It is often said that swinging “down and through” the ball generates backspin. Coaches for years have been telling hitters to hit the top of the ball to make the ball go farther. Another common queue from coaches is to 'go to the ball', or 'hit it out front.' These statements are false. They are myths, and they ruin hitters.
The argument goes like this. “What’s the shortest distance between two points? A line.” So if you swing on a line down to the top of the ball, and then continue through the ball, the ball will spin backward when it leaves the bat.” This is nonsense. Hitters who swing this way will fail.
Well, no one can argue that the shortest distance between two points is NOT a line, but I’m going to argue that a pitch is not a point…but a moving object, much like a comet, that has a leading point and a tail. The swing also moves, and there are many possible points of impact along the path of both the pitch and the swing. That is if the swing is done properly.
The ‘line’ or, in most cases, ‘arch’ of the pitch is drawn from the release point of the pitcher all the way to the catcher’s glove. Would you rather have one point to hit the ball that has an area of only a few inches? Or…would you want something better like a bigger area that is feet instead of inches?
In Jaime Cevallos's Positional Hitting book he describes what I am talking about as Area Of Impact (AOI). The reason Down & Through makes a hitter so inconsistent is because of the reduced AOI. The AOI is about 8-14 inches with D&T, and the Baseball Hitting Rebellion way is more like 4 feet! Think about the path of the barrel as being like the NIKE Swoosh sign...this is connecting the dots from A to B to C. We at Baseball Rebellion are greedy, we demand both consistency and power with our swings, like every truly great player.
The problem is, a hitter can't create this 'upward' swing without dropping his back shoulder or dragging his barrel. So, you can imagine these hitters in the dreaded ‘B’ position or hitters who have ‘dropped their back shoulder’ or who are ‘dragging their bats through the zone’ must be bad hitters right? I don't think so...but you might be unsure.
Kevin Mattison, AA player for the Jacksonville Suns (Marlins) has raised his batting average over .110 points this year. Look at the barrel deep in the zone, behind the path of the ball. The red line is the barrel path, the green line is the ball path, purple is the estimated contact point, and the yellow box is the area of impact possibilities.
Now, you might say, Chas, that's only a AA hitter. To that, I'd say 'True, and one of the best 3000 players in the world'...and just to be clear, Kevin is NOT a power guy...he's a 6.4 runner in the 60-yard dash and a GREAT fielder.
Now, let's look at two of the greatest MLB power guys: Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols.
Can we all agree that A-Rod is/was a great hitter? How about Pujols? Despite some controversy, Rodriguez is a 600 homerun hitter, an absolute monster of hitting. Pujols is arguably the best right-handed hitter ever.
These guys MUST have "good" mechanics...they MUST hit down on it...they MUST go 'A to C'...and reach out in front of them to 'create backspin and lift'...RIGHT???
WRONG...In these two photos, it should be clear as day.
Look at A-Rod, about to crush a home run for Texas. Bat lagged back in ‘B’ position, swinging up at an incoming pitch.
Now, look at Pujols. Yellow lines show deep contact and heavy bend in elbows (this pitch was hit to the pull side gap). The red line is the arch of the barrel. The green line is pitch trajectory, and the purple circle is the contact point.
They are the best in the world at what they do...and they hit the ball deep and on an upswing! So how do mechanics like down and through, and hit the ball out front permeate the coaching field, especially in youth baseball? Well, I’ll put it this way…it’s not ALL the coaches' fault…
Remember when your son or daughter was very young…I mean so young they were using the giant barreled plastic bat and the Whiffle Ball. So young you stood like right in front of them so they could hit the ball, and were never worried about getting hit because mostly they weren’t hitting…they were swinging wildly and going to get the ball they missed…then throwing it nowhere near you…so you could retrieve it and the process started again…
Now….think back…what did you do when they hit that first ball? I don’t mean crushed it…I mean the first foul tip? Remember? YOU WENT CRAZY! You were so proud, and so was the child, and you couldn’t wait to walk towards them…give them a high five…and then pick the ball up that went back so they could hit it again.
Does that sound familiar? Of course, it does, because every single parent of every player I’ve ever had at a camp or lesson tells the same story when I ask about the plastic giant barreled bat and ball. Now they might remember that once the child got better…they could hit it over some fence, or into a pond, or off a building (not grounders I will quickly point out)…but they also remember those formative swings…when the child is rewarded for ‘hitting’ the ball.
Now, if a young kid is playing T-Ball, the goal is really just to ‘hit’ the ball. I’m not even sure they should keep the score at that level, because really isn’t it about learning the game and the kids having fun? But this is where the problems get even bigger!…you get that one excited dad who just wants to WIN BABY, and he’s all over the kids, telling them all kinds of ridiculous things like ‘just make contact’ and ‘nice easy swing’ and ‘you don’t have to try to hit the ball hard, just hit it on the barrel and that’s all that matters’. Then that dad talks to a high school coach…or reads a youth hitting book, and sees the ‘A to C’ approach. This makes sense to him, because, as we said before, ‘the shortest distance between two points is a line’. So he has the kids raise their hands, slam down on that stationary ball, and, as we all remember, chaos ensues. Grounders are turned into home runs, the pitcher has some sort of timeout circle that causes all runners to have to stop, and the games, mercifully, have a time limit. The kids love it, everyone gets ‘hits’, and by the 3rd inning, the kids are more worried about the snack after the game than the score.
The field is still small, hard grounders zoom into the outfield, the best pitchers in the league throw curveballs but really is more gravity than spin that makes that ball move (and that crazy dad is still coach…and there are MORE OF HIM). That same kid is a normal-sized kid, faster than most but not the quickest kid. He still loves the game, and he’s being taught, and rewarded, for swinging down on balls, hitting hard grounders, and making contact. He makes the Little League All-Star team, but he bats 7th…a new experience for him. Some of the other kids hit the ball a little harder, are a little bigger, but he’s an all-star nonetheless. He gets on a travel team, and his grounders start getting caught a little more often…He isn’t a starter anymore…but he’s playing against good players…Still, he’s frustrated that his grounders aren’t working…he’s not used to this much failure…However, he is still excited about middle school.
So here’s that kid, getting ready for tryouts…In North Carolina (where I live), middle school rules dictate a minus 5 bat, (my kids swing minus 3’s)…so he grabs his buddy’s 31 inch, 26-ounce bat and it feels HUGE. The minus 12 he’s been using in little league and the big barrel in travel ball are a thing of the past. He can barely swing this thing, but he’s got his hands high, just like his coach is telling him….but he can’t get it out of the infield, and the curveballs are really starting to show weakness now…He can’t stay back and his off-balance forward lunging towards the pitcher more and more often…In the batting cage, he struggles with the weight, but he hits hard grounders and soft line drives towards the back of the cage, something he’s used to but the ball doesn’t ‘jump’ the way the bigger kids can...Maybe he makes the middle school team but maybe he doesn’t. Let me tell you who did make the middle school team…The kids who hit it the hardest and farthest.
The coaches in middle school and high school are confusing…they’re teaching ‘A to C’ down and through mechanics. They put the tee way out in front of their hitter’s front foot, where the ‘line’ from ‘A’ to ‘C’ is the flattest, the kids hit line drives. The game comes, and those same kids are rolling over grounders and hitting weak fly balls… The coaches are confused…and don’t like these results…So now the players are at fault, and here comes the coach speak ‘why are you dropping your shoulder?’, ‘why are you swinging up at the ball?’, How did you get that lunging long swing?’, ‘Why won’t you wait for the ball?’. Watch how the lineup forms itself over time, the best hitters are the ones who hit the ball the hardest and farthest…and I bet, if you had video of those kids, they aren’t taking a ‘direct’ bath to the ball. They are taking a path that accelerates the barrel into the path of the ball.
Here’s another drill: put the tee out in front of your child’s foot. This is the position that is easiest for them to hit, then watch them hit. Do they lean forward and reach for the ball? Pay attention to how long their stride is.
What are we working on here? Hitting mistake pitches? Ok, I’m good with that, but shouldn’t we be able to crush those automatically? Most hitters can take terrible paths to that ball and create a ‘false positive’ result of success.
Now, put the tee behind the back of their front knee…can they hit a hard line drive from that tee position? If so…how did they do it and where did it go? And can they do it again and again? Try a very low pitch from that deep position? Can they elevate and drive a low pitch or do they beat that into the ground backside?
Now HERE we are getting somewhere. The edited picture is the same as above but the tee is deeper in his stance, and lower, forcing a better, more quickly accelerated swing, with a longer area of impact.
Let me ask you a question: what percentage of groundballs turn into outs in the major leagues? What’s your guess? 50%? 65%? Nope, the answer is .74 percent! Knowing that, does it make sense to teach our kids to hit the top of the ball? If someone can PLEASE show me how to hit down on a ball to make enough backspin to carry that ball out of a ballpark in a game, I’d pay to see it. I am not advocating fly balls over grounders, trust me, but fly balls do have a chance to become extra-base hits, while grounders very rarely do. [statistics taken from CrawfishBoxes.com] Don’t we want our youth players, our sons, and daughters, to have the highest chance at a top-level swing that we can? How much better does a ball driven to the fence feel than a seeing-eye ground ball single? Do we ask our children to get C’s in school because "C’s get degrees", or do we push them to be their best? Would you only teach them to do math or reading at a 6th-grade level? Of course, you wouldn’t, but if you’re teaching down and through, back to front mechanics, you’re limiting your child’s progress and forever putting a ceiling on their upward potential.