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Gain Early Bat Speed with “The Rule of The Flail”

Written By: JK Whited

Bat speed.  Where does it start and how is it created?   This could possibly be one of, if not, the most controversial aspects of the swing among those looking for the best way.

The problem for most people in regards to bat speed or barrel acceleration is when it actually happens.  The magic word there is "ACTUALLY." Outside of The Baseball Rebellion, anybody I discuss the swing with will immediately say that, "The barrel should be moving the fastest at contact." This idea would make sense because speed at contact is what we want right? WRONG!  We want speed into the zone (path of the ball). As we continue to turn, we will maintain that ACCELERATED barrel. Once the barrel gets to a point, we release through the rest of the zone.  Now, I know that seems like a lot of technical jargon but simply put, we want the barrel to be fast way before contact.  The same principals of bio-mechanics and physics are at work in other sports. The golf swing is like the distant cousin of the baseball swing. Here is a great video about the "flail principle" and how it relates to golf.  Try to bridge the gap to the baseball swing for yourself as you are watching.

Notice anything similar in the next two pictures? Below are photos of Bryce Harper and Tiger Woods. I have lined up the points where true acceleration happens in the top photos. In the bottom photos, I have marked where the flail lines back up with the front forearm of both players.  Notice the arrows pointing in the direction of acceleration.

Bryce Harper Hitting vs Tiger Woods Swinging

The major differences in these two swings is the location of the ball, the length of the "flailing" object, and the bat/club alignment at contact. If done properly, Harper's bat will flail to the point of the elbow on his lead arm.  Tiger's club will flail to the point of the elbow on his lead arm, which is also in line with his lead shoulder.  The faster the hitter can get the barrel lined up with the lead elbow, the faster the the barrel is.  If the hitter can get into this alignment as the barrel enters the zone, the bat will be fully accelerated before turning all the way to contact.  You hear coaches talk about "quick hands at contact," along with a ton of other bad cues which you can read about here.  Once Bryce and Tiger get the bat/club to the end of the alignment, they just keep turning while they release the bat/club out.  How many times have you seen either of these two monsters stop turning their bodies?  Never.

The hands will be used more passively in a high-level swing than most people realize. In order for the "law of the flail" to work for baseball, the hitter must start the barrel in motion back behind his shoulder and then with his/her turn, transfer energy through his unwinding body and into the hands.  At this point the hands will act like a hinge, as mentioned in the video we saw earlier.  If the hands are rigid or actively moving at the ball, the hinge is broken and deep acceleration can not happen.  Here is a video of Chipper Jones showing us a high level barrel path and deep acceleration.

I think most people do not realize this because they never see it.  This part of the swing happens so fast and without close analysis of slow swings, you will never pick it up.  The average viewer sees the bat get to the ball at super speed and thinks the hands must be fast because the bat is held by the hands.  Always remember that the "rule of the flail" can not work properly without the correct footwork and hip rotation. This is why "hands first swings" and "knob to the ball coaching cues" do not work from a mere physics perspective.  If the knob of the bat is moving at the ball, then what is the barrel doing?  It is not picking up speed, not turning, and not coming around.  The player can not generate enough speed with "hand snapping" to catch up to high level pitching.

Final Thought

Like I usually do here, I urge you to think about what coaches are asking you or your player to do at practice or lessons.  Look out for one-handed bat drills where top hand or bottom hand dominance is the goal.  Remember, early bat speed is not just a power generator, but also an extra ten feet of distance to watch and read the pitch.  Thus, having more decision time and ultimately selecting better pitches.  This concept will become more and more important for your player as he or she reaches faster pitching levels.

JK Whited, Leader of the Baseball Rebellion

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39 thoughts on "Gain Early Bat Speed with “The Rule of The Flail”"

  1. Josh says:

    What are some verbal cues you would give to a hitter to achieve quick and early barrel acceleration?

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Josh,

      Great question. You would be surprised to hear “be late” right? Well if the hitter has the correct footwork and usage of his/her turn, than that is what I would say. The later the player allows the pitch to travel, the faster and deeper his/her barrel HAS to speed up. Chas wrote a great article on getting the lead foot down late. I would suggest that as a start. After footwork, the hitter needs to learn the correct shape and path of the bat into the zone. This can be seen in the Chipper video. You can see the the bat moving behind his head and shoulder and then speed up around his shoulder as he begins his super thrust. This is what we call shaping the barrel. All elite hitters move their bat in this pattern. We say things like “deep snap”, “keep the knob back”, but we rarely speak of the hands. Footwork and turn MUST happen first of this barrel shape can not happen.

      Thanks for reading!

      JK-

  2. Paul Wright says:

    Another term you may consider using to describe this aspect of the swing (which is used in golf) is the “lag” of the (clubhead) barrel. The “lag” is where the energy is being “stored” while the torque of the body is being initiated until the “release” at contact where everything has “snapped” through the (contact) hitting zone. Great stuff!

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Paul,

      Good insight! I think whatever term helps the player feel the right movement is the correct one. Just remember that this FEELS like it will happen at contact, it ACTUALLY happens sideways INTO the zone. Not contact. The end of the road (path) of the ball is the catchers mitt. The deeper the barrel can get, with speed, the better. Thanks for reading!

  3. Hank says:

    JK- can you clarify this line at the end of your article: “Look out for one-handed bat drills”

    So, I’m guessing you are saying that they promote the movement of taking the knob/hands directly to the ball first and thereby short circuiting the “flail” movement? Is that the point or am I way off?

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Hank,

      Yes exactly. The one-handed drills will demand that the hitter pushes or pulls the bat with their arms. It is almost impossible to do a correct one-handed drill correctly. We do some movement drills with our guys but all hands movements will be mostly passive. “hands” is a four letter word in our building. “short circuiting the “flail” – well said!!

      Thanks for reading!

      JK-

  4. ed kovac says:

    even in pro ball their was no one, including ted wiliams who could communicate what I personally felt as a hitter although I felt the side ways bat speed. I would often hear that old phrase ( it looked like you took the bad out of the catchers mitt)! Through video analysis this now can be displayed. I just watched Oregon and Washington play in LL world series. A guy took a swing where hands and bat head went just past his front foot and hit a home run to center! Of course fences are very short but the 12 yr. old was not a giant either. This was an excellent analysis. Proper path will never be accomplished without this early move.

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Ed,

      Thanks for your insight! This video is great for showing the early move you speak of. Unfortunately is almost impossible to find shots like that to help illustrate it. This move happens so fast in real time speed that most people can not even see it. We work everyday with slow motion video. The naked eye just can’t see those little moves that make a huge impact on the guys swing path. Thanks for following!

      JK-

  5. Charles Sherrill says:

    JK,

    Another great article. I really appreciate you guys doing these.

    This one brought to mind a number of questions that I’ve wanted to ask you guys…

    1. Grip – align the door knocking knuckles or axe grip or does it even matter within the context of rotational hitting? Seems like I’ve read some people that emphasize wrist action, which never really made sense to me.
    2. “Torquing” the bat – Evidently something the Epstein people emphasize. Is that what we are talking about here? I understand it to be the slight movement of the bat behind the head just as the batter is striding.
    3. I have actually found this initial bat position (“MLB Logo”) to be surprisingly difficult to teach Little League players. Seems like most of them end up dumping the barrel of the bat when they load. I’ve been reluctant to emphasize this position with my 12 year old in case it would make him late on pitches (he is very skinny and his upper body mass/strength is not great). Right now, he usually positions the bat pointing behind his shoulder (not head), at a slight angle. Thoughts? Drills? Occasionally, I will have him drill the “torquing” motion along with his stride in front of mirror.
    4. The George Brett drill … player swings at a tee or soft toss, but starts with barrel against the side of his shoulder. I gather the point of the drill to build muscle memory for a compact swing path. Any thoughts on the effectiveness of this drill?

    Sorry for all the questions, but that’s what you get for writing a good article!

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Charles,

      Good to hear from you again! I will answer the questions in order.

      1. We stay away from the the door knocking knuckles. This grip will bring the elbows in towards each other and promote a downward swing path. If you look at elite hitters at contact the elbows are away from each other at almost 90 degree angles. This cant be done with those knuckles lined up.
      2. I would tend to think more about torquing the body before the bat. Be sure the barrel end of the bat is not pointing towards the pitcher or “wrapping”. The barrel path should be more down behind the shoulder while the hands stay connected to the shoulder.
      3. Bat position talk with little guys is very difficult. Not something that can be done in a little league season. Footwork and a high level turn must be consistent before we even think about having that talk with guys, even older players. I think for you son having the proper foot work and turn is still higher on the list of things to be good at than bat path. Now, getting a player to think about swinging up can help this too. Proper footwork patterns with and up hill swing can get most little guys on the right path. It is the older guys with years of downhill training that can be the hardest sometimes.
      4. I think this drill can be effective to a point. Again, I would stress up hill. The problem is you want to train a barrel that does not stop moving. By keeping the barrel still on the shoulder, you will stress a stop to go bat. Deep barrel acceleration has to come from a continuously moving barrel. Think of a sprinter who had a leaning or jogging start before everyone else. He clearly would have an advantage when the gun goes off.

      Great questions! Hope this helps!

      JK-

    2. Chas Pippitt says:

      Charles,

      I wanted to chime in as well since I work with your son online and in person and am very familiar with his swing…

      1: JK Nailed it
      2: “torque” in Epstein teaching is more referring to separation between the hips and shoulders…this moves the bat
      3: We teach a ‘Hamilton Tip’ instead of a ‘Bautista Tip’ at I.T.S. Baseball and Baseball Rebellion. You can’t teach the logo tip (Bautista) to many LL players as they just can’t handle it. I think it’s SUPER HARD to do…and the Hamilton tip (or Chris Davis) is easier to handle.
      4: JK and I spoke today, I have never heard of the “George Brett Drill” until now, but I have seen it done. Most people slide the hands across the chest when doing it…which is a fatal flaw in the drill. IF the hands can be still and stay back behind the back shoulder, it can be valuable in teaching a passive turn driven wrist move. Which is optimal.

      Chas–

      1. Hank says:

        Chas- can you clarify what you mean by ‘Hamilton Tip”?

        1. Chas Pippitt says:

          Hank,

          A “Hamilton Tip” refers to the way he tilts his barrel inward towards the opposite dugout instead of around his head towards the second baseman.

          Bautista tips towards the SS (He’s a righty) and rotates the barrel around his hands from there. That is much more difficult in my opinion.

          Chas–

  6. Hank says:

    So Hamilton keeps a more vertical position on his bat until the turn? Just looking at this video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QT2ZUXRsI5Q
    Knob is pointing down more whereas Bautista’s knob points more back toward the catcher.

    Bautista on the other hand flattens the bat out more using a deeper wrist cock bringing the bat head closer to level?

    Just trying to get the distinction between the two correct. This movement is mostly due to the wrist cock angle used correct?

    Is the bottom line the plane of the bat angle? Upright vs. flat?

    1. Chas Pippitt says:

      Hank, you’re trying to hard to find it.

      watch the breakdown of Bautista and Hamilton in my timing article about whether or not a hitter should get his front foot down early.

      That shows the difference.

      Again, Hamilton lowers his barrel towards the 3rd base dugout. Bautista points his barrel at the SS.

      Chas–

      PS Hamilton does not ‘practice well’ meaning he doesn’t use his game pattern off tees or when he talks about hitting. Watch the game moves of players, learn from that.

    2. Steve Black says:

      Hank – Chas is the expert so anything I say refer to him – but I know you don’t want to move the bat with your wrists – review Chas’ back elbow Row (Back Shoulder Row) blog. Even his latest blog shows the move.

      The tip and rip comes from elbow movement – Elbows are strong and easily repeatable. Move a bat with just your wrists – then try again with just your elbows – Elbows provide much more power and the focus is closer to the body which matches up with the Angular Velocity of Chas’ lastest blog.

      I hope that helps,
      steve

      1. Chas Pippitt says:

        Steve,

        You’re correct sir.

        Chas–

  7. Caleb D says:

    Jk and chas, if you guys don’t teach to line up the knuckles then what do you teach? Is it just whatever is comfortable for the hitter?

    Thanks

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Caleb,

      I like for my guys to feel comfortable. Usually our guys will have the door knockers lined up with the back knuckles. I have actually seen guys start with the door knockers lined up and the hands will rotate as the swing goes. At contact they are lined up the other way. I think lining up the door knockers brings the elbows too close and weakens the hitter.

      JK-

    2. Charles Sherrill says:

      This is just speculation on my part, but I suspect that aligning the door knocking knuckles had its origins in the golf world and is intended to promote “snapping” of the wrists, which I think some linear instructors emphasize.

      1. jkhittingrebel says:

        Charles,

        This is also easy to teach a lot of kids, in a short amount of time. Its part of what I call the “baseball camp” swing. Golf would make since because contact is made at extension of the arms where as baseball is with arms bent. Also like a punch, you would never make contact with the door knockers. Well I hope not anyway.

        JK-

  8. Isaias says:

    when i land my front foot and prepare to turn, I tried flicking my wrists down so the barrel would accelerate towards the catcher, and than just let my hips get the bat lined up with the ball. i would also make sure to only flick my wrists and not move my hands, elbows, or shoulders. Would you say this flick of the wrists is a correct movement for me to continue to practice?

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Isaias,

      I would say you are close! The wrists can snap deep by the shoulder. This will help with the acceleration some. Like you stated, not moving the hands and elbows away from the body is crucial to a deep barrel acceleration. Your shoulders are a part of the rotation of the swing, so at the appropriate time you will need to turn your shoulders. REMEMBER, the power in your “wrist flick” must be first produced from forward movement and the turning of your pelvis. This sudden burst of energy is what will travel up through your body and into your flail. It can not all be done with your wrists. I would suggest you learn how to feel the relationship between the hips and the deep barrel acceleration. Keep up the work!

      JK-

  9. John says:

    Hey JK and Chas, If you land properly and get into a good launch position and just rotate around your axis with hip thrust and from using your core with shoulder delay and all of that stuff you guys talk about with using the body powerfully and efficiently wont your bat just get into the flaling/lagging position properly (as long as your arm angles dont change until extension)? I know the bat does get into the position your talking about but you talk about getting into that position “deep”. I feel like that would create a long swing. The way I see it is that if you rotate properly your bat will end up getting into that position where about the bottom hand is crossing your nose. Before that the barrel has to stay above the ball so your swing is short and compact. If you try and get into that lag position any deeper then your swing is going to be long. I’m not a swing down and through guy at all but I believe that your barrel has to stay above the ball until the lag position (hands crossing your nose plane)and that lag position puts the bat on plane with the ball. Your Thoughts? And thanks for these articles some really great stuff on here!

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      John,

      Really good insight to the flail article!

      I absolutely agree that if the hitter gets to great positions, the “flail” happens much easier and naturally. From a instructor who has seen thousands of swings, it is difficult to relay this idea to those who have little to no background in high level swing movements. Majority of guys come in with the typical “coached” or “camp” swings where the hands are pushed away from the body early and the “flail” can never happen. For those guys who from an early age learned to use their bodies efficiently, the “flail” happens and they don’t even know it. This article was more aimed to enlighten those who have never thought about the role of the hands in the swing being very minimal.

      I do not thing that a “long” should always have a negative spin on it. A high level bat path should be long in the “hitting zone”, but also super fast. The deeper the hitter can get the barrel behind the ball, the greater chance for barrel to ball contact. Our goal should be to have long swings that stay on the pitch path as long as possible. If the hitter maintains hands to shoulder discipline the flail will happen at super speeds and the barrel will be at TOP speed in a short amount of time. This is what makes Big League hitters, Big League hitters.

      Great comment!

      JK-

  10. Ryan says:

    Hey guys, absolutely love what you’re teaching. If only this was taught to me when I was a youngster. Now I have the opportunity to teach it to my son who is 9, so I’m really pumped! Forgive my ignorance, but how do you define, “flail”? I’ve always associated it with a loose, disconnected, wild swing (as in a really bad golf swing).

    -Ryan

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Ryan,

      Great question Ryan. The “flail” represents the hitter’s ability to accelerate the barrel sideways during his/her turn, into the hitting zone. If done correctly, this segment of the swing is loose and explosive but not disconnected. For the “flail” to happen, the hitter must keep the knob close or “connected” to the shoulder for the “flail” to happen. Most kids are taught to disconnect the knob really early from the back shoulder, canceling out any ability to “flail”, hit for power, or consistency.

      JK-

  11. Hogan says:

    Hey there, love your guys information and analysis. Three questions, will gaining ground towards the pitcher throw off “the rule of the flail”, Is there such a thing as gaining too much ground, and lastly, what’s the best way to teach “hip set” to a hitter? Thank you

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Hogan,

      Gaining ground is key to developing momentum and having a good flail, especially if you or your player is not big. Yes, there is always a point where gaining ground can negatively impact the hitter’s swing. A “hip set” is when the hips lead the body, simple as that. There are different drills and movement practice that we show our clients to help repeat a hip lead swing/throw. Thanks for reading!

      JK-

  12. Hector R says:

    This is my first time to leave a comment but I have read several of your articles and have really enjoyed them. I may not always agree with them at first but it gets the wheels turning and with enough trial and error we finally get it.
    One month ago I was having BP with my boys and came up with the no squeeze drill-meaning try to be the most relaxed as possible and still try to hit the ball hard. You see my son is agressive and always has been and will find himself squeezing the bat and causing an “arm bar” or stopping his bat-loss of momentum. So after one round he says”man if feel like the bat is really whipping around”. I said “that’s because you allowed your upper body to get seperated from your lower body, when you tense up too much your core is not allowed to stretch(seperation). I still believe this to be true but now I also understand that the wrist acted like a hinge and allowed the barrel to whip around. Thanks guys. Keep up the hard work.
    Hector

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Hector,

      Great example and it really makes me happy to hear that an article of ours helped someone.

      I could not have said it better myself and I think you guys are on the right track! Thanks for reading!

      JK-

  13. Carlos Sison says:

    Hey JK. so basing from the golf flail video, is it right to conclude that a baseball bat should be gripped like a gold club with the pinky resting on the pointer finger and the hand wrapped around the thumb?

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Carlos,

      Interestingly enough, I have seen guys that do such things. A lot of guys even let their bottom hand pinky finger hang off the knob as well. I would never teach grips such as these to a young player learning the basics but guys grow into what is comfortable for them. Golf club grip would never be something that I endorse but to each his own at some level.

      JK-

  14. Zekai says:

    Is there a specific cue or tip that helps “de-emphasize” the hands taking the lead in a swing and serve more like a hinge, that helps with deep barrel acceleration?

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Zekai,

      Great question. The answer is yes, HOWEVER, the hitter’s pre-flail movements really have to be solid in order for that to work. The swing is an interconnected series of movements. If there is a breakdown at the start, having a good “flail” at the end is nearly impossible for most athletes. That being said, early bat flail with ideal timing means that the barrel accelerates EARLY (behind the hitter’s back shoulder) in the swing. Most young hitters are taught to have late barrel speed which would be right before the point of contact.

      My first big tip would be have an athletic and explosive style movements so that the energy is created for the “flail” to happen. Getting the player to understanding that the barrel needs to rotate early and fast is the next step which means letting the ball get deeper in the zone before commencing with their turn. De-emphasizing the hands would mean keeping the elbows bent in the turn and not trying to “get extended” like you might hear some coaches say.

      JK-

  15. Woody says:

    Your insights about the flail and setting a hinge near the back shoulder are terrific, but you seem to be talking about acceleration all wrong. The point of creating a hinge is to be set up to accelerate through the ball. If peak bat speed is not reached past the point of contact, the bat will be slowing down through contact, thus greatly reducing the force applied on the ball. Force equals mass times acceleration. I know of no one who has separated the effect of barrel acceleration from barrel speed but acceleration can’t help but be a significant contributor to power. Your teaching can get even better if you work through this issue and stop trying hitters to accelerate early.

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Woody,

      Thank your for your post. We teach early acceleration for two reasons.

      1. We want the barrel of the bat to be ACCELERATED before contact with the ball. Based on the physics of a collision, the bat HAS to slow down as it hits the ball. If the barrel is only still ACCELERATING at that point, the player did not reach top speed and therefore did not hit the ball as hard as they could have. If done correctly the barrel will be AT or really close to top speed a moment before the barrel aligns with the front forearm of the batter at which point they can release that top speed outwardly. I think if most guys and girls are getting at or around top speed the moment before contact, they will do really well.

      2. The sooner the player can reach top speed of the barrel the better. There is the obvious power reasons to reach top speed but perhaps more importantly, it will give the player more time to see the ball and they will be able to start their swing later. More time will equal more information about the incoming pitch and the player can then make better decisions on tough balls or strikes. They will also be better suited to handle late movement where most hitters will be committed to early on the same pitch.

      The physics stuff can be tricky with hitting. Once the hitter’s barrel reach the forearm line, that’s the end of the line. If trained correctly, that will be the same time the batter strikes the ball. I hope this was clear and adds up. Love the physics conversations. They make everyone better!

      JK-

  16. Kade Hunter says:

    I’ve been wanting to hit the ball to the opposite field with more power, and I believe after following your analysis and articles for awhile that oppo power comes from early acceleration. What drills do you suggest to emphasize the “flail” or early acceleration?

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Kade,

      All power comes from early acceleration! We have a handful of custom drills we use in our online and in person clinic that will help with this. We use the Medicus Speed Hitter that you can buy online. Using this properly and not the way they tell you to use it can really help feel where the barrel of the bat is accelerating. Deep tee work can also help with this, meaning place the tee further back in your stance so that you avoid pulling the knob to the ball and all of that garbage that takes away from early acceleration. Also remember that if your head is out of position than you certainly can not have this type of acceleration you want. Thanks for reading!

      JK Whited

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