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One of the common misconceptions related to an upward swing is that the hitter is selling out for power and sacrificing the ability to make consistent contact. In this article, I aim to debunk that myth. The game that we know and love is slowing but surely changing in the right direction with more and more players coming out and explaining their intentions to hit the ball in the air more often. Despite having more data and technology readily available than ever before (HitTrax, Rapsodo, Blast Motion, Diamond Kinetics, Edgertronic), there are still many neigh sayers that are struggling to wrap their head around the idea of swinging to match the plane of the pitch.
Here at Baseball Rebellion, we aim to raise the ceilings of each and every hitter we work with. That is not limited to an increase in power potential, it also includes being able to swing more accurately. Swing accuracy is a term to describe how well a hitter can deliver the barrel of the bat to the ball consistently. Hitting is far more complex than the ability to hit the ball as far as you can on each and every swing. Hitters must be able to adjust to different pitches in different locations. They also have to have the ability to hit in a situational setting to help their team. While the best situational hitting in any situation is a home run, a hitter must be able to deliver what is needed at that exact moment. That is where swing accuracy comes into play. These are the moments in the game that separate good hitters from great hitters.
In spring training Joey Votto spoke about how the best hitters in the game are able to do whatever they want, whenever they want.
So we know swing accuracy is important, but how can we develop it? We start by equipping the hitter with the movements that give them the widest margin of error in their swing. Hitting is too hard to depend on being perfect with our timing and accuracy every time. By matching the plane of the pitch and swinging slightly upward, the hitter is able to be slightly off with their timing and accuracy and still be able to do damage and also whatever they are needed to do situationally.
These graphics below are a great example of matching swing plane with the plane of the pitch to allow the greatest margin for error:
Another key component of good swing accuracy is the speed of the hitter's turn. Often times when a player struggles they react by slowing down their turn and just try to make contact, further digging themselves into a bigger hole. In reality, speed equals precision. Therefore, a faster, more precise turn will deliver a more accurate swing. Being stubborn with the speed of your turn and refusing to slow your turn down will only improve your ability to swing accurately. One drill we use with our hitters here is known as the Launch Angle Ladder. This is a drill (Shown Below) in which the hitter is instructed to hit the pitch within a certain range of launch angle. Once completed, the range is changed and the hitter must then hit a ball between the new range. This teaches the hitter to be able to control their body to perform the task at hand, without slowing down their turn. It is important to note that this is only done after a hitter has become competent in our movement progression system.
While swing accuracy can relate to the launch angle the ball is hit it can also be how directionally accurate a hitter can be. When starting working at Baseball Rebellion December of 2017, I was introduced to an idea that seemed very foreign at the time. While we have all heard of wanting to hit with a gap-to-gap approach, meaning having the intention to hit every pitch in the middle of the field in-between the left-centerfield gap and right-center field gap, I was introduced to what is known as gap-or-gap hitting. While it looks great to hit the back corners of the net in a cage, think about who we are aiming to hit the ball at with that swing. In most levels of baseball, the fastest and best outfielder places Centerfield, while the best infielders play in the middle of the infield (shortstop and second base). Why would we aim to hit the ball at what is likely to be the best three defensive players on the field? I know myself personally would much rather hit it at the power hitting corner fielders (LF, RF, 3B, 1B), than the speedy middle of the field defenders. Not only is the centerfielder the best defensive outfielder, but also is the deepest part of the field which requires us to hit the ball even farther in order to do damage. Our job is to give our hitters the best chance for success and that includes the knowledge of what parts of the field to attack.
While both strikeouts and home run rates have increased over the past few years, this isn't a direct result of players sacrificing contact for power. In the age of bullpening and 94mph sliders, hitting is harder than it has ever been. The players with the best swing accuracy will continue to separate themselves from their peers. Thank you for reading and please leave any questions or comments below!