Free Hitting Tips
The most common grip is Top Hand Big Knuckles lined up with Bottom Hand Middle Knuckles (or lining up of the imaginary rings). The hitter must have loose wrists. A common myth is that hitters must lineup their knocker knuckles, but most elite hitters do not. Make sure that a hitters big knuckles are not lining up or that they grip the bat fully in their palms.
For optimal bat speed and bat path we want the bat to be in the right position to swing. A good reference point is to have the knob of the bat pointing down towards the catcher somewhat. We don't want it completely vertical or completely flat with the knob pointing up to the sky. Most importantly we don't want the knob to be ahead of the hands pointing towards the field/pitcher. We like to see a like bend in the top wrist towards the batter's shoulder.
Back Elbow: Up or Down?
- Many hitters start the elbow high and swing right from there, as if they are preloaded to begin the swing (many…but not all).
- Others may start lower and their elbow will load up during their stride or positive move similar to a lateral raise/deltoid lift at the gym (or like throwing a ball)
- Both are OK. Whichever is more comfortable
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Load & Gather
- Load into body like a pendulum
- Backside goes up & front side comes in
- Load into/onto backside NOT over backside
- Front leg lift is OK but it shouldn’t cause back side to go back/up. Jose Bautista does a great job of this
- Stay square to the plate. Not twisting
- Maintain K (Bill of Hat, Belt, Front foot)
- Sit into back half (heel half) of foot and push into ground
Upper Half & Shoulders
- Let your shoulders relax. No tension in neck. (Let arm hang to feel it.)
- THE KEY: Shoulders work like rocking a baby. Front shoulder goes down first
- Back elbow works down first. Same as throwing motion
- Head sometimes comes forward & shouldn’t go back
- Tall backside. Keep Eye/Chin in front of belt. Maintain your K.
- Average stride length in MLB is 9.4” - MLB Ranges from: 0” – 24”
- Stride length determined by width of stance
- Narrow stance will require long stride whereas wide stance will be smaller stride
- Should feel like a normal sideways walking step. No reaching.
- Most Important: Maintain K Posture - Eye/Chin in front of belt buckle/belly button
- Biggest Fault: Collapsing Backside & dropping hands in this phase
Toe Touch & Heel Plant
After the hitter has taken their stride their foot should land like a normal walking step. Not on their toes.
As the front heel drops; “SINK” down into the back half of feet and into your legs. Albert Pujols says, “Should feel like there are 25 lb weights in your pockets and sit”.
Ted Williams used to say that, “should feel like wet concrete”
Their front foot should land at a 45 degree angle or more closed position. A more closed position allows the hitter to have a tighter stronger rotation but it makes it more difficult to open their front hip and fully rotate. Having the front foot closed will give you more power in the gaps and opposite field, like Derek Jeter but landing more at a 45 degree angle allows you to be able to pull more.
We want to make sure that the hands are even or behind the back elbow. When looking at the hands from the pitchers perspective we also need to make sure that the hitters hands are not "outside" of the front elbow. They need to be either even or closer to the body.
We should see the knob of the bat pointing in the direction of the catcher and the barrel of the bat should be in front of the head or over it or over the shoulder, with very minimal wrapping behind the head.
Very importantly, we want to see that the front arm creates an L with the front elbow, shoulders and hands and maintain that L for as long as possible.
Hip Drive & Rotation
Once we stride and get our heel down we want to begin hip drive and rotation. Rotation should begin right as the heel plants, not sooner. Many pull hitters (whom now MLB teams play shifts on) begin rotation before their heel drops which gives them a ton of pull power but not the ability to use all fields.
We want to open the front hip up and drive the back side (hip) towards the pitcher while keeping our heels connected to the ground as long as possible. The back side drive should pull the back foot off the ground. For some hitters their back foot will come off the ground completely because of the amount of back side force they generate. Bryce Harper, Miguel Cabrera and many others do that on the baseball side. A great example in the softball side is All-American Shelby Pendley from Oklahoma.
Once the heel gets down, the head and front hip shouldn't move forward or glide anymore.
Maintaining pressure in the knees can help hitters to adjust to off-speed as well.
The front side should get firm right before or about contact. Not too early.
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Back Elbow Initiates Swing
Hand Path is very similar to throwing a baseball/softball side arm or "skipping a rock". A lot like a second baseman turning a double play.
The hitters shoulders should move more parallel then around. Think of "Rock The Baby" instead of "Twisting Up & Around"
The back elbow starts the swing by dropping into what some call the "slot" or "Power Vee" position. The hands should stay behind or even with the back elbow in it's initial move and not get too far ahead of the elbow, allowing the hitter to adjust to off-speed and location. The top hand & wrist should open towards the opposite dugout. Some hitters may feel like they are "revving the engine of a motorcycle" with the top hand to get the proper feel. As the back elbow (and back side) comes down, it will push the front elbow (front side) open and through. The hands will continue with the bat lagging as long as possible and the bat will release itself through the ball. We want the back elbow to stay connected in the slot or Power Vee position as long as possible (outside pitches it will get disconnected earlier).
The front elbow must go towards the pitcher with its first move (like throwing a frisbee) and NOT up and away. (at least not at first)
Bat Lag Position
In the Bat Lag position the hitters hands should be in front of the center of gravity (in front of belly button).
The bat shoulder be in a straight line from the catcher to the pitcher.
The back forearm, elbow and shoulder should still be in the Power Vee position and connected in Bat Lag.
At contact position we should see that the wrists are straight with the top hand palm up and the bottom hand palm out/up.
The back shoulder should be lower than the front shoulder and the amount of tilt in the shoulders will be determined by the pitch trajectory/height. We should not see the shoulders level unless the pitch is at the shoulders.
The hitters elbows should be slightly bent at contact and not extended yet.
The front elbow (top elbow) should be above the hands and the hands should be above the barrel. The bat will release under the hands.
The hitters head & eyes should be looking in the zone/barrel and not pulling off and away.
The hitters weight should be balanced but at the same time the weight should be transferred into the front side (not over it). You can see a balanced position on camera by seeing if the hitters shoulder, hips and back knee are all lined up.
Extension & Follow Through
Full extension happens after contact. We should see the hitters barrel pointed to the opposite field gap on the first frame after contact.
In the next few frames, we should see both arms and the bat pointed towards the pitcher. At that time, the hands will start to roll over (not before).
Should you hold on with two hands? Or let go? Whichever is comfortable with the hitter I am fine with. Many hitters feel like they can stay on the ball longer by releasing their top hand in their swing. We should see the finish at shoulder height or above.
A good measurement is that the lower the pitcher the higher the finish in good swings.
Slow to Explode
One of the best tips that I can give all hitters is to understand the concept of Slow To Fast. I like to use the term Slow To Explode with my hitters. I even have young hitters that like to use the phrase...KAAAAA-BOOOOM!
The concept of Slow To Explode best described as starting the hitter trying to start their swing slow and relaxed and their bat speed increasing at and through contact. Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays has said that his key to going from 14 HR a year to over 50 was understanding and mastering the concept of slow to fast.
Hitters that start too fast in their swing are susceptible to things like lunging, casting and their bat speed actually decelerating at contact. This can be tested with devices such as the Zepp.