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If you think this article is going to be on what new Jordan's or Lebron's to wear in 2014, then I am sorry. Instead we will be looking at different types of leg lifts, strides, knee kicks, toe taps, and whatever else you may call it. We will examine the many different heights and variations of big league players from today, and why it works for them. Perhaps one of these styles could help elevate your timing and power production this season. Let's go! I suppose the first place we need to start is understanding why a stride (forward movement) is an important part of a hitter's swing. Well, actually, it is not part of the actual swing. The stride is a movement in PREPARATION to swing. I could go on and on about momentum, but I will let Chas's article on moving forward help you out. Click here to read! Just know that most youth players, large or small, should have some type of positive movement before the swing commences. Most of the time, younger players will have a higher leg kick than older guys because the leg lift in youth players comes from the natural instinct to gain momentum. Young guys and girls do it all the time with zero instruction. The problem is that it can create imbalances and control problems for their under developed bodies, especially if it is super aggressive. Also, you will see some timing issues arise. Most coaches' answer for this issue is simple: "Take out the kick". This may temporarily solve the issue for "little Johnny "to put the ball in play, but really the kid is being held back from gaining momentum. Instead of abandoning what feels natural, embrace it and learn to control it.
The Little Guys
When it comes to being a smaller human, power production is pretty simple. You HAVE to move your body to keep up with your bigger counterparts. These guys have great first movements, but their styles are a little different and so are their goals at the plate.
When most people think about Pedroia, they tend to think about the violent hacks he takes. Well, fact of the matter is, the guy tries to smash the ball every single swing. Pedroia's leg lift is smaller in height than some of the others in this group, but there is no one better at reaching maximum power potential than this guy.
I found this clip of Ichiro from his earlier years. I really like how it shows a great back knee with his hips leading the fall forward. This is not a move I would typically recommend to any young player, but it is fun to watch. Another aspect I like is the kick out with his front leg, very similar to elite level pitchers. He obviously toned down his front leg move over the years but the important thing is that he never changed how he FALLS off of his back leg with ZERO PUSH. We all know that he's known for his base hits and crazy speed, but this is a POWER move. Even with his super human speed, Ichiro can not just gently put the ball in play to Major League infielders and be safe.
Rounding out the biggest of the 'small' guys, I have Jose Bautista. He's known for the high leg kick and explosive turn. You can see in his move, the similar back leg angle, lean, and fall forward like Ichiro's. With his big move back, he NEVER lets his backward move take his knee over his foot. Instead he allows the fall to happen. He is one of, if not the best, at landing with his front hip, knee, and foot open to the PITCHER. Most hitters just get their front side open to the field of play. However, getting to the front side is a super important part of the preparation to swing. To learn more about the importance of getting the front foot open, click here! This is a super consistent, high-level movement pattern.
Middle of The Road
Derek Jeter starts my list of middle-sized players. His front leg action is obviously less than the guys above, but remember who we're talking about. Jeter's goals at the plate are not the same as Pedroia's and Bautista's. Plus, he outweighs Ichiro by almost 30 pounds. Jeter established himself as batting average guy a long time ago, and with age he has gone to a shorter toe tapping action. With that being said, he STILL MOVES FORWARD, and there is no 'staying back' in his preparation to swing. His back knee sways a little here but never gets to a compromising position. You hear a lot of coaches today cue 'staying back' to there players. This is not apparent in elite level hitters. To read more about avoiding bad coaching cues, Click Here!
Love, love, love this move. Hanley Ramirez does a phenomenal job of keeping his back knee angle, while having a high leg lift. I really like this type of a move for older hitters because it allows them to use their full body weight, while giving the hitter a high-level timing mechanism. A bigger move like this requires more work with consistency, making it a higher risk/higher reward type of leg kick much like Bautista. If you look at his front hip, knee, and foot, notice how he does not open them fully until the last moment. Again, back knee and leg angle allow for this move to be effective. Highly recommend watching his full swings if you can.
Mike Trout - 6'2, 230 lbs.
It was hard not to put Trout in the category of 'Big Boys' with his obvious "ox-like" stature. He is the whole package; a hybrid of speed and power, and his ability to do everything at an elite level reminds me a lot of Mickey Mantle. His leg kick is not as fluid as most of the guys we have looked at so far, but he is definitely gaining ground. From a power optimizing standpoint, his move could be a little more efficient, and He reaches with his front foot a little early. But at the end of the day, Trout weighs enough and turns fast enough to hit the ball over the fence, and that's as far as he needs to hit the ball.
The Home Run Guys
Sammy Sosa - 6'0, 225 lbs.
I didn't want to, but I did anyway. Sammy Sosa could not be left out, because I really enjoy watching his movements. Sammy liked to roll with a 'toe tap'. As you can see, he brings his front leg and foot back to little more than shoulder width. Like Bautisa, he lets the 'ball' or body weight, roll back down the hill. Bautista's move is more obvious with his high leg kick, but bio-mechanically, it is the same. I really like this more than most coaches would and I think it gives the player more control and stability than a higher leg lift. Again, practice and comfort with this move must be in place for it to be effective simply because it is more movement.
Ken Griffey Jr. was one of the most explosive players to ever play the game. His forward move is very simple and yet very effective. Look at how he sets the back knee in and simply picks his front foot up. What happens then? Gravity does its job, and there is no push with his back leg. Most coaches today teach a back leg drive, but as you can see, Griffey is just letting his body weight fall to his front side. This is another great style of leg kick because it allows for a slow start, yet super explosive turn. I would highly recommend a move like this to a younger player who are new to forward movement in their swing and to older guys who have been taught super wide stances most of their lives.
The next two guys on my list are at a significant size advantage to the competition. Their body weight creates a slanted equation when it comes to power. Ryan Howard uses a very little move to the front side. You can see him move from his open stance to a straight stance with a little move forward. If you are a big guy and creating force is less of an issue, this move may be a good fit. There is less to risk with a move like this but then again, how many of us will be his size? Notice how he lands with a closed front foot and knee. No matter which leg lift or kick you choose, Do NOT let this happen to you... Think it's a coincidence that he has had major front knee injuries/surgery? Not at all. He is too big and turns too fast for that knee to hold up. There is no telling how far a guy like Howard could hit the ball if he moved and landed as efficiently as Bautista or Ramirez. The problem is, he already hits the ball over the fence with how he moves now. Who's going to tell him to stop? Nobody in that organization. Problem for him now is the abuse that front knee has taken over the years.
This land monster of a man is seen here moving very well for his size. Most players, especially young, who have been born with size never feel the need to get their bodies going. Many, so much so, that they do not recover when everyone else catches up. Dunn, like Griffey, sets a great back leg angle and simply picks his foot up. Again, simple and effective.
Many factors may go into your or your player's leg kick. Whether it's their body size potential, role in the lineup, or just because it feels good - they all matter. The most important thing is comfort and willingness to practice. Move in a way that is fun yet effective for you, and understand that no matter what you choose, repetition is needed to master the timing. Remember, moving to a bent front knee is a power move, BUT more importantly, a way for the hitter to adjust to pitches he or she was unprepared for. To learn more on hitting off speed pitches, Click Here! If the leg kick/lift is not consistent, then neither is the timing.
JK Whited, Leader of the Baseball Rebellion