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.

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 6.41.35 PMScreen Shot 2015-02-27 at 6.41.15 PM

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

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 3.54.40 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 1.11.57 PM

 Anthony Rizzo:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 6.41.35 PM

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

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 1.22.11 PM

Ted Williams:

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 1.29.08 PM

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

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 1.36.04 PM

 

Joc Pederson (Dodgers Prospect):

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 7.11.52 PM

Thanks for reading!

Gabe Dimock – Baseball Rebellion Certified Instructor

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Jon Ball
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Jon Ball

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… Read more »

Stephen Black
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Stephen Black

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… Read more »

Don Ervin
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Don Ervin

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… Read more »

Jerry
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Jerry

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

Zekai Geier
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Zekai Geier

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… Read more »

Brodie Carey
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Brodie Carey

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..

Bob Hoffman
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Bob Hoffman

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… Read more »

Ethan Curtis
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Ethan Curtis

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

Paul
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Paul

Does landing with the front open increase power?