As we have all have heard baseball is a game of failure and being able to manage those failures over the course of the season. Lately, I have been seeing a troubling trend with hitters, their idea of success is completely clouted and holds no water. I hear it every weekend, “oh coach I did great I went 4-4” or “I did horrible I went 0-4” success and failure to hitters these days revolves around getting hits. Now don’t get me wrong, I love hits just as much as the next person, BUT I understand that is not the end all be all. The problem with this mentality is that you are judging yourself based off of something that you cannot control. Like it or not, you have no control over getting a hit or how many hits you get. You can certainly influence the number of hits you are probable to get but it pretty much stops there, more on this later. It is downright silly to judge yourself solely based on how many hits you got in your previous game. I like to refer to this as the illusion of control, this is the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events, it occurs when someone feels a sense of control over outcomes that they demonstrably do not influence.
With this mentality, this leads to a lot of instability in the hitter’s confidence and ultimately, performance. Because they do not have a strong set of goals and their idea of success is off they instead need something concrete to turn to. As a coach, there have been countless examples when I have seen someone go 0-4 and be more of a force than someone who went 3-4 in the same game. When defining success first we need to be able to clearly define the things that we have control over. For me those things include: approach for each at bat/pitch, hitting the ball hard, and getting off your best swing, and being on time. Every one of those is a lot more controllable than trying to find the hole in every at bat. Also, if we do these things well our chances of hitting the ball hard skyrocket, which increases the probability of you getting a hit. It’s much like someone saying, “I want to lose weight,” well if it was as easy as saying it everyone would be skinny. It’s the same thing with hitting, wanting to get a hit is not enough, not by a long shot. You need to have a process to fall back on in order to keep you on track.
Having an approach for every at bat/pitch is important because you need to have a good idea of what is coming in order for you to have a chance at consistently hitting the ball hard. Notice I said hit the ball hard, not getting a hit or putting the ball in play. The people who hit the ball the hardest always win. All too often hitters go up and look fastball and adjust or even worse just look to hit the first pitch that is a strike. With the name of the game being hitting the ball hard we need to have a sense of speed, shape and type of pitch it will be in order to have our best chance of squaring something up at close to our max ability. If we have a solid approach then we can have the feeling of being in the batting cage and knowing what is coming. After all a big reason guys hit better in the cage is because they know what speed, type, and shape the pitch is going to be and they can time it up accordingly.
With the rise of Trackman, HitTrax, and Statcast this has forever changed how evaluators look at hitting. Now with every swing in just a matter of seconds we are able to see exactly how hard and far Aaron Judge hit his last ball. We are not as focused on batting average as we are BARRELS, exit velocity, or hard-hit percentage. The biggest reason for this shift is that there is more behind these stats that helps tell people more of the story. Batting average is starting to die because there really doesn’t need to be much substance behind it in order for it to be at a respectable level. Hitting .300 does not begin to tell the whole story. Hard hit percentage, barrels, and exit velocity are far better predictors of long term success. Again and again statistics show us that the harder someone hits the ball the more successful they are. In the following graph, I chose to highlight slugging percentage instead of batting average because this metric makes players more valuable to their respective teams.
Getting your best swing off goes without saying. Regardless of your thoughts on the swing and your philosophy I think we can agree that consistently putting your best swings on the ball is extremely important for long term success and consistency. If the hitter is not able to produce a swing that he can rely on consistently then it is highly likely that their performance will suffer as a result. This does not mean that someone with a “bad” swing will not get a hit, baseball is an imperfect science but over the long run the cream will eventually rise to the top. This is why minus some stylistic approaches the best big-league hitters when broken down are actually very similar in their movements.
What I absolutely love to hear is someone saying, “I had a great weekend, I squared up 90% of the balls I hit, I stuck to my approach, and I put my best swings on the ball all weekend. And I ended up hitting .400.” Knowing the process behind getting hits is the most important part of the equation. If all we do is want to get hits then good luck over the course of a season facing good pitching. If we know what goes into it then we can directly right the ship when things go wrong. So now it turns into, “I have been swinging at bad pitches for the last week I need to correct that.” Instead of, “man I’ve been in a slump for the last week and don’t know why.”
There is always merit to sticking with a thorough and well thought out approach that is proven. Even when the means that you did not get a hit that day. Don’t panic and stick to your guns because if you don’t, you will be searching for something that you really do not have the ability to control. I leave you with this golden nugget from NL MVP Joey Votto. “A couple of years ago I went 0-6 against the Cubs but it was probably the best day of the year. Because I just missed and I was doing the things that I wanted to do, and there were some tough plays in the outfield. And from my perspective I was sticking with the plan and over the long run I know it is going to pay off.”
-Start with the foundation in mind.
Start video at 7:54
Just this past week I had a conversation with one of my hitters about the timing and sequencing of his movements and the importance of things happening sequentially. This particular hitter had the problem of his back elbow and top hand moving together during his downswing. This move was causing him to cut through the zone and miss-hit a lot of very hittable balls that he should have been crushing. This also led to him pushing his hands through the zone which isn’t great for repeatability and maximizing his power. The main root of this problem seemed to stem form his elbow and hands moving at the same time instead of his elbow moving down, stopping, then his hands moving down, stopping, then finally delivering the bat head through the zone. After seeing this reoccurring problem, I explained that human movements that are efficient in nature all have a very specific order of events that need to happen one right after the other. I used an example of a whip, I explained that when cracking a whip in order to move the end of the whip you must accelerate the handle, then through an order of events energy is transferred from the handle throughout the body of the whip then ultimately the end of the whip moves. In hitting the body works a lot of the same, summed up, the back-foot turns, the back knee turns, the femur turns, the pelvis turns, the thoracic spine turns, the back elbow drops into slot, the front arm pulls, the hands fire, then the end of the bat gets delivered to the ball.
After going through the explanation of the movements this gave the hitter a framework in which to move and a reference to compare himself against. Breaking down video I used a circle around the hands to help illustrate how the body unwinds THEN as a result of the body turning the hands are pulled by the body instead of being pushed through the zone. The circle around the hands really seemed to help him view unloading the body in a different way than he had seen before. Here is an illustration to help you see it in a real swing.
In the first image, you can clearly see that he is in a “position” to do nothing other than push his hands through the zone. You can see the hands in front of the elbow creating a pushing pattern. In the second and third clips, you can see the elbows slightly in front of the hands which allows for a great deal of space to operate from.
In the pushing example, you can see he is cutting through the back of the zone. From here the only option is to hit everything extremely far out in front of the plate. This is necessary in order to give his bat a chance to accelerate. If he hits the ball deep into the zone he will experience a lot of off center hits that create a lot of spin and not a whole lot of velocity and distance.
You can see with a little bit of work you can definitely make some progress in your pushing vs. pulling patterns. In the last image, you can see how he now has space to let the ball get “deep” and still manage to have a chance to hit it in the air instead of only being able to hit ground balls. This is an extremely common occurrence for hitters of all ages. Their ability to drive the ball in the air opposite way is rather limited. This has shown to be a major reason why. Pulling allows for the bat to start its upswing earlier in the swing sequence which then they are able to let the ball get deeper and still get the ball up in the air. When pushing the bat/ hands your bat does not start its upswing until later in the sequence and the window to hit the ball deep has already closed.
A couple of good things to look for is seeing the elbow get down before the hands move forward and also being able to see the right ribcage of the right-handed hitter for an extended period of time. If the ribcage disappears quickly that is an indicator that there is a good amount of pushing in the swing. Hope this helps.
Start with the foundation in mind. Happy New Year!
The role of objective feedback is something that cannot be understated when trying to evaluate and develop skills. For so long baseball has been in the position of glorifying mechanics and methods that have not been proven and even worse are born out of subjective or biased information. Even though we definitely are not out of the woods yet we are starting to see a monumental shift in regards to how we consume and use information. Now, there are so many ways to measure performance and abilities at the blink of an eye. There are ways we can dissect spin rate, exit velocity, on plane percentage, bat speed, and batted ball distance easier than ever. With all of these metrics we now have the ability to evaluate even in places that are not a major league stadium. Baseball has long been a sport that is very connected to its history and doing things that it has done for a long time. Coming with that are teachings and methods that have no merit or weight behind their reasoning for doing them. It is so easy to look online and find the next drill that looks great and apply it to all of your clients even though they do not need it and more importantly the drill really hasn’t been tested or thought through.
The toughest part of teaching a skill based discipline like swinging a baseball bat is trying to sift through all of the information that is put out and trying to find something that we know works. The only way to see this is by measuring and teaching things that can be directly measured. So much of what we do as hitting coaches is based on video and what we “see”. Going over on video what we see can easily be manipulated by our own biases and how “we” teach. What I have tried to do lately is step back and adjust my way of looking at hitting and trying to get down to the true nuts and bolts of the swing. I am trying to get rid of all of the “style” hitting movements and breaking it down to how the body efficiently swings an object. So much of how we dissect hitting mechanics is based on what we are teaching at that moment. Instead, we need to peel back the layers of movement and look at how the body is actually moving and what the mechanics of movement are. Never mind the swinging of a bat and if he looks like Albert Pujols or not. Instead we need to get better at breaking down movement for its value as purely that, movement.
In my opinion golf is farther along in its understanding of movement and the true swing mechanics because it has developed a system of how to look at the swing objectively and not so much through the lens of our own judgement and preconceptions of what we believe to be a good swing. This is massively in part to the work done at the Titleist Performance Institute. They have revolutionized how to attack golf swing mechanics and training. They have laid the foundation for a systematic approach to helping golfers reach their true potential.
Reviewing their work was about the time that I picked up my old movement anatomy book and started to go through rotational movements and what that meant for the muscles and structures of the body. By doing this I discovered that swing mechanics and how they are explained are really not formed on the basis of movement anatomy. Instead, they are heavily based on how someone interprets movement on a 60 FPS (Frames Per Second) video. And how they openly interpret these movements is eventually what camp their swing methodologies lie. This is why it is so easy to pick apart a video and get 1,000 different explanations for the same swing! If we looked at the swing as what it really is, movement, then we would be able to identify things that we all agree on instead of trying to shame someone because they do not “see” what you see on video.
Ultimately, I have decided to break the movement of a swing down into its proven parts. This may seem like it makes hitting more difficult to digest but I would actually argue the contrary, it makes it less subjective and there is now a basis from which I can draw my conclusions. This led to my thought process shifting in how I teach and look at my hitters.
With the availability of HitTrax and Blast motion I am able to put specific metrics to specific parts of the swing and track a wide variety of numbers. Based on what the numbers tell me I am better able to dissect the movements of the athlete with more tangible data. This lends itself to me looking at video and piecing together things that we can attack in order to get the numbers where we think they should be. This now gives us better feedback on what we are doing and if we are going in the right direction. Before, I would look at the HitTrax numbers and use that as a form of feedback. But now I am better able to see what is directly happening in the swing itself by utilizing the Blast baseball sensor.
With the sensor, we are better able to look at what is going on with the athlete internally (swing mechanics) and we are better able to predict changes that are likely to happen externally (exit velocity, launch angle) before they actually happen. If we see better connection in their swing along with higher swing speeds and that hasn’t yet translated to better exit velocity and distances for example; we know that we are still on the right track and better external benchmarks are more than likely ahead.
This was a huge step for me in terms of shifting the way that I look at and help hitters. Initially, this was extremely intimidating because it was so different from the approach that I had previously. But I am happy to say that based on the way things are going now I couldn’t be happier with the progress that the hitters have made. I have quickly learned that objective feedback that is backed by something other than your current bias is far more effective in fostering trust and confidence between your message and your players.
Start with the foundation in mind.
Chapman Baseball Compound
Chapman Baseball Compound is a 3,000 square foot facility where we specialize in baseball development specifically in the areas of: hitting, pitching, catching, and mental training.