches.  If people took the time to research where ideas originated, then the number of “tribes” people stick to would shrink to one or two.  And even with those, hitting agreement would probably reach 98%.

So yes,

  • We can’t control other people’s actions or reactions.
  • Knowledge – and/or common sense – isn’t always what people are seeking. And,
  • When we put many years into thinking one way, it’s hard to change, no matter the mountain of evidence to the contrary.

We’re almost done building the case for our “mistaken identity” solution.  Now, let’s look at the fact…

 

Fixed Mindset is a REAL thing (nothing is more fragile than the 40-year-old male ego)

I won’t get into this here because I got into it here AND here.  But I will say this, I’ve fallen into the Fixed Mindset trap.  It’s like a cozy warm blanket, and much easier to misplace blame when we don’t know the answer.  For example, how do you explain a kid by the name of Hudson White at 14-years-old blasting 11-dingers in a row at the National Power Showcase, averaging 395-feet in batted ball distance – when he’s only 5-foot, 7-inches, weighing 135-pounds?

“What bat did he use?” …a few may ask…metal minus-5…“See!!” they exclaim, “The bat is HOT!!”  But what if I were to tell you eye-witness accounts have said that Hudson consistently hit balls 395-feet with an old Hickory wood bat?  How do we explain something we may not understand?

  • “He’s just a special case”
  • “He’s using a HOT bat”
  • “He can’t do that in a game though”
  • “They’re lying or mistaken about the distance”

These are FIXED Mindset coaching responses (from real people by the way!).  Look, it’s okay to say you don’t know, and here’s an even better TIP…if one does not know something, then keep the “pie-hole” shut.  The above bullet point comments take away from the hard work these hitters have and are putting into their swings.  Shameful.

Instead acknowledge maybe your knowledge is limited and seek to understand, not to be understood.  Ask “WHY”, not “Why Not”.  Every day, ask: “Is there something I may be missing”.  This is what Growth Mindset coaches do.

So yes,

  • We can’t control what we can’t control.
  • We don’t know what we don’t know.
  • People don’t want to leave their chosen “tribe”. And,
  • Nothing is more fragile than the 40-year-old male ego.

 

Fixing the issue of “mistaken identity”

Before getting to fixing the issue of “mistaken identity”, let’s review Matt’s big asks:

  • Want for coaches to stop mocking other coaches.
  • Want for coaches to stop blasting guys bc of the level they coach.
  • Want for coaches to stop using the word guru in describing a coach that they disagree with.
  • Want for coaches to spread info without the need to attack others in their teach…

Before agreeing to his “asks”, I want to scribble in a few more…

  1. Parents and coaches start conversations with respectful first comments.
  2. Parents and coaches seek to understand first, then to be understood.
  3. Parents and coaches be willing to try a new-to-them concept first, before resorting to being a negative Nancy armchair quarterbacks.  And,
  4. I think if the previous three are checked off, then setting ego aside and looking at issue from a Growth Mindset perspective will be 10X easier.

Possible?  Maybe, but it’s a TALL order.  If those points cannot get checked off, then I claim my 1st Amendment right to call out Hitting “Guru” #57.  Do we have a deal Matt!?

Now, to solve the case of mistaken identity…

For those who know how we operate at the Hitting Performance Lab, remember reading through those Facebook and YouTube comments in the beginning of this rant, and thinking they’re falsely associating and projecting a bad experience they may have had with another hitting “guru”?  Here are my BIG “asks”:

  1. Quit basing your teachings on because-I-said-so “bro-science” (What is that? CLICK HERE). It doesn’t work predictably.  I know because I used to base my teachings on it, and can now compare our hitters’ performance to what we teach now – WOW! What a difference.  Apply human movement principles validated by REAL Science.  Success leaves clues, and principles work predictably.  Btw, failure leaves clues too!
  2. It’s not about how many years you’ve coached.  It’s not about what high level you played at.  It’s not about how many hours of video analysis you’ve masterbated with.  It’s not even about how many long hours you’ve put into the cages.  At the end of the day, it’s about getting your hitters predictably positive hitting results.  Think of human movement principles as a shortcut (a good one) to spotting common patterns amongst elite hitters – saving you many hours of spinning the tires.  Work smarter not harder.
  3. Data IS NOT Science.  Data is a component of the Scientific Method, not the end-all-be-all.  Basing your teachings ONLY on data or video analysis without human movement priorities is like randomly shooting an arrow and calling whatever you hit.
  4. Don’t strike fear into parents that if they don’t spend money with you, they’ll be doomed to hitting purgatory for eternity.  This is a bonehead move, and I’m tired of getting these projected comments thanks to bad business practices.
  5. Help people by actually helping them.  Over the years, we’ve written nearly 300 free blog posts that detail our system.  Don’t just try and sell people…help people…then selling becomes the next logical step.
  6. Ben Brewster Twitter quote: “In the process, a few percent of our followers are willing to invest big time to know that last 2%. But I hate the paranoid, protective mentality thinking that people might steal your one good idea or philosophy. They might. Keep innovating and learning, you’ll have many more.” Right on!  SHARE what’s working.  Keep learning.  Keep innovating.  Give credit where credit is due.  You will be greatly rewarded, believe me.
  7. Moderation is key.  Hitting IS NOT rotational OR linear.  It’s not Launch Angles OR ground-balls.  It’s not sacrificing swing quality for power.  It’s NOT swing down OR swing up.  We can build a hitter that embodies linear AND rotational elements…who hits more line drives…who can hit for power AND average without dramatically increasing strikeouts…who can use “swing down” cues to fix an uppercut AND use “swing up” cues to fix a down swinger.
  8. Understand we can eat tomato soup with a spoon, fork, or knife but only one tool is more effective.  Teaching hitters is the same.  There may be many ways to teach hitting but there’s one MORE effective way…by applying human movement principles validated by REAL Science to hitting a ball.  The principles remain constant and limited, but I do agree there are hundreds – if not thousands – of ways (methods) to teaching them.  Listen, I don’t “own” these principles, I just happened to look where most weren’t looking, and stumbled onto them.
  9. If someone posts a video of a swing online, DO NOT pick apart without the owner asking you.  Video analysis of a hitter is a snapshot in time of the swing.  It’s a work in progress.  So unless otherwise solicited to give your advice, don’t.  I see a few “gurus” out there “red-lining” through swings of 8yos, 12yos, and 16yos – unsolicited, to prove a point.  That’s a real kid, someone’s son or daughter…niece or nephew…or client.  STOP doing this, or you’re a bully.
  10. Don’t drunk dial Social media.  Don’t lie, you’ve done this (I know I have)Don’t drink the liquid courage and then comment.  Remember what I said about taking off your hitting “beer goggles”?
  11. Coaches, if you promote digital products, books, and/or membership programs, then STOP “tricking” people into signing up.  Be upfront and honest with people.  It gives the rest of us working to do it right a BAD name.

I think a combination of Matt Pierce’s “asks” and my additional “asks” will turn this ship around.  OR, we’ll get much of the same thing in 2019!  Coaches, go forth and make awesomeness…

 

 

ASK THE EXPERTS: Jeremy Frisch, Taylor Gardner, & Matt Nokes Cover The Shocking Mistakes Killing Your Swing 

Let’s start this party off with Mr.,

Jeremy Frisch – Owner of Achieve Performance

Jeremy Frisch is owner of Achieve Performance training in Clinton Massachusetts and former assistant strength and conditioning coach at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester Massachusetts. Jeremy’s focus is on long-term athlete development where he works with children as young a 5 years of age up through college level athletes.

He’ll answer the following question I often get from my readers…

“What is an effective way to strengthen a swing, say mechanics are good but need more body strength for speed?”

Believe it or not, improving strength in the young athlete is easier than one might think. Young athletes need nothing more than their own body-weight or medicine ball to get stronger. When I train an young athlete’s I am looking at doing 4 exercises.

  1. Total body exercise
  2. Upper Body exercise
  3. Torso exercise
  4. Lower body exercise
Total body Exercise

In my opinion the bear crawl is one of the best all around total body exercises a young athlete can do. The bear crawl improves coordination, trains stability of the core and shoulder girdle and strengthens the lower body all at the same time. The bear crawl can be done in multiple directions, distances and speeds. Because of the difficulty of the exercise young athletes often fatigue quickly therefore very short distances should be used like 10-15 yards at a slow pace.

Upper body exercise

My go to exercise for training the upper body is so simple that many coaches don’t believe me. The exercise is simple: the bar hang. Hang from a chin-up bar or monkey bars with the arms straight for as long as possible. Develops unbelievable strength from the grip through the shoulder and core, not to mention develops mental toughness because the kids can always dig a little deeper and hold on for a few more seconds. Climbing and hanging is a long lost art in children’s lives. Maybe if kids were a bit stronger and more agile in the upper bodies these days we would see less elbow and shoulder injuries.

Torso Exercise

The medicine ball is a fantastic tool for developing rotation power needed to throw and swing a bat. A medicine ball and a brick wall makes a perfect combination to develop a powerful swing. The athlete stands sideways in a stance similar to their batting stance rotate the ball back and using a motion similar to a swing, throw the ball off the wall as hard as possible. Aim for both sides 3-5 sets of 6-8 repetitions

Lower Body Exercise

One of the best and most affordable ways to develop great leg strength and as a bonus speed , running form and all around conditioning are hill sprints. Look to find a steep hill 15-25 yards long and sprint up full speed. The key with hill sprints is to make sure the athlete has the appropriate rest between sets. Too many coaches use hill sprints as a torture device to punish their athletes. All that does is make them tired slow and miserable. Baseball is a game of speed and power and hill sprints can develop that speed and power in the lower body. Each sprint should be followed with a slow walk down the hill followed by at least a minute to 1:30 rest. Look to get 10-15 full speed reps with good rest per workout 2 x per week.

You can see more of what Jeremy is doing at the following places:

 

Taylor Gardner – Co-Founder of The Backspin Batting Tee

Taylor Gardner is an Edison Award Winning Inventor of the Back-Spin Tee, who currently has the biggest social media following of any batting product in the world. With the help of his brother, former professional player and coach, he was able to break into the Major League Hitting World by bringing simple physics to the minds of many players and coaches. Now working across the world, Taylor is expanding his product line and instruction to bust the game’s biggest myths.

He’ll answer the following question I often get from my readers…

“Of all the issues you cover on hitting mechanics, what 2 do you consider to be the most compelling for most hitters?”

Of all the hitting mechanics that I have had the privilege of learning and teaching, there are two that stand out the most.

  1. The element of the stride in relation to getting on time and its importance into the weight shift, and
  2. The mechanism of lining the shoulders on path with the incoming pitch.
The Stride

The stride portion of the swing has seen many variations and is a highly talked about subject. I see a lot of hitters performing their style of a stride, but few seem to understand how to simplify the stride mechanism without destroying other vital parts of the swing. The stride itself is a combination of a step, and a weight shift…That’s what makes it a stride. If you simply reach your front foot forward with no regard for weight shift, it is a step, and practically adding another movement to the swing making your swing take longer than necessary.

I see a lot of young hitters believe that they are late on a ball because they reach their foot out, then weight shift, then attempt to align to the ball, and then swing. Yes, after doing all those movements, they are late…BUT…it’s because they started too soon!

During the stride a hitter can weight shift, and align their bodies to the pitch (yes, even getting into an advantageous position of lag) all in sync. Once the hitter lands all they must do is swing from there. It cuts the timeline down tremendously. Hitters can track the ball deeper than they ever had before and still take a powerful swing without sacrificing their rhythm or connected movements.

Think of how a quarterback throws a pass, or for the matter- a pitcher throwing a ball. They do a lot of great movements during their stride phase, so that when they land, they can simply “throw”. We like to call it “Land-throw timing” or “Land-swing timing” for the hitters.

Lining the Shoulders

Lining the shoulders on the ball is the second mechanism I see that a lot of hitters could benefit from learning more about. Yes, you can begin to get your shoulders lined up to the pitch during your stride phase, but to be more in depth, even if your stride doesn’t put you on perfect timing with the pitch (and most hitters are slightly early even on their best hits), you still must get your shoulders lined up to the pitch to stay on path for contact.

The barrel of the bat will be parallel to the shoulder plane at contact when done correctly. HOWEVER, this is where I see players and coaches trying to get on plane TOO SOON! If you drop your barrel on what seems to be on path early in the swing (Sounds like a good thing right?), but are unable to complete your weight shift/stride, or even track the ball long enough to decide where to swing, you will leave a huge hole in your swing that pitchers can pitch around.

I take some blame for this whole “Launch Angle” Revolution. My product was the first to talk about the importance of launch angles, and since, we have seen many people take our Trademark – “On Path, Bottom Half” to the extremes. You want to be on path with the pitch coming in, hitting the bottom half of the ball ON TIME. On time isn’t just hitting ball to center field, it also stands for

  • Shifting your weight on time,
  • Lining your shoulders on time, and
  • Releasing the energy into the bat on time.

Not early, and certainly not late. I understand hitting a baseball or softball is the single hardest thing to do in sports, however if you do not continue to understand the simple timing elements that lead to an appropriate swing, we will accidentally continue to make hitting a ball even harder than it already is.

You can stay up to date on what Taylor and the Backspin Tee are doing at the following places:

 

Matt Nokes – Founder of One Hitting Solution

Matt Nokes coaching “Around The Zone” Soft Toss

Matt Nokes is a 10-year MLB Veteran, playing for the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers.  In that time he was a Silver Slugger Award Winner and All-Star Catcher.  Since then he’s been working hard helping hitters as the founder of his company ONE HITTING SOLUTION.  

For over 20 years as a hitting coach he’s been researching and finding out what transforms hitters 99 out of 100 times, he’s developed 12 simple natural hitting Rules, Action Steps, Do’s NOT Don’ts, that he calls the 12 Touchstones because they’re the rehearsals that bring to the surface only the relevant “In The Zone Feelings”.

No more random adjustments 50 times a day fiddling with your mechanics. This program is a 6-week transformational reset suppressing all the clutter, myths and half truths you’ve learned over the years from coaches, parents and now YouTube.

The bottom line is these 12 Touchstones solve 99 out of 100 problems before they ever come up.  You become intentional and take action in the form of rehearsals that weave a triple braided chord of:

  1. Brutally efficient.
  2. Laser focused hitting mindset with the true MLB Plan as the proper context and perspective.
  3. Timing – the 3rd and final chord wrapped tight around the other 2 skill sets.

The glue holding all 3 together to execute your only mandate: Never Miss Your Pitch.  Click Here:   But first watch this short powerful video to give you an idea for what’s in store for you and you’ll be given the opportunity to schedule a FREE Strategy Call with Matt Nokes.

In this post, Matt Nokes answers the following question I often get from my readers…

“Of all the issues you cover on hitting mechanics what 2 do you consider to be the most compelling for most hitters?”

On the most primitive level, if you’re going to express timing with one physical mechanical expression it would be transferring into the ball on time. You can’t separate your weight shift from your swing [that’s called quitting], so it’s critical if you want to develop properly you need to learn to coordinate your stride and transfer.

The 1st way I’d practice getting your weight into the ball is by learning the basic movement of the “step to swing”. You can use a tee without a ball for a point to aim at but it’s good to begin rehearsing the movement without the distraction of whether you hit the ball hard or not.  Hitting the ball at this point is irrelevant.

You want to learn the movement first and then begin adding variables.  If you decide to NOT use a tee, make sure you visualize where the ball would be and don’t let your eyes wander.  You body follows your head but your head follows your eyes and if your eyes are wandering then you’re in trouble, and will most likely wobble in your rotation.

The 2nd way is adding the performance variable using a tee with the “Tall and Fall” drill:

 

The 3rd way would be to add a measure of timing. Once you’ve coordinated your stride and transfer then any soft toss drill will add a some more variables for timing but it’ll be easy enough for your automatic mind to handle without much trouble:

  1. Swinging across your face. Crossing your face is a swing rehearsal cue that ensures you don’t pull your head.  The alternative is to chase your face, and if you do that you’ll be pulling off the ball without much success. Swinging across your face may be the most powerful way to stay on the ball, direct your energy into a fine point and keep the ball fair on the inside pitch.
  2. What are your favorite drills to hit off speed pitches?
My best advice on hitting the curve-ball…Don’t miss the fastball

That sounds like a joke, but it’s not. The best hitters are always ready for the fastball don’t miss it.  Frank Robinson [Hall of Fame] changed the course of my career by teaching me the MLB Plan and a big part of it was never missing the fastball. Frank went on to say “you show me a good curve-ball hitter and I’ll show you a guy with a slow bat.

Ok now that we have that mindset on the books, let’s talk about hitting the off speed pitch.  First you need to practice good timing but without going too deep into timing philosophy there’s a few good ideas and rules to follow along with some solid methods for practicing…

Slow pitch in the batting cages.

A great place to start for hitting off speed pitches is also one of the most convenient places to start and that’s in an automatic batting cage [in the slowest cage].

Most young hitters have trouble hitting in the slow cages because they’ve never been taught to deal with all the timing variables and they’re often discouraged when they have trouble, but they give up before they learn how to let the ball travel.  It’s a mindset and a good way to think of a slow pitch is how you’d hit in slow pitch soft ball.

Trust me…Timing is a skillset that is easily taught but it’s counterintuitive because it’s not a popular topic in the mainstream hitting community.  It’s more popular to say timing can NOT be taught…but that’s a myth.

Seeing the ball up is another cue for hitting the off speed and helps you visualize the trajectory of a potential off speed pitch, so you can still look fastball but won’t freeze on the strike curve-ball. One of the first obstacles to overcome is understanding what causes hitters to vapor lock or freeze on the curve ball.

The higher release point of a “strike curveball” often freezes hitters  because it appears to look like a fastball thrown so high that the hitter immediately quits on it right as it’s released from the pitcher.

Now when a hitter is looking for a normal fastball between the waste and knees and gets a curveball in the dirt, they don’t automatically freeze on a ball in the dirt because it initially looks like a fastball. By the time you recognize it’s a curveball its usually too late and you’re feeling “I can still hit this”.

If you see the ball up you’re able to look for your fastball [you can always adjust down on a fastball] but by looking up the only curveball that’ll look good is the hanging strike curve-ball that usually makes you freeze early in the count.

 

Finally, there’s the technique I call one of the “Touchstones” called “Buying time”

Buying time involves going out and getting the ball by getting deeper into your legs, which gives the ball more time to travel into your hitting bubble within your reach.

Every 7/1000th of a second the ball travels a foot, so if you’re off 21/1000th of a second the ball is traveling 3 feet.  So buying time by falling deeper into your legs before you hit, gives the ball a little time to get closer, and your lower center of gravity allows you to access your farthest reach without leaking if you execute the “Touchstone” correctly.

Either way, you often have to go out and get the ball farther out front without interrupting the flow of your land swing timing.

You can see more of what Matt Nokes is doing at the following places:

But before I let you go…

How “Loading & Exploding The Hips” Can Be VERY Dangerous To The Lower Back…

We’ll get to the above video, but first let me be clear…

I’m not saying the pelvis doesn’t play a role in the swing, because it does.  However, I feel this spot reserved in the swing’s sequence of movements is hyper-focused on by a majority of hitting gurus.  More and more research is saying extreme “hip thrust” or “loading and exploding the hips” can be VERY damaging to the lower back over time.  You’ll see why in a moment, but for now please note that in this podcast episode, former USA Men’s Gymnastics Coach Sommers says the lower back portion of the spine isn’t made for a high degrees of rotation, but the T-Spine is.

Another thing I want to clear up,

We don’t teach a 100% pure rotational mechanics here.  We teach a blend of linear-rotational.  Please CLICK HERE to read our thoughts on this.

In this post, we’ll cover:

  • How the spine stacks up (quick anatomy lesson),
  • Does consistent power come from the ground? And,
  • Teaching hitters a safer more effective swing.

Let’s get started…

 

How the Spine Stacks Up

Photo courtesy: MayfieldClinic.com

Here’s a quick anatomy lesson of the spine:

  • Cervical – the vertebrae in your neck, consists of 7 vertebrae, are allowed to flex, extend, and rotate,
  • Thoracic – the vertebrae in the middle of spine including shoulders, consists of 12 vertebrae, which are also allowed to flex, extend, and rotate, and
  • Lumbar – the vertebrae in lower back, consist of 5 vertebrae, and are allowed to flex and extend ONLY.
  • Sacral & Coccyx – there are 5 fused vertebrae here, and the Coccyx is sometimes referred to as the “tail” bone.

Did you catch that about the Lumbar?  It’s important, so it bares repeating…the vertebrae in the lower back IS NOT built to rotate!  Right now, you may be thinking: “Wait a minute, how’s that?!  I’ve seen millions of swings, and the hitter’s pelvis (and lower back) are rotating!!”

According to Charlie Weingroff, DPT, CSCS, a physical therapist, a trainer in New York City, and is pretty high up on the human performance food chain, says this:

“Only your thoracic spine (which consists of the 12 vertebrae in your upper and middle back) is designed to rotate significantly — about 40 degrees in each direction, according to Weingroff — when under compression. The lumbar spine (lower back) should rotate no more than about 12 degrees.”

Some movement experts (like Thomas Myers, author of the book Anatomy Trains), says the lower back can rotate no more than 7-degrees.  So according to the experts, 7 to 12-degrees is a good rotational range for the Lumbar section of the spine. That’s NOTHING compared to the 40-degrees of rotation – in each direction – of the middle and upper back section of the spine (which includes shoulders).

So what’s happening then?  You see, since the lower back vertebrae are not designed to rotate, it’s the surrounding muscles that are rotating a fixed object (non-rotating Lumbar), and is why you do see rotation.   The T-Spine vertebrae are built to rotate (again, this includes the shoulders), hence is why hitting coaches should put their rotational focus there and NOT the hips, pelvis, or low back.

Is rotating back hip through the zone necessary for power? Not in the way most coaches think.  Consider this quote from Physicist, Electrical Engineer, and author of the book The Spinal Engine, Dr. Serge Gracovetsky:

“The axial rotation of the spine cannot happen unless the spine is flexed by the right amount on the correct side. Coaching an athlete to throw without a proper spinal position is an invitation to severe torsional injuries.”

Dr. Gracovetsky is referring to this “flex” as a side bend with the shoulders.  The point is, USE THE SHOULDERS to accomplish rotational power.  Warning for coaches: if you shrug this information off because of ego or pride, and continue to teach pelvis, hip, or lower back dominant twisting swings, then you’re wearing holes in the low backs of your hitters.  Be careful because the link is there, and one can be held liable.

Don’t worry, I’ll show those coaches doing this unknowingly a safer way, at the end of this post…

 

Does Consistent Power Come from the Ground?

Water Polo Throw

Water Polo throw photo courtesy: YouTube Egy image from video

You may be thinking, but consistent power comes from the ground…the pelvis is the first to interact with Gravitational Forces, and that’s why you teach “hip thrust”. I agree with Ted Williams that the ‘Hips Lead the Way’, but they don’t contribute as much to consistent power as most think.  I know this may sound earth shattering for some, so please stay with me here.

CLICK the following link to a post I did titled, “The Swing DOES NOT Start From The Ground & Move Up?”

This brings me to the water polo throw video above…

Let me ask you a question, what do you think the “fastest throw in Water Polo” is?  Doing a Google search using those keywords brings up the following statement:

The overhand shot from a Croatian senior men’s national team player is recognized as the fastest shot in the world at 60 MPH (96.5 KPH). The overhand shot is the standard throwing motion in water polo. It is the same arm motion as a pitcher uses in baseball.”

So, let’s think about this.  In water, there are little to no Gravitational Forces, and the best human floating in water, can throw a volleyball-sized ball 60-mph?  What do you think the speed would be if this person was floating in water and threw a baseball-sized ball instead?  75-mph?  80-mph? 90-mph?  Okay, so let’s say this top-of-the-food-chain water polo player throws a baseball floating in water 80-mph.  You’re telling me a top-of-the-food-chain pitcher in the Big Leagues, throwing down a mound, can only throw 20-mph more (assuming 100-mph) than someone throwing the same ball floating in water?!

I dunno, but this begs the question, does the pelvis (and lower Lumbar), OR the shoulders (and T-Spine) contribute the most to pitching velocity AND Ball Exit Speeds?

If you need to see more examples about this, then CLICK HERE for a swing experiment titled, “How Much Ball Exit Speed Does Pelvis Contribute To A High Level Swing?” 

Consider this Tweet from one of my readers…

And I added the following comment…

So what role do I think the pelvis and low back play in the swing, if not power?  Directional force.  Allows the hitter’s swing to convert Centripetal into Centrifugal Force.  In a nutshell, the hitter’s “belt buckle” must point in the direction of the batted ball.

So what’s the answer?

 

Teaching Hitters a Safer more Effective Swing

Here are some resources to get you started, outside of the ones already mentioned:

Coaches, PLEASE get educated.  Don’t let ego or pride get in the way of helping hitters swing safe.  Like Tony Robbins says,

“If you aren’t growing, then you’re dying.”

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…

Improve Line Drive Frequency In A Few Short Weeks

 

ABCA Hitting Think Tank: Matt Nokes, Taylor Gardner, Jarrett Gardner, & Joey Myers

This Hitting Think Tank will be doing more talks like this at the 2017 ABCA in Anaheim in our booth (from left to right: Matt Nokes, Taylor Gardner, Jarrett Gardner, & Joey Myers)

I have a confession to make…

But first, the context,

After driving 7 hours down to San Diego, I met up with a couple boss hitting/pitching dudes.

I had the privilege to sit down and talk hitting with the two co-founders of the Backspin Tee (brothers Taylor and Jarrett Gardner), and 1987 All-Star Silver Slugger Matt Nokes.

Now, the confession…

We only spent 15 minutes “sitting down” (for the above interview), the other time was spent talking hitting in:

  • Underground parking garages,
  • A library,
  • Down the streets of Padre’s Petco Park,
  • At a USSSA Pride professional fast-pitch softball game, and
  • In a Hilton Hotel lobby over beverages with USSSA Pride infielder Shelby Pendley….

Not to mention, Mr. Matt Lisle graced us with his presence to talk hitting for over an hour at the Pride game.

Also, we narrowly missed Mr. Ryan Lehr on account of him having to be home late night to be a good dad and husband 😉 lol j/k Lehr just busting your balls.

…By the way Lehr (if you’re reading this), Matt Lisle’s wife allowed him to attend the All Star festivities in San Diego (he’s from the Bay Area), for 4+days away from the her and their 4 kids!!

I told him, he must have a lot of money in the family’s ’emotional bank account’ to have the ability to do that.

So, there’s NO excuse Lehr 😛

Needless to say, my brain hurt on the 7-hour drive back home the next day (not a hangover, believe it or not, I only had one beer the night before)

Moreover,

We’ll be sharing a booth at the 2017 American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) conference in Anaheim,

And will be doing more of these LIVE Hitting Think Tank Q&A’s during the conference, so if you find yourself out that way, at that time, then please stop by booth #383 and say hi.

In addition, there will be other mystery guests at the conference coming to our booth to talk about things like pitch tracking, recognition, bat lag, and distraction training.

So, DON’T MISS IT!!

Besides me, here are the cast of characters in the above video:

In this interview, we discuss the following:

  • Defining a line drive (Matt Nokes at 2:13 mark)
  • How to get a line drive? (Matt Nokes at 3:20 mark)
  • Making adjustments to get to the line drive (Matt Nokes at 4:20 mark)
  • The right swing path to get a line drive (Jarrett Gardner at 6:00 mark),
  • The idea of a “flat swing” (Matt Nokes at 7:37 mark),
  • The goods and bad of “Feel v. Real” & making bold adjustments (Joey Myers at 10:20 mark),
  • Correlation DOES NOT necessarily equal causation (Matt Nokes and Joey Myers at 13:31 mark).

We’d love to get YOUR take on what was discussed in the above video,

And, please respond below by letting us know what else you’d like us to discuss at the upcoming ABCA event…by the way, we may record these Q&A sessions and make them available to you at a later date.

THANKS in advance!

(WARNING: this baseball hitting drills for kids post is a 4,500+ word beast, but your hitters will be grateful you took the time, believe me.  Don’t worry, you can thank me later)

PLEASE NOTE: even though I refer to the keywords “baseball hitting drills for kids” in this post quite a bit, it’s not going to give you concrete drills to do.  The objective of this post is to be a guide for coaches to more effectively pick drills to help kids get the ball in the air with authority.  Before getting started, let me preface a couple other points:

  • Getting the ball in the air is off the table in situational hitting scenarios, such as “hit-and-runs” or “move’em-overs” (but please realize, situational hitting only makes up less than 10-15% of game At-Bats).
  • Getting the ball in the air doesn’t mean soft – or in some cases medium – fly-balls (we don’t teach hitters to hit soft fly-balls, just like you don’t teach hitters to hit soft ground-balls).
  • Getting the ball in the air isn’t an extreme uppercut, nor is it an extreme chopping motion (our goal is to match the downward plane of the incoming pitch with the barrel – and YES, even softballs travel down).
  • Remember, all line drives are “balls in the air” (I know duh, but you wouldn’t believe how many coaches try to outrun their common sense).
  • Fast-pitch softball coaches, you aren’t off the hook either (the reasons WHY will become more clear as you work through this post).

Without further adieu, the RANT…

Right off the bat (pun intended), I’m going to pick a fight with the following statement, getting the panties of some coaches in a bunch, as we talk about baseball hitting drills for kids – so here goes.  Drum roll please…

 

Teaching Baseball Hitting Drills For Kids To Primarily Hit Ground Balls Is Dumb

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.  A flood of baseball hitting drills for kids Facebook comments came in, mostly from coaches…

  • High School to College…
  • Baseball to softball…

All chiming in about how lovely 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 productive batted balls in the air. And like I mentioned in the preface above, a line drive is a ball in the air!  They had MANY objections:

  • 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.

Does that about cover ALL the objections 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

Before I get to addressing the above objections with my infamous (more than famous) Bruce Lee one-inch punch, I wanted bring this to your attention first…

 

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 in question here is “consistent” backspin.  And we’re talking hardball and fast-pitch here, NOT slow pitch.  By the way, did you know hitters can put too much backspin on the ball?  It’s called a popup!  We want the right amount.

These knucklehead coaches 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!!

Buahahahaha!

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?)

As the Backspin Tee guys say, “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 into 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. 10+ degrees as a matter of fact.  According to Rob Arthur, author from FiveThirtyEight:

“The effect of speed [running] starts to fade only when launch angles exceed 10-degrees, as exit velocity starts to take over as the biggest determinant of a batted ball’s fate.”

 

Did you catch that? Some coaches out there will teach their faster hitters to put the ball on the ground.  Why?  So they can beat out more ground-balls to infielders, they reason.  Why not teach faster hitters optimized launch angles, to turn singles into doubles, doubles into triples, and triples into inside-the-park homers?

Another valuable thing about optimizing launch angles, and lack of running speed, I was working with a 14-year-old young man, and he ran like he was pulling a tractor tire.  In the beginning, he was behind in Ball Exit Speed for his age (double negative!!), so guess what we worked on?  RIGHT-O!!  Optimizing his launch angles.  It was a quick fix that got him immediate results, until we got his Ball Exit Speeds caught up…and that they eventually did.

One last thing about baseball hitting drills for kids, 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?  Negative launch angles equate to negative playing time on the field.  Before I karate chop the baseball hitting drills for kids coaching objections above,  I wanted to get something else off my hairy chest first…

 

Hitting Ground-balls have their Place

…in situational hitting, which depending on the game, can make up less than 10-15% 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 a slap hit.  That’s dumb.  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!

As I mentioned before, DID YOU KNOW…line drives are balls in the air?  I said it again!!  Doesn’t take a physics professor to see that.

And if you forget every word in this Ground-ball Rant, then PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE remember the following words that are coming from my brain to fingers to keyboard…

 

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 shows, hitting the top half of the ball induces top spin, driving the ball 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.  Look at the Sabermetrics, launch angles increase up in the zone, while they decrease down in the zone.  This is FACT.  So WHY the heck are hitting coaches teaching their hitters to primarily hit ground-balls?!

I seriously don’t know the answer…I’m as some would say, confused.  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 the 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 Jean Claude Van Damme round-house kicking those ground-ball teaching batting coach arguments 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 a Fixed Mindset 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 ground-balls are gross hitting coach will go on and on about…

 

How many games they’ve won with grounders

This is a subjective statement, and an exaggeration at BEST.  First of all, show me the numbers on how many games were won with a seeing-eye single versus a double, triple, or dinger.  Give me 5-years of MLB data.  Better yet, how many “go-ahead runs” were by single or extra base hit?  I’d love to see the REAL numbers.  What is FACT, in the 2017 World Series, the Astros WOULD NOT HAVE WON by hitting a bunch of singles.

Seriously though, 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?

Let’s get personal with you coaches who obsessively LOVE GAME WINNING SINGLES ON THE GROUND, here’s what I want you to do…track your game winning hits, and report back.  Don’t cheat though, and fudge the numbers to save face.  My hypothesis is, ground-balls WILL NOT be the number one game winning or “go-ahead run” 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 ground-ball obsessed coaches, 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 latest MLB season, and
  • Total number of  fly-balls hit in latest MLB season.

I’m willing to bet, there were WAY more ground-balls hit than fly-balls.  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).  Also worth noting is the fact MLB teams are giving up in an infielder to the outfield to concede the ground-ball…WHY??!  Because they’re taking the easy risk ground-balls don’t do damage like an extra base hit.  Heck, you don’t have to work for NASA to figure this stuff out.

Here’s another thought to consider about this shifted infielder into 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?  After all, they don’t NEED anymore help, right?!

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 😀 lol

Statistically speaking, comparing an infielders fielding percentage to an outfielders is comparing apples to oranges.  Are we done here?  Good.

The ground-ball obsessed coaches, 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 “ground-ball obsessed coach” out and hit them fly-balls, and have them track it 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 “Ground-ball obsessed coaches”, 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.  This simply isn’t true.  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 run scoring result of that action.  Then track how many ground-balls are dropped by your infielders this year…AND the run scoring 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!  I know because I took plenty of extra bases on them in my time.  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 “ground-ball obsessed coaches”, 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?  Let me give a clue…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 SHUT DOWN.  Did you miss that?  Let me repeat, your misled offensive strategy is SHUT DOWN.

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.

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.  The sad part is if your ground-ball hitting team is lucky enough to make it to the championship game, guess what, most likely the other team will be REAL GOOD at playing catch.  What do you think will happen then?

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 (naturally course of 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 “ground-ball obsessed” Little League coaches don’t care anyway, it’ll be the next coaches problem when they get into Middle School, right?  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 ground-ball obsessed 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?!  That’s laughable.  Errors are a gift, not something you should expect.  And at the higher levels, there are less “gifts”.  The best coaches (and players) don’t focus baseball hitting drills for kids on the uncontrollable.  Adapt or die.

You gotta check out this post titled, “The Shocking Mistake Killing Run Production (MUST Read For Ground-ball Hitting Coaches): Ground-ball Hitting Approaches May Be Causing You To Lose Out On Producing MASSIVE Runs”

The “ground-ball obsessed coaches”, 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. Dumb.

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.  Let me clarify this, they typically don’t meddle in hitting or pitching aspects with a fine tooth comb.  They have assistant coaches whose job it is to do that.  In 3-years, I can count on one hand how many times 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 “ground-ball obsessed coaches” anymore, OR
  • You’re ONE for a beating! lol

I assure you this rant is almost over, just a few more Karate chops I need to issue…the “ground-ball obsessed coaches”, 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 multiple 11yo hitters that hit the ball consistently 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 baseball hitting drills for kids, and doesn’t know any better.  You don’t know what you don’t know, right?  There are certain things, mechanically speaking, that directly influence consistent power, hitting more line drives, and being on-time more often.  Success leaves clues, and we can train it all.

I don’t care the size of the hitter, I’m going to teach them all how to drive the ball.  It’s another tool for their tool belt.  Besides, Physicist Dr. Alan Nathan told me in a phone conversation that bat speed is a better indicator of batted ball distance than body mass.

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, or left handed), but ALL hitters MUST know how to drive the ball.  Driving the ball SHOULD BE the default, NOT hitting the ball on the ground.

Look, there are thousands of ways to teach baseball hitting drills for kids.  Just like you can eat soup with a spoon, fork, or knife, but only one tool is more effective.  Teaching hitters is the same.  Stick to applying human movement principles validated by REAL science, NOT because-I-said-so “bro-science”, to hitting a ball, and your hitters will get predictably positive results.

And last, but certainly not least…the “ground-ball obsessed coaches”, 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.

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” or “bro-science”.  We have to teach human movement principles that are validated by REAL 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 with AUTHORITY.  Again, that includes line drives.

Wayne Gretzky looking to pass

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

So you can keep telling yourself these baseball hitting drills for kids stories (i.e. the “ground-ball obsessed coaching” 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 baseball hitting drills for kids 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’.

Think it’s impossible for young hitters to learn?  You’re wrong.  You may not know how to teach baseball hitting drills for kids to optimize launch angles.  And that’s okay!  Get educated.  Don’t be an armchair quarterback.  Opinions are NOT facts.

Don’t be afraid of setting young hitters up for failure in teaching them to hit more line drives.  Shoot for the stars to land in the clouds.  Have a higher standard for your hitters. In Pre-Kindergarten, my 5-year-old son’s teachers are getting him ready for Kindergarten.  THE NEXT LEVEL!  Coaches MUST do the same!  Stretching requires some pain, but it’s how we grow.

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

Question: Does The BackSpin Batting Tee Help Hitters Elevate The Ball?

 

Baseball Batting Cage Drills: Backspin Tee

Backspin batting tee photo courtesy: TheStartingLineupStore.com

In this baseball batting cage drills experiment using the Backspin batting tee, I wanted to use the Scientific Method to analyze what would happen to a hitter’s spray chart (ME!!) by taking:

  • 100 swings using a conventional tee (ATEC Single Tuffy Tee), versus
  • Taking another 100 swing using Taylor and Jarrett Gardner’s BackSpin batting tee.

I’ve done a couple posts promoting what Taylor and Jarrett are doing with the Backspin Tee because I really believe in their product and what it can do for young hitters in getting the batted ball off the ground.  Whether we’re talking baseball, fastpitch-softball, and slowpitch-softball…

And to let you know, this experiment has been brewing in my head since the summer of 2015, but the stars just didn’t align…until NOW!

 

Background Research

Here are two baseball batting cage drills posts mentioned earlier, to give some background on the research for The Backspin batting tee:

Hypothesis

Baseball Batting Cage Drills: ATEC Tuffy Single Batting Tee

ATEC Tuffy Single Batting Tee photo courtesy: ATEC

Okay, so I cheated a little bit…

Before the OFFICIAL baseball batting cage drills swing experiment, I’ve been using the Backspin batting tee with my local hitters and the results have been positive.

And now, I’m making my Hypothesis official…

I think by using the Backspin batting tee, it will allow the hitter to cut down on ground-balls, and will empower them to get more effective at putting the ball in the air (line drives primarily).

In addition, I think that not only will the tee reduce a hitter’s ground-balls, but will contribute to above average line drive launch angles.  Average line drives would be within the reach of a fielder.

 

Baseball Batting Cage Drills: Backspin Batting Tee Experiment

Equipment Used:

Setup:

Baseball Batting Cage Drills: Backspin Tee

Closeup of the ‘inverted’ rubber cone that holds the baseball or softball. Photo courtesy: TheStartingLineupStore.com

  • I had two of the same laminated images of the batting cage I was hitting in (Hitting Spray Chart images below).
  • After each swing, I’d use a Sharpy pen to mark where the batted ball hit first (on the ground or the location on the batting cage netting), right after coming off the bat.
  • All swings for the baseball batting cage drills experiment were taken off either a Backspin or ATEC Tuffy Single tee.
  • I used the Backspin batting tee rubber cone for baseballs (they have one for softballs as well).
  • I stayed as consistent as I could with keeping the ball height and depth the same for both tees.
  • I used two yellow dimple ball markers to make my stance setup consistent…one was placed inside my back foot, close to the plate.  The other was placed one bat’s length plus two baseballs in front of the back marker.
  • The two tests in the baseball batting cage drills experiment were counter-balanced.  Which consisted of eight blocks of 25-swings done in the following order ABBA BAAB.  Hitting off the “Backspin Tee” was letter ‘A’, and off the “Conventional Tee” was letter ‘B’.  200 total swings were completed in the experiment, 100 per test.  Counter-balancing helps remove the “getting tired” and “not being sufficiently warmed up” factors.

Data Collected (Hitting Spray Charts)

Backspin Batting Tee Spray Chart:

Baseball Batting Cage Drills: BackSpin Tee Spray Chart

The Backspin tee spray chart is cleaner and resembles a bit of a tornado

Conventional Tee Spray Chart:

Baseball Batting Cage Drills: Conventional (Regular) Tee

As you can see, the spray chart is a bit messy…

 

Data Analysis & Conclusion

  •  The Backspin batting tee spray chart looks much more tidy than the “regular” tee chart (the former looks like a tornado),
  • You can see when using the conventional tee, I tended to pull the ball to left side of the cage.
  • There are definitely a higher concentration of batted balls in the above average line drive spots (not within reach of the fielders), using the Backspin batting tee, and
  • There were more balls hitting the ground or bottom of the cage when using a conventional tee.

 

Notes

  1. Addressing the excessive of pulled balls using the conventional tee, I thought maybe my tee was moving on me (getting too far out front).  I even tried pushing the regular tee slightly deeper than the position I started it in for a couple swings, to counter this, but that wasn’t the issue.
  2. Now, here’s where it gets interesting…remember in the “Setup” section above, I hit on the Backspin Tee (‘A’) FIRST.  I started to notice a pattern after switching tees…I didn’t have an issue getting the ball in the air with the Backspin tee, sometimes getting into the pop-fly territory.  But what I found was after taking a Backspin tee 25-swing chunk, the first 10-15 swing launch angles off the conventional tee mimicked what I was getting with the Backspin Tee.  As the conventional tee round approached the last 10-15 swings, the launch angle slowly creeped downwards into the average line drive arena.  So when I repeated TWO conventional tee 25-swing chunks (the BB in the ABBA pattern), by the time I got to the end I was having a hard time getting the ball back up again using the conventional tee.  And on the last BAAB 25-swing chunk pattern (last 100 swings), I noticed the same thing emerge.
  3. It was like the “magic” of the Backspin tee wore off after 10 swings into hitting on the conventional tee. My Hypothesis?  If I took 100 STRAIGHT swings on a conventional tee, then 100 STRAIGHT on a Backspin tee, I’m willing to bet there would be WAY more ground-balls and average line drives using the conventional tee than I got in this baseball batting cage drills experiment.
  4. The other weird thing (in a good way) I noticed hitting off the Backspin batting tee, was that it trimmed up my spray chart (making it look more like a tornado rather than a cinder block).  I rarely pulled the ball towards the left side of the cage hitting off the Backspin tee.  And the ones I did pull that way, I’d be willing to bet it was after hitting off the conventional tee. CRAZY!

The Bottom Line?

Well, the baseball batting cage drills experiment data showed that not only did the Backspin tee elevate ball launch angles, but it also cleaned up horizontal outcomes.  Meaning, I didn’t hit the ball to the left side of the cage as frequently when using the Backspin tee than I did with the conventional tee when the ball is located virtually in the same position every swing.  Also, the “Backspin tee effect” lasted a good 10-15 swings into switching over and using the conventional tee!

Baseball Batting Stance Hacking with Daniel Murphy & Joc Pederson

 

Baseball Batting Stance: Daniel Murphy

2015 Daniel Murphy in triple flexion (hip, knees, and ankles). Photo courtesy: MLB.com

This baseball batting stance video post was sparked by my friend, whom I admire and respect as a man AND hitting instructor, doing great work in the San Diego-California area, Ryan Lehr (@thepureswingsd).

He’s worked under the hitting tutelage of Reggie Smith for over 15 years, and really has a fantastic grasp of the absolutes to the swing.

For those of you who don’t know Reggie Smith’s teachings, he’s as much of a ‘science-guy’ as we are.

And yes, this works for fastpitch softball as well as baseball.

The point of this video post, is to look at being in an athletic baseball batting stance and its effect on reducing strikeouts.

We’ll be looking at:

  • Effective baseball batting stance context,
  • Metrics of low-strikeout high-ISO hitters, and
  • Which low-K% high-ISO MLB hitters to model?

 

Effective Baseball Batting Stance Context

Easier to Hit Difficult Pitches

At Ryan Lehr & Reggie Smith’s Christmas hitting clinic, Kevin Sweeney talked about how getting more athletic in his baseball batting stance allowed him to hit difficult pitches

Making Adjustments to Gravitational Forces

Taylor Gardner, founder of the Backspin Batting Tee, says that a first baseman stretches toward the thrown ball when receiving it.  Knees are bent and the eyes are getting on level plane with thrown ball and receiving glove.

Gravitational Forces are acting on the ball at ALL times.

Here’s something that may piss off some fastpitch softball pitching coaches and pitchers…

Taylor Gardner came to the conclusion that a ‘rise-ball’ is a myth.  And I AGREE!

And if you don’t believe us:

  • Find your fastest fastpitch softball pitcher,
  • Video record her throwing a ‘rise-ball’ from the side angle where you get her and the catcher in the same frame, and
  • Track the trajectory of the ball’s flight to the catcher’s glove on slo-mo software…

I guarantee the apex of the pitched ball’s arc will be above where it’s caught by the catcher.

It’s because of GRAVITY!!!

Sure the arc will be less, the harder the pitcher throws, but there will still be an arc nonetheless.

Who Else Gets into an Athletic Position?

Baseball Batting Stance: Michael Brantley

2015 Michael Brantley in triple flexion. Photo courtesy: MLB.com

I ask my players what knee position they’d start in if they were:

  • Defending against a quickly advancing soccer striker,
  • Defending a fast wide receiver five-yards off the line,
  • The only one between a breakaway power forward and the hoop in basketball,
  • Going to throw a 16-pound Shot Put as far as humanly possible, or
  • Receiving a blazing serve from Roger Federer?

CLICK HERE for Speed Coach Lee Taft (@LeeTaft) blog post on why bending the knees is important to force production.

I alluded to the ‘triple flexion’ baseball batting stance in this video post breaking down Joey Votto’s swing.

Votto has one of the best swings to model if you want to cut down on ground-balls, strikeouts, weak fly balls, and just want to get on base more and make more frequent solid contact.  He’s the ultimate Pitch-Plane Dominator!

Metrics of Low-Strikeout High-ISO Hitters

I wanted to compare the Strikeout Percentage and ISO metrics to see if we could find a correlation between the baseball batting stance and hitters who rarely strikeout, but also maintain some element of power.

One of the biggest MYTHS is that you can only be a contact hitter, or a power hitter.  And that you can’t be both.  Nowadays, SABERmetric people conclude that when homers go up, so does the rise of strikeouts.

My belief is there CAN BE more going on between the numbers…

When looking back in time, we saw quite a few examples of fusing minimal strikeouts and raw power…Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Joe Dimaggio, and Babe Ruth to name a few.

Okay, so what is ISO?  Isolated Power, according to FanGraphs.com basically describes a hitters “raw power”.

For you SABR wannabe math nerds (like me!), here’s a simple formula to compute ISO in two different ways:

  • ISO = SLG minus AVG, OR
  • ISO = Extra Bases divided by At-Bats 

Here’s an excel spreadsheet I put together, using FanGraph.com’s metrics, on the top-5 highest and lowest strikeout percentages among 2015 hitters, their ISO’s, and dinger totals:

Baseball Batting Stance: K% v. ISO Top-5

We analyze the highlighted hitters in the above video. Daniel Murphy and Michael Brantley having virtually above average ISO’s…

Compare how these hitters rank for K%:

strikeout-rating

According to Fangraphs.com

Compare how these hitters stack up for ISO:

iso-rating

According to FanGraphs.com

What’s plain as day is how ‘awful’ the top-5 highest K% are.  Eee-gads!  Not even trying there 😛

The silver lining though, is that there are a couple top-5 lowest K% that have virtually above average ISO’s, and one I’m excited to see perform in 2016 with a change in his baseball batting stance toward the end of the 2015 season…

 

Which Low Strikeout MLB Hitters to Model?

Baseball Batting Stance: Joc Pederson 2015 BEFORE/AFTER change

Notice Joc Pederson baseball batting stance change – left image is halfway through 2015 & right image is at the end of 2015. Photo courtesy: MLB.com

As Tony Robbins says, “Success leaves clues”.  He also said,

“If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same results.”

If you’re the coach (or hitter) who’s goal it is to reduce strikeouts among your hitters, while also preserving some elements of power, whose swing should you model?

…At least from a baseball batting stance point of view?

After analyzing the metrics, my answer’s are:

  • Daniel Murphy,
  • Michael Brantley, and
  • Joc Pederson (the end of 2015 baseball batting stance version).

Watch the video above for more in-depth analysis of these hitters.

I’m not sure how many strikeouts Joc Pederson had without ‘triple flexion’ in 2015 versus with it, but I’m anticipating way less strikeouts for him in 2016 if he keeps this principle in his baseball batting stance.  He’s a special hitter, and not a very big slugger (6’1″, 215-pounds).

Also, I know that correlation may not equal causation in this case, but it’s worth looking into.  So I’d love your thoughts and analysis on other low K% hitters with above average ISO’s…

To be continued… 😉

Baseball Batting Mechanics Science To ‘On Path Bottom Half’

 

This is Part-1 of a 3-part baseball batting mechanics video series coming straight out of the Pitch-Plane Dominator online video mini-course…

Pitch Plane Dominator Online Video Course

Sick of struggling to reduce your hitters ground balls, swing and miss strikeouts, and non-productive weak fly balls?  This simple 4-Step online video mini-course (7-modules total) will help hitters weighing less than 100-pounds, barrel the ball more consistently.  Dramatically decrease ground balls, strikeouts, and weak fly balls (no matter the pitch location or speed) by applying human movement rules validated by science.

If you haven’t already, then CLICK the Link below to…

Get Access to The Pitch Plane Dominator Online Video Mini-Course

 

In the baseball batting mechanics video, Backspin Batting Tee inventors, Taylor & Jarrett Gardner are going to dive into…

  • Anatomy of ‘on path bottom half’
  • Why are pitchers taught to keep the ball down in the zone? And,
  • How to train hitting the bottom half…

CLICK HERE for an interview post I did with Taylor Gardner in 2015.

 

Anatomy of ‘On Path Bottom Half’

Baseball Batting Mechanics: 'On Path Bottom Half'

Should the barrel be level to the ground during the swing?  Should it be down to the ball?  Should it be up to the ball?

Baseball pitchers stand on a mound (if regulation) set up to 10-inches.  If we have a 6-foot pitcher with an overhand release, let’s say his arm adds another foot-in-a-half, then we have about a 8.5 foot above flat ground release point.  In addition to the target being a squatting catcher between 45-60 feet away.

The imaginary line connecting the pitcher’s release point to the catcher’s glove is what I like to call the Pitch-Plane, or plane of the pitch.

In fastpitch softball, the Pitch-Plane isn’t quite so drastic, but because of Gravitational Forces, the ball has to travel in an arc nevertheless.

Our objective as coaches is to get baseball batting mechanics to match the plane of the incoming pitch with the barrel.

You can also see from the eFastball.com graphic that linedrives and productive balls in the air are hit using the bottom half of the ball.

Why are Pitcher’s Taught to Keep the Ball Down in the Zone?

Baseball Batting Mechanics: Backspin Tee

This baseball batting mechanics chart illustrates the importance of backspin on a batted ball. The higher the degree, the more backspin being created. Photo courtesy: BackSpinTee.com

Pitchers keep the ball down in the zone to get hitters striking the top half of the ball.  And to create an element of deception.

Pitchers know that ground balls are outs 95% of the time in High School.  In college and professional baseball, ground balls are outs 98-99% of the time.

The reality is, a 90-mph fastball drops 4 feet before it gets to the catcher.  This equates to about a 5-degree downward trajectory.  To the hitter, the ball may seem “flat”, but Gravitational Forces are instantly at work pulling the ball down after the pitcher releases it.

That’s only a fastball.  In baseball, we can see up to a 20-degree downward pitch plane when the pitcher throws a breaking ball!

The other thing that’s happening immediately after the pitcher’s release, is the ball starts to slow down because of a myriad of factors, a couple being Gravitational Forces, and the humidity (or lack thereof) in the air.

In other words, the ball may be leaving the pitcher’s hand at 90-mph, but by the time it reaches the catcher’s glove, it’s lost maybe 4 to 6-mph.

 

How to Train Hitting the Bottom Half

Baseball Batting Mechanics: Backspin Tee

The Backspin Batting Tee photo courtesy: BackSpinTee.com

Taylor Gardner told me a story about when his hitting mentor Matt Noakes was telling him of when Hank Aaron, shortly after retiring, was ‘touring’ MLB ballparks taking batting practice and playing home run derby.

Hank Aaron wound up crossing paths with Matt Nokes, where a young Nokes asked him what he was trying to do when he hit.  Hank Aaron shared that he was always attempting to hit the bottom half of the baseball.

Traditional batting tees can promote baseball batting mechanics that hit the top half, especially with younger hitters, because they generally fear hitting the tee and knocking it over.

This can have a cascade effect, mechanically speaking, causing a hitter to swing down on the ball.

The BackSpin Tee turns the traditional tee upside down…literally.  Try and swing up or down on a BackSpin Tee and you’ll hit the rubber tee cone, miss the ball completely, and/or get a weak result.  Instant feedback.  Ineffective outcomes.

The BackSpin Tee promotes ‘On Path Bottom Half’.

I’m offering a %15 OFF discount to the next person to order a BackSpin Tee at TheStartingLineupStore.com. Just enter the discount coupon code at checkout: MSJK5P6H6ZTC

Backspin Batting Tee: The Quickest & Easiest Way to Drive the Ball

 

Batting Tees: The Ugly Truth

Meet the Backspin Batting Tee team. Photo courtesy: BackSpinTee.com

This is the first in a 3-part interview series…

One of the most frustrating things for coaches I’m in touch with (myself included) is finding minds that think alike when it comes to applying human movement science to hitting.

In other words, how do we separate the “weeds” from the grass?  Below is an interview I did with one of the three hitting and movement experts, Taylor Gardner and his innovative batting tee.

First a brief introduction…

Taylor Gardner is the inventor of the Backspin batting tee (I carry the Backspin Tee at TheStartingLineupStore.com), that received “Best In Show” Awards at the 2015 American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Convention in Orlando, Florida.  The concept is really simple really, practice hitting the bottom half of the ball (see video above).

At the convention, Taylor had a coach come up to his booth, take swings off his Backspin batting tee, and said that it was nearly impossible to swing “down” on the ball, because of the batting tee design.

 

The “ugly truth” about the batting tee?

BackSpin Batting Tee

Photo courtesy: BackSpinTee.com

…If youth hitters aren’t coached properly, then they’ll default to hitting the top half of the ball, to avoid knocking the tee over.  Taylor’s Backspin batting tee turn this ugly truth on it’s head…literally 😛

Not only did Taylor breath new life into the batting tee, but he’s a student of hitting.  He uses human movement science like we do.  I met him on my Facebook fanpage, and after a couple interactions, I had to interview him for the HPL blog…

 

Taylor Gardner BackSpin Batting Tee Interview…

If you were to train me for four weeks for a HUGE tournament and had a million dollars on the line, what would the training look like? What if I trained for eight weeks?

TG: With 4-weeks of training

…we would have time to adjust any swing path flaws with video analysis so that everyone was seeing the same movements. We would do positional strength test to show if their are any weak points in the swing that might be causing a dropping barrel.

Your grip would be looked at to ensure that at contact both wrist were close to 90 degrees, and then keep that grip (don’t just change it for comfort).

Simple soft-toss from in front would show any basic timing issues, as well as your ability to get in position to the ball on time to use a proper swing path. Bad positioning at landing can cause hitters to change their swings regardless.

I practice a “1st baseman” drill where you train your eyes to step towards a ball before you catch it (Learned from Barry Bonds) to help your body learn how to get to the pitch more efficiently.

Depending on how good your timing, body positions, and swing path were, we could then move onto any movements in the body that might need more exaggeration, for example: if you were very stiff with your legs, and had a hard time getting to lower pitches, we could do variations of tee work and soft toss to exaggerate that one body movement, and these same techniques would apply if you had connection problems with your arms, hands, head movement, etc that may need to be fixed more quickly.

After your technique is sufficient in the 4 week time frame, I would have you learn how to “time” a pitcher and practice different fastball speeds. For example: if you are facing mostly 80mph pitching and slower, we would practice speeds of batting practice (with the new exaggerated movements now set) that were no quicker than .47 seconds out of the pitcher’s hand to the front of the plate (a simple stopwatch would get us close).

If you were facing 90mph then we would train your stride timing to adjust to .40 seconds, but no faster. Pitcher’s don’t accidently throw their fastest pitch 10mph faster….In the 4 weeks we would conquer the technique of the swing first before seeing live pitching. You came to change your swing, and 4 weeks is plenty of time to make physical adjustments, the rest of the time would be focused on the timing and reaction to positions in the zone.

If I had 8-weeks with you,

Backspin Batting Tee

Photo courtesy: BackSpinTee.com

…we would take the same approach, I don’t believe their are quick fixes, unless your swing is already close to doing the right movements, but I would ask you questions about the approach at the plate, and we would keep it as simple as possible. The pitcher throws his fastball 70%+ most of the time, so you can trust that that is what you will see.

You can always buy time (wait) in the swing, but you cannot speed up faster than your body will allow. You would learn to set your timing approach up to hit that particular pitcher’s speed, then time your stride accordingly. Some hitters need to wait longer, or start sooner depending on their tendencies.

Your set up (assuming isn’t an issue) would be able to swing level to a high pitch (considered a pitcher’s mistake in Pro ball) because it is the easiest pitch to get to the bottom half of the ball, and would learn to adjust to the height adjustment of off speed and swing to the pitch accordingly.

Every physical movement that would be instructed would have your own style to it. There is no cookie cutter swing, only movements (and maybe some variations of those movements) that were backed by facts and studied knowledge that can be performed by the human body.

Getting on path with the pitch, hitting the middle/bottom half of the ball at a contact point that is proven for max energy connection into the ball would be taught. How high or low you consistently hit balls (angles) is more important than pulling it or going to opposite field. This has been proven time, and time again.

 

What makes you different? Who trained you or influenced you?

TG: Matt Nokes (Silver Slugger Award Winner, New York Yankees) Boots Day (Montreal Expos, and knew Ted Williams), Jarrett Gardner, Professional Pitching Coach

 

What are your favorite instructional books or resources on the subject? If people had to teach themselves, what would you suggest they use?

TG: DVD-Pyramid Of Hitting. Training tool-The Back Spin Batting Tee.

What are the biggest mistakes and myths you see in hitting? What are the biggest wastes of time?

TG: Hit the top of the ball to make it rise with backspin. Soft-toss from behind the hitter. Your hips are your main source for power. Quick hands. Pulling with the bottom hand, and pushing with the top hand. You can stay “through” a ball longer if you try, the ball only stays on the bat .0007 seconds, no matter how you hit it. Swing down and through a ball. Keep your hands inside the ball. Get your foot down early. You have to have a straight front leg to hit. You have to rotate your back foot for power. “Don’t worry about timing, just react to the pitcher.” Foul off offspeed and wait for fastball. They all are a waste of time, and I can explain how.

Thank you Taylor!

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