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I can't tell you how many times I've gotten emails about young hitters hitting pop ups in the infield. They detail how they spend hours hitting off tees and the use of different hitting aids, which claim to cure the problem of uppercutting and pop ups.
It's really fascinating to me, because so many people do the EXACT OPPOSITE of what they should do to fix their pop up problem!
Many people think dropping the back shoulder is an issue that causes pop ups. This myth is so ingrained in baseball culture that there is a product with slanted down bars to force a hitter into a 'direct barrel path'. (You can see the product here, for only 229 dollars you too can wreck your son's swing!) In fact, I recently wrote an article about the WORST hitting drill for baseball and softball (Found HERE) that creates a forced downward path for about 200 dollars less. If you're going to train a terrible drill, at least save some money, right?
The idea of this tee is, if you can make the hitter swing DOWN, the bat path is more direct to the baseball and they are more likely to hit the TOP of the baseball, therefore hitting the ball lower. Their are so many problems with this theory! First, many downward swings from youth players are not very accurate. Meaning the hitter will have a very small opportunity to hit the ball. Second, most downward swings actually cut the baseball, and back spin the ball up into the air, causing EVEN MORE POP UPS!!!
Many coaches and parents then try to anchor the feet and limit hip rotation to work on 'hand path and extension' to the ball. Here's a good example of a totally unnecessary drill that really limits the hitter's ability to use their hips long term, and forces their hands to move in ways they never should in a high level swing. The hands should NEVER work across the chest in a knob drive fashion towards the pitcher. Ever.
I purposely used a drill that features a professional player to demonstrate the instruction that even these guys use to try to improve their careers. Imagine how much better this player could be, if he NEVER did this hand isolation drill? I think, Nick Derba would have been better than a career .198 hitter for sure. Derba's pattern, at no point in any part of this video, resembles a high level swing pattern. Yet, his swing is sold as a 'major league swing' by the instructor.
Many coaches and parents don't allow the hitter to work through problems in their swing. As a new parent, I can relate to the strong feeling of needing to help your young child 'feel better'. Parents and coaches commonly put the tee out in front of the hitter and raise it up, about mid thigh height, to make it easy for the hitter to simply, hit the ball. I'm not saying, that you should NEVER make a drill less challenging, but sometimes, that just allows the hitter to get a false sense of improvement. Then game time comes around and the same pop ups occur. The hitter then draws the conclusion that practice isn't working and becomes less willing to try any drills at all, much less more difficult ones, that may help him more in the future.
Gravity effects everything the same amount, all the time, so every ball/bat is effected the same way. We all know when a ball is thrown slowly, it has more of a 'hump' in it vs when a ball is thrown hard, it looks like a line. Therefore, it's safe to make the leap that the bat head is effected the same way. Gravity will pull your young hitter's 'slow' swing downward, making him or her miss the center of the baseball frequently. This natural force causes many hitter's bat head, to dip just before contact, as they usually have poor lower half mechanics. Their turn move is less powerful then a hitter with either better mechanics or more strength. We must combat this with visual and verbal adjustments instead of constantly thinking of new and gimmicky drills.
I was working with a hitter the other day, and we were constantly talking about, 'lifting the ball off the tee' so that the tee doesn't need weights or fall over. The student was really struggling with that idea, knocking over the tee and getting frustrated, so I said, "Swing Up at the Top of the Baseball".
It was like magic.
Line drive. Line drive. Line drive. His father was dumbfounded. After, we talked about all the drills his little league coach was having him do to 'eliminate' pop ups (hint...they are featured above). It can be somewhat counterintuitive to swing up at the baseball to eliminate pop ups, but think about it. We've already talked about the 'cutting' action of a downward swing, and we know that it causes the ball to backspin up off the bat.
Ted Williams talked about how he wanted top spin on his grounders to make them 'shoot through the infield' faster. Now, Teddy Ballgame wasn't TRYING to hit grounders, he was trying to lift doubles and home runs, but when he did miss-hit a ball, he wanted it low and hard, with top spin.
Think about how tennis players hit different shots. Drop shorts are 'down swings' and they 'cut' the ball to give it back spin to slow the ball down once it hits the ground. See this video below. Do you see the downward cut right at the last second, and the upward 'jump' of the ball? The backspin then stops the ball's forward momentum upon hitting the ground. Notice the description of the 'short swing' and how it 'cuts underneath the ball to create a little bit of backspin'.
Crushed winners from the baseline are top spin forehands and backhands. They go faster and are caused by an UPWARD swing. See the video below: Notice the upward stroke and the 'topspin' that allows the ball to get through the court faster. This is how a grounder SHOULD be hit.
Now, we are not TRYING to hit top spin grounders. We know we want to hit the ball below the center line to drive the ball far. BUT...if we miss, we want the speed and quickness that a top spin grounder allows. I looked far and wide for this video they made at the HR Derby about how to hit a home run, but I couldn't find it. This was the best I could do, a video of my TV. Notice we want to swing "UPWARD at a 9 degree angle, making contact with a ball about 3/4 inches below the equator". HMMMM...does that mean you'd have backspin on an upswing???
I hope this simple, verbal cue article helps you Rebels out there more accurately train your young hitters. Lift the ball off the tee, by "Swinging Up at the Top of the Ball". Remember, we want to hit long driven, power shots to the outfield and this simple cue should allow your young hitter to minimize his pop ups, hit more hard, fair balls, and have more fun.
Chas Pippitt, Leader of the Baseball Rebellion