After being named an MilB.com organizational All-Star for the first time in his career and setting full-season career highs in Slugging, OPS, Doubles, Home Runs…and Strikeouts…Josh Horton came back to I.T.S. Baseball to train, hit, and get ready for the season. The main focus of his training last year was getting his barrel on plane with the baseball earlier so he could hit the ball deeper in the zone. Also, we wanted to make sure we got the back foot off the ground so we could get a more complete body rotation in his swing and greatly increase his power generating capabilities. We were successful in our quest to add power to his swing, but as you can clearly see from his statistics, (Stats Here) …we added lots of swings and misses, leading to strikeouts as well.
K’s are never an intended consequence of changing a hitter’s swing mechanics, but as with any change, there will be a few bumps in the road. I was quite surprised that his K’s increased by that much due to how much longer his bat was in the zone and behind the baseball, but he frequently commented on how he felt ‘early’ and had not completely adjusted to the timing of being much later in his decision to swing. Another factor in his most recent season was his position in the batting order. In previous years Josh hit 7th, 8th or 2nd. This past year, he quickly moved up in the order, batting over half of his season in the 3, 4, 5 spots. Middle of the order hitters clearly are pitched differently than guys lower in the lineup. Even with his ‘batting order promotion’, Josh raised his Batting Average for Balls In Play (BABIP) from .330 in 2010 his best year to date to .354 in 2011. Basically, what that means on the balls he hit fair, other than homeruns, he was more likely to get a hit and with his slugging percentage he was clearly hitting the ball harder.
This year, Josh came in on December 17th, 2012 and I wanted to check out his swing on video and compare it to his swing when he left. I was happy to see he looked pretty good up top with his arms and vision and was getting the bat in the zone well. The videos from 2010 and 2011 were shot with different cameras, so they do not sync up. You can see Josh’s intake video below.
Before we got started making new changes to his swing, Josh and I had a meeting about his season. He said he was happy with his progression to a middle of the order hitter and increased power numbers but was disappointed at his first half strikeout ratios and batting average. It was clear that our focus this offseason should almost exclusively be increasing his barrel ACCURACY, meaning less swings and misses, less mis-hit balls he should have crushed, and adding more hard barrel contact. I told him that I wanted to work very hard on a forward movement early in his swing process to get his weight off of his back foot so that he could turn faster and more completely than last year. I explained, that not only would this move relax his body and make his initial ‘turning’ action smoother and less jolting, but it would allow him to ‘sit into the front leg’ in order to adjust and react to change-ups, curveballs, and other off speed pitches. (You can read more about the front leg HERE.)
Josh was initially extremely hesitant on working to get more ‘forward’ in his swing as we’ve all been told to ‘stay back’ so we can ‘wait on off speed pitches’. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure after Josh’s initial reaction to my wanting him to glide out to his front side, that he would even try it and give it a real effort. I am happy to report that Josh gave the new techniques a great effort, despite his reservations, and now has the ability to adjust to pitches with much more accuracy and much less ‘fear’ of being fooled. The forward momentum and ‘sitting into’ his bent front knee allows him to make a much better ‘fooled’ adjustment than most players are capable of.
Normally when fooled, hitters lean their chests forward, and slap their hands out and forward sweeping the bat towards the ball. Clearly this is not an athletic movement and it’s a ‘survival’ swing. We, as hitters, must re-define failure in hitting from ‘missing the ball’ to ‘hitting the ball weakly’. Remember: You get 1 fair ball per at bat…you get 3 strikes. This technique does not efficiently and powerfully ‘use’ a hitter’s only fair ball.
The best hitters can shift into their front leg and hesitate slightly so they can wait just a second longer, delay the barrel, and then explode into the zone with much more power. Hitters that ‘sit into their front side’ can slightly hesitate (not stop) and glide forward onto their bent front knee. Again, you can see Ken Griffey Junior do this in a game swing on a curveball HERE.
Many times, Josh and I did this drill to teach him to be unafraid of the initial move forward and to show him how much power he really could generate from this position.
We knew we were on the right track when he took this pitch randomly during a session a few weeks before he left. He was so excited when I showed him how easily he came out of his pattern and had no ‘flinch’ towards the ball and into his swing. That’s the mark of a great hitter, the ability to take pitches without a huge hand move or violent posture changes.
So, after all Josh’s hard work with myself, Will Fox, and JK Whited…here’s the final product. Enjoy.
Josh headed out to Spring training on February 17th. For all the reasons listed in the video I think he’s going to have a great year. His work with Will Fox, our Muscle Activation Techniques and CSCS, PES guy on staff was phenomenal as well. Will’s training and work allowed Josh to grasp these movements much quicker than last year and really accelerated our process together. From the I.T.S. Baseball and Baseball Rebellion Family, good luck Josh, you’re gonna have a great year.
Chas Pippitt, Leader of the Baseball Hitting Rebellion