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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:
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 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.
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 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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
Not convinced yet? Here are some examples of great hitters who successfully and consistently land open with their front foot:
Thanks for reading!
Gabe Dimock – Baseball Rebellion Certified Instructor