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There's a very good chance that you've heard these phrases at some point, "that was effortless" or "kid's got easy power". If you're unfamiliar with "effortless power" you might not understand what I mean. Simply put it means that a hitter will display great power but visually it doesn't look like they tried to swing hard. Perhaps the more scientific way to describe and "effortless swing" would be, efficient.
Comparing a baseball or softball swing to a car engine is something that I do almost every day. It's an easy way to help kids and parents understand how the system inside the swing works. For someone who doesn't look at hundreds of swings a day, it can be difficult to identify or help a player become a more efficient swinger of the bat. A lot of times coaches will see a result like a popup or ground ball and associate the weak contact with lack of effort. Most of the time, this is simply not the case. In the following article, I hope to help players understand the importance of not making "early mistakes" and also help coaches and parents break down the efficient swing. To do so, we will break the swing down into three phases. The three phases are:
They are illustrated in the picture below in a Playoff home run by Francisco Lindor.
I do not consider loading the body to be a part of the actual swing, because it isn't. However, there CAN NOT be an efficiently powerful swing without a proper loading sequence. The loading sequence for any hitter is fundamentally the same but it may change due to the size, strength, and talent level of the individual. Players who are limited in size need to think about a more obvious momentum builder move like Jose Bautista shown below.
If perhaps you are a larger player with more height and/or weight, you do not need as much movement to generate the force needed to be successful. Having said that, even if you do have size at a young age, it is still important to learn that you can move more if you want and therefore hit the ball harder. Guys like Albert Pujols don't move forward much but definitely still move forward some.
Either way you use forward momentum, preparing the hips and the shoulders to separate is essential for swing successes. However, before learning how to prepare to swing, you must first understand the swing and its phases. Here is Francisco Lindor's load from the side view.
Phase 1 of the swing is by far and away the most important phase. It is at this point where the hitter will either be all they can be or something less than that. Not to say you can't still get a "hit" but as we say all the time, "your worst mistake is your first mistake". This basically means, when you make mistakes early in the swing(phase 1), 100 percent swing efficiency cannot be reached. Here is where early in the swing resides and where the effortless swing can be achieved. In Phase 1, there are two main objectives.
In my opinion, this must happen before acceleration so that the barrel can accelerate the appropriate direction. Depending on the pitch height, the hitter will mirror that height with the angle of their shoulder rotation followed by the degree of the barrel. The higher the pitch, the flatter the rotation and barrel. The lower the pitch the higher the barrel will stay initially and the shoulders will the rotate more vertically. In a perfect world, the barrel level will match the shoulder level at contact.
As the hitter has recognized pitch height, they will then use the separation between their pelvis and shoulders and much like a rubber band, "snap" into a violent rotation of their body. This immediate energy creation will transfer up the body and into the arms and hands which will then allow the barrel to flail or turn around the hands and knob. Whatever the hitter's top barrel speed is, the goal should always be to get there as soon as possible. Just like a sprinter off the blocks, gaining top speed in the shortest amount of time is crucial to facing faster pitching.
Here's a look at Francisco Lindor's recent postseason home run. Notice where the angle and acceleration is created. Behind him or "early" in the swing. No contact will be made in Phase 1.
This is where the magic happens. Players who are able to immediately accelerate the barrel and in turn get the barrel on plane "early" (in front of the catcher's mitt) in the swing will continue to play for a long time. This is the phase of the swing that is barely seen by the naked eye in real time. Phase 1 happens so fast in most big league swing that all most people see is contact and the release, thus making it look "effortless". In reality, there was a lot of effort in the swing, it was just the right kind of effort.
In Phase 2, the hitter may continue to accelerate but hopefully has already reached top speed. They will maintain top speed as they continue to rotate their hips and shoulders. Contact can be made in Phase 2 before Phase 3 is ever needed. This is demonstrated when players like Mike Trout will maintain bent arms well past contact on inside pitches. If Phase 1 and Phase 2 are executed at a high level, theoretically Phase 3 is not needed.
Through Phase 2 the hitter can start to also make adjustments to inside or outside pitches. If the pitch it outside, Phase 2 will be significantly shorter so that they can start to enter Phase 3, the "release". If however, the pitch is inside, the hitter should continue in Phase 2 longer so that there is zero loss of force. Hitters that stop their shoulder rotation too soon are almost always going to compensate with the pushing of their arms.
As we continue through Francisco Lindor's swing, notice the early exit out of Phase 2 in order to cover the outside half of the plate.
On purpose or not, Lindor does a great job of rotating the bat so that he hits the outer and lower part of the ball. This allows him to pull the ball over the fence for a home run rather than backside for a single or double.
During Phase 3 or the release, the hitter will allow their arms to relax so the barrel will continue upward through the path of the pitch with very little loss of bat speed. Like I previously said, Phase 3 can happen earlier or later depending on the adjustment the hitter must make. If need be, the hitter can make contact during Phase 3 if they are early. This is when you will see a hitter at contact with already extended arms. This is not ideal but will save hitters when their timing isn't perfect. Just another reason why having a nice upward swing path is so important for longevity as a hitter.
Here we see Lindor, allow his arms to release or "eject" away from his body. In this particular swing of his, contact is made during Phase 3.
Players who are elite in Phase 1 and have a nice seamless transition into their release are often times the guys who are referred to as having an effortless swing. Ken Griffey Jr. comes to mind as a guy who always made 400 foot home runs look way to easy.
It is important to remember that there will almost certainly be some "bleeding" of the phases. As much as a hitter might train, there will always be tiny little timing and mechanical mistakes leading to some of the "bleeding effect" of the phases. The most important thing to remember as a hitter is really to be great at preparing to swing properly followed by being great into Phase 1. If the transition from your load into Phase 1 is executed at a high level, then Phase 2 and 3 will require very little attention. Eliminate early mistakes and prepare to feel effortless power.