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Baseball Rebellion Links Front Side Injuries to Swing Mechanics

Written By: Gabe Dimock

The vast majority of injury discussion surrounding baseball involves pitching and throwing mechanics due to the alarming Tommy John epidemic. For more on this click here to see Justin Orenduff’s groundbreaking information. But what about hitting mechanics? At Baseball Rebellion, we teach our hitters to land with an open front foot to maximize performance and minimize the strain on the hitter’s front side. Many coaches, players, and fans forget that hitting is a high intensity rotational movement and fail to see the excess stress placed on the front leg when landing closed. As with any max-effort exercise, improper form can be dangerous and increase an athlete’s risk of injury. Most people have seen this example at one time or another in a weight room setting where a lifter does something like this that makes you cringe:

bench-press

While landing on a closed front foot is not as overtly dangerous as the comical weight-room scene depicted above, it may lead to front leg injuries that limit the productivity and longevity of a player’s career. Below I will discuss the most popular opposition to our open landing technique.

The Opposition

The most common opposition to landing open is: “If I land open won’t I pull off the ball and be exposed to the outside pitch?” This common perception has led to the teaching of the closed hips and front foot. There is a big difference between landing open with the hips and landing open with the shoulders. As long as the hitter keeps his shoulders closed it is advantageous for the hips and front foot to land as open as possible. This increases separation between the hips and the shoulders and reduces the amount of stress placed on the front leg. Below is an example of Anthony Rizzo landing open and crushing an outside pitch.

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Next we’ll take a look at some examples of major leaguers who land closed with their front foot and have had front leg injury issues.

Victor Martinez:

Victor Martinez has been in the news this offseason after tearing his left meniscus just three years removed from tearing his left ACL and meniscus in 2012. Martinez has had a very successful MLB career but as he ages (age 36), his durability has come into question. Martinez is particularly susceptible to this type of injury not only because of his age, but because of his years as a catcher. While he spends most of his playing time as a DH, Martinez could stand to minimize excess stress on his knees if he hopes to prolong his career. Martinez is a switch hitter who displays a nearly identical movement pattern from both sides of the plate. While his left knee has been the culprit, it would not be surprising to see him have some right knee issues as well due to his ability to switch hit. Below are videos  of Victor Martinez from each side of the plate.

Right Handed:

Victor Martinez Landing Closed (Righty)

Left Handed:

Victor Martinez Landing Closed (Lefty)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Martinez’ hips do manage to lead his swing, he lands on an extremely closed front foot. A major reason for this is his excessive tilt at the hip. I’ll touch on this more in the next section. Another interesting observation about Martinez is the way his front foot stays closed as he turns. Many players whose front foot lands closed experience a spinning or rolling action in the foot as they turn. While I do not think it is optimal to land on a closed front foot, I do think the hitter can reduce the stress on their front side when this occurs. That being said any hitter who lands closed runs the risk of remaining closed due to cleats having the tendency to dig into the ground.

Chase Utley:

Chase Utley is another aging all star who has battled both right hip and knee injuries. Utley had surgery on his front hip in 2008 and has missed many games due to chronic knee injuries. Here is video footage of Chase Utley’s swing:

Chase Utley Landing Closed

In watching Utley’s swing it certainly appears that he is attempting to land with a very closed front side. Part of the reason for this is that he gets his front foot down too early. You can see why this causes a closed landing in the section below. While his closed landing may ensure that he keeps his front shoulder closed, it appears very stressful on his front leg and diminishes his ability to finish his turn. Here is a quote from former Phillies hitting coach Milt Thompson regarding Utley’s swing:

I don’t know if there’s a perfect swing, but his is as close to it as you can be.

From statements like the one above we can infer that the Phillies coaching staff supported Utley’s swing mechanics and did not recommend that he make any changes to reduce his risk for injury.

3 Tips To Avoid Landing Closed

#1: Excessive Tilt at the Hip

I believe this mistake to be the primary culprit in Victor Martinez’ closed landing. While his hips open at the proper time, his front knee and foot fail to open sufficiently. In the following video I will show you an easy demonstration to help you feel how better posture can help your landing position.


#2: Landing Too Early

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I often see hitters land closed on their front foot simply because they get their foot down too early. The hitter doesn’t actively open their hips until their foot is already down to avoid being early on the incoming pitch. The picture of Chase Utley above is a great example of this. For more on why you shouldn’t get the front foot down too early click here to see Chas’ previous article.

#3: Showing Too Much Back

Many players create false separation to feel power in their swing. False separation occurs when the player shows too much of their back to the pitcher. The shoulders and hips do get separated but the separation comes more from the shoulders than the hips. This can disrupt the proper sequence of rotation and lead to closed hips and foot at landing. Adrian Gonzalez provides a good example of this in the picture below.

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Good Examples

Not convinced yet? Here are some examples of great hitters who successfully and consistently land open with their front foot:

Jose Bautista:

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Josh Donaldson:

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 Anthony Rizzo:

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Jacob Gatewood (High School HR Derby Winner and 1st round draft pick):

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Ted Williams:

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Sadaharu Oh (868 Career Home Runs in Japanese League):

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Joc Pederson (Dodgers Prospect):

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Thanks for reading!

Gabe Dimock – Baseball Rebellion Certified Instructor

18 thoughts on "Baseball Rebellion Links Front Side Injuries to Swing Mechanics"

  1. Jon Ball says:

    I believe that you tilt at the waist early to get your shoulders on plane with the pitch as early as possible and to get your head to the proper level at foot strike. If you tilt late, your head will be moving during your swing which is never desirable.

    I also believe that as long as you can be on time with the pitch, you can never have too much upper body load. It is the same principle as chipping a golf ball twenty yards with little shoulder turn or hitting a 300 yard drive with a huge shoulder turn. If we are searching for the highest ball exit speed we need the most shoulder turn we can control.

    If a hitter cannot land with their front foot at a 45 degree angle with proper tilt and shoulder turn they need to work on their flexibility, not their swing.

    1. Gabe Dimock says:

      Jon,

      Thanks for your comment!

      We also want to get the barrel on plane early but we do this with more of a side bend action instead of a big tilt at the hip. There is some tilt at the hip that is athletic and optimal. The point I was attempting to make was that excessive tilt as seen in Victor Martinez can lead to the hitter’s foot landing closed.

      From a pure force generation standpoint you may be correct that a huge turn in of the back is beneficial. It is important to remember that the pitch is coming from in front of the hitter. A huge turn in of the back can cause the hitter to lose vision as the ball approaches. This is one of the main reasons we test Ball Exit Speed from front toss instead of off the tee. When the ball is still on the tee, the hitter can counter rotate their shoulders a great deal and still see the ball. This is not realistic to hitting a moving ball in a practice or game. We advocate for some counter rotation of the shoulders to gain maximal hip and shoulder separation but not so much that we sacrifice vision or an open landing. We may actually agree here. It depends on the degree of counter rotation you advocate for.

      I think the golf example you used is analogous to testing ball exit speed off the tee. Because of the placement of the golf ball, golfers have to and are able to create separation differently than hitters. They have a huge counter rotation of the shoulders (but can keep vision) and have to turn on a closed front foot because of this. Tiger Woods is arguably the most athletic and explosive golfer of all time. After many years of creating power this way, he has had many knee injuries. I don’t think he had any other choice due to his sport but baseball players do!

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!

      -Gabe Dimock

  2. Steve Black says:

    Gabe – do you worry about opening the hips before heel strike? You mentioned landing open – and one concern would be landing too early – I wouldn’t want my hips to open before heel strike – Having them ready but still closed at heel strike provides the greatest front leg action (going back to JK front side article) – Cevallos has a great pause technique that you guys use (the Zeros,1s,2s drill) – I love this drill – it allows you to feel heel strike and go, or heel strike and then go, or heel strike…Go. If I can be potent in my pause drills the pitcher can’t fool me I can just focus on my techniques ride the front side and explode.

    J.M – who worked with Chas awhile back has a blog on effortless power v powerless effort and if we are opening our hips while the foot is in the air (heel not down) – we are into the powerless effort realm (like walking on sand). That would cause a power leak. I would love to hear more of your thoughts on this.

    steve

    1. Gabe Dimock says:

      Steve,

      Great questions and insights as always!

      We want the hips to begin opening before heel strike. If your heel hits and you haven’t started to open the hips, the front foot will land very closed. I freely admit that many hitters land and then turn (see Chase Utley above) but I don’t think it is optimal. I do think it is ok if the toe lands and the hips open as the heel is going to plant. I see Bautista among others begin to open before his heel hits which increases his hip/shoulder separation. In order to do this, the hitter has to get his foot down late, not early. I have not looked at much of Joey’s content but I did come across a video where he spoke about this and actually used Utley as a good example. I see Bautista and Utley as great examples of the two methodologies. You just have to choose which makes the most sense to you. Thanks again for your thoughts!

      -Gabe Dimock

  3. Don Ervin says:

    As usual the comments on this site are very informative and certainly are interesting topics of discussion
    If I may I would like to add a most important aspect of the hitting approach.
    One’s shoulders do not rotate during one’s swing they tilt up and down on a lateral axis all on a vertical plane, initiated by the rear knee drive/pivot which fires the hips which in turn in a nice smooth rhythmic movement sets up the shoulder tilt.
    When these movements are executed properly the barrel and shoulders get on a level plane with the downward flight of the ball as early as possible.
    I like what you say about the positive and negative difference between hitting off the the tee and the ball coming/moving towards one from the front.
    Great Base Ball-N
    Don Ervin

    1. Gabe Dimock says:

      Don,

      Thanks for your comment and I agree with your assessment above for the most part! I do think the rear hip turns the knee instead of the knee turning the hip. Thanks again for commenting.

      -Gabe Dimock

  4. Jerry says:

    Hi gabe and don I don’t know if I’m understanding you all about the shoulder turn are you both in agreement that in the baseball swing the shoulders rotate more in more the way a Ferris wheel works instead of a merry go round? Vertical then horizontal rotation

    1. Gabe Dimock says:

      Jerry,

      Yes, initially. The amount of vertical rotation depends the on pitch height, then the horizontal rotation ensues.

      -Gabe Dimock

  5. Zekai says:

    As i read through your contents about the rule of the barrel flail and how it correlates to the most efficient barrel plane. I realized how it also connects to the need for a hitter to de-emphasize the upperbody and especially the hands. Because the hands is not what drives the swing, it simply serves as a “hinge” while the hips and core rotates. But a lot of hitters including myself have a hard time getting out of their bad habits. Which brought me to this idea im going to ask about, whether the bat handle size can affect how a hitter swings. Do you think a thicker handle will make it harder for a hitter to prematurely use his hand before the hips? Because i once picked up a big wooden stick, whick was slightly heavier and thicker than a bat, when i swung, I noticed the difference in the feel in my hands and arms as to when im swing a bat, so i just wanted to ask if a bat with a thicker and bigger handle, like a wooden stick, can help a hitter use his/her body correctly and teach the right movement.

    1. Gabe Dimock says:

      Zekai,

      Interesting question. It’s not out of the question that this could help but I think things like handle thickness are more of a personal preference. Regardless of bat specifications, you should be able to train your movements to de-emphasize the hands and turn the barrel. Sorry to not give you a more concrete answer here about the effect of the bat but it generally shouldn’t be a game changer. Thanks for your question.

      -Gabe Dimock

  6. Jim says:

    Chas great article on the closed landing front foot of a hitter, Im a 51 year old caoch and former player. I had a left hip replacement at the age of 48 and the Dr’s are positive it was the result of baseball and Yes Golf were the foot has to stay closed.. I know I teach my players to open up that foot and let the hips drive through..

    1. Gabe Dimock says:

      Jim,

      Thanks for the complement. I’m glad you are teaching this to your players!

      -Gabe Dimock

  7. Bob says:

    Hi Gabe-
    My daughter is experimenting with the very concepts above. She has a moderate leg lift as she strides. We try to emphasis a more open front foot but sometimes the team hitting instructor says this-
    “She needs to continue to narrow up her feet so she can rotate on a balanced line of center. Her feet are too wide and she leaks out on the front side before rotation. ”
    I’m guessing this has to do with her stride length- she sets up at shoulder length and strides past the initial set up. Any thoughts on what the instructor may be getting at here? She asked the instructor – the reply was the stride is too long. I think most hitters approach above in article will face this type of question and others.
    Thanks-
    Bob

    1. Gabe Dimock says:

      Bob,

      Thanks for your comment. I would agree that she should rotate on a balanced line of center but I disagree that having movement forward before the turn is a problem. The instructor probably thinks that forward movement leads to being off balance and forward in the turn. Most coaches fail to see that you can stay balanced while moving! As with anything, players can stride too far but it is hard to tell without seeing your daughter swing. Unfortunately many coaches and instructors are afraid of any forward movement. I hope this helps!

      -Gabe Dimock

  8. Ethan says:

    when the front foot lands should it be towards the shortstop or directly towards the pitcher?

    1. Gabe Dimock says:

      Ethan,

      Great question! As long as the shoulders and barrel remain resisted, we prefer the front foot to be as open as possible. That being said, not everyone can physically get that far open so there is an acceptable range. The minimal end of that range should be that the foot is pointing towards fair territory. Thanks for the great question!

      -Gabe Dimock

  9. Paul says:

    Does landing with the front open increase power?

    1. Gabe Dimock says:

      Paul,

      Yes. This is due to the hips having less obstruction in the turn.

      -Gabe

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