There is a lot of talk about across hitting platforms about the front arm position and if it should be bent or straight throughout the swing. While you will certainly see both across Major League Baseball, I want to talk about both and show you what we believe to be the most efficient. But first, let's talk about the bat path and the correlation to the front arm.
When I hear most hitting coaches and players talk about swing path, they often talk about the back shoulder and the hands. While these are important aspects to consider when working on the proper swing path. There is another often forgotten component that is essential to the back shoulder and hands working well, the front arm.
Before we get into how the front arm helps hitters obtain an efficient swing path. Let's take a second to identify what an ideal swing path looks like. Ted Williams was one of the earliest proponents of the upward swing path that we teach.
He reasoned that since the ball travels towards the catcher at a downward angle. The hitter can put themselves in the best position possible by starting the bat down towards the catcher behind them followed by a slight upswing in the direct path of the pitch. This should all be common knowledge at this point. However, we are STILL arguing about what swing path is more efficient. Here is an image depicting this idea.
In the two videos below you have two unbelievable power hitters in Ken Griffey, Jr. and Ronald Acuna, Jr. They both demonstrate a lengthening of the front arm very early in their turn. While this has been written about as being a very powerful swing move, which it is. It is very hard for MOST hitters to adjust to different pitch speeds and pitch locations by barring their front arm early.
The early lengthening of the arm in younger hitters is very prevalent. It mostly comes from a lack of upper body and core strength. Because of this, the hitter will try to activate their swing by engaging their chest and arms, resulting in an arm bar swing.
This becomes a one plane swing very quickly, especially for the inexperienced hitter. Guys like Griffey and Acuna have been able to overcome this and be in the Hall of Fame (Griffey) or a potential 2019 MVP (Acuna). This isn't to say that if you or your hitter's arm bar early in their swing they are hurting themselves. There is just a more efficient way for lesser (and by lesser I mean anyone who isn't a professional) experienced hitters to have a solid swing path that is both fast and adjustable.
The best swing path is the result of the back shoulder dropping. The back elbow working down into the slot near the rib cage, and the hands staying high and working the knob up.
This is where the use of the front arm becomes vital. Every hitter that I have ever seen at any level naturally drops their back arm as they swing. This means that in order for the knob and hands to remain at chest height, the front arm has to work upward during the turn and maintain this upward path through contact.
When it does not, the bat path tends to flatten out or even work downward causing the chances of a mis-hit to increase. The dropping of the front arm or failure to turn the front arm upward can also lead to bat drag. This can cause an excessively long barrel path that does not create deep and sustained acceleration through the path of the pitch. Check out some other MLB hitter's who keep their front arm bent longer in their swing.
We talked about the importance of getting the barrel going backward and back up towards the ball. Check out how Anthony Rendon and one of our in-person hitter's uses their front arm to help achieve that.
You can see both hitters' still have a good angle in their front arm. This will allow them to get the knob working back up and keeping the hands high in their turn. Because of this, the barrel will 'fall' back towards the catcher which gives us time and space for the bat to work back up to the ball.
Now both hitter's bat is turning behind them and towards the catcher. This is setting them up to have their fastest bat speed BEFORE and AT contact. Not after. Hitter's who bar their front arm too early have a tendency to swing flatter at the ball, making their bat speed up it's fastest AFTER contact. Which doesn't help any hitter.
This is the first time you see a distinct difference in the angle of the front arm. Rendon (on the left) still has maintained a sharp bent angle with his front arm, while the youth hitter (on the right) has added some length. There could be two reasons for this from the youth hitter:
Regardless of your opinion on the front arm, you can see that there are different ways that hitter's swing the bat to be successful. One thing that remains constant however in all good hitters is their ability to use their whole body in the swing. Any time the arms are dominant in the swing we are not setting ourselves up for success. We will see slow, long swings that aren't conducive to hard contact in games.
A negative or downward swing path. Even talking about 'level' swing paths makes me want to cringe. It's 2019 and we have autonomous cars yet the baseball world still wants to teach a swing path that has been PROVEN to be suboptimal. It's time we talk more about barrel turn and what it actually means.
The barrel turn is simply the action of the hitter turning the bat behind them towards the catcher, and then back up through the plane of the pitch. Just like this hitter is below.
Why work back up towards the ball? This creates the largest possible contact path while helping the barrel get to top speed AT contact! #BaseballRebellion #baseballrebellion #baseballswing pic.twitter.com/FPD2sGQnX4
— Baseball Rebellion (@BRrebellion) March 28, 2018
Why is it important to turn the barrel and swing up? Check out the green line in the video above. That is the 'plane' of the pitch. The ball is traveling on that line and as hitters, we want our bat traveling on that long as long as possible. So if the ball is traveling down, we must match the plane by swinging up. This ensures a maximum window for contact depending on our timing.
Thank you to the coaches, parents, and instructors out there who are teaching kids to NOT swing down. You are the real heroes in the baseball world. However, if you are one of the people I just mentioned but can't quite get your hitters to be consistent with barrel turn and swinging up. There could be one MAJOR reason why.
If you are regular readers, you have heard us write a lot about spine angle. But how does that correlate to swinging the bat up? Most hitters land too far forward in their stride, like this:
When hitter's land like this they must either move their head and spine as they turn to create space or push down and forward to create space. Neither of these solutions is ideal for power or swing path.
We want hitters to move forward but to land with your head closer to the back hip. This creates the space for the barrel to turn deep and to enter an upward motion earlier in the swing. This helps players achieve ideal launch angles. Check out the comparison of two hitters below.
If the hitter is working getting their hips out from underneath their shoulders during their stride they will set their spine angle and head position back into a strong, loaded position. It is a cue that should be taught and practiced OUTSIDE of the cage first. Then once the hitter has established a strong, controlled stride forward with their hips outside the cage, they can then move to practice it while hitting a moving ball. If done correctly it will look like this:
This drill is super effective for teaching hitters how to properly stride forward. They must use their hips to stride in this drill and not just their front foot. The goal is to get the hitters lead hip up against the wall before anything else (Quad, Foot, Knee, Ankle) touches the wall. Check out Eric demonstrating this drill and how you can apply it to your hitters today.
One of the most popular things I hear coaches and players say is that the upward swing with high intent is going to make hitters struggle hitting the outside pitch (see picture of comment above). If you watch any high level hitter, they do all the things that we teach here at Baseball Rebellion. Because of this, they are still able to DRIVE pitches to the opposite field!
Videos of our hitters we post get negative, uninformed opinions that our hitters can't hit an outside pitch. As you can see in the picture above.
The idea that most hitters who are able to truly drive the ball pull side can't hit the outside pitch is uneducated. As well as being just plain moronic.
I want to use this article to show you players, parents, and coaches out there that you CAN help teach hitters to drive the ball both pull side AND oppo side. We're going to break down what actually happens on swings to both sides of the plate. I will show and detail a few drills that we do at Baseball Rebellion daily to help our hitters drive the ball the other way.
**DISCLAIMER** I am still 100% advocate of being able to pull pitches with intent, sometimes even outside pitches. But my job as a hitting instructor is to make hitters HIT**
As you can see from this overhead view, you have Alex Rodriguez on the left and Evan Longoria on the right. A-Rod is crushing a homer the other way while Longoria is pulling a homer. Take a look at the two swings and ask yourself what they are doing different:
The first thing I saw when watching these two clips was that the pitch locations were not far off. Stopping them at contact the pitch to A-Rod slightly more towards the outside corner with Longoria's being middle-away. Second, you can clearly see A-Rod hitting the ball a little "deeper" or closer towards the plate. Compared to Longoria making contact more out-in-front.
A common misconception I see/hear from other hitting coaches is that you make contact on outside pitches behind home plate. This is from an article I found from "Be a Better Hitter" shows what the most 'traditional' contact point is taught:
As you can see, this is telling the hitter to hit the outside pitch (3) around 6 inches behind home plate. Thank goodness for technology and pitch tracking in baseball these days. Because of the advances we actually KNOW where the most successful places to make contact are instead of just where we THINK.
HitTrax ball tracking system came out with a chart that TELLS us where the best contact zones are:
Yes, this chart does show us that hitting the ball behind the front of home plate CAN produce line drives. And of course, in no way am I saying that line drives are bad. But hitting the ball 6 inches behind the plate (as the picture above shows us to do) then AT BEST we get a low line drive. Even though this is closer to ground ball territory.
For the best results, practice hitting the outside pitch still IN FRONT of home plate! This includes how you set up your tee work outside tee work.
One of the first things I look for when assessing a hitter who is struggling to hit the outside pitch is their body and bat direction. Many hitters are over rotating or coming around and hitting too much on the outside part of the ball (the roll over). Because of this, they are probably not thinking about exactly what their body and bat, should be doing.
I will use a still photo from the GIF of A-Rod and Longoria to show you their direction:
If you still need further proof of this, go back and watch the video above. You can SEE that there are different directions that their bat and body are going. Yes, this is slightly affected by where they are making contact with the ball in relationship to home plate. Which is why I stressed the importance of point of impact above.
Another thing I want to note about the picture is the direction of their stride. You can clearly see that both of them are in the heel-to-heel stride position. We DON'T need to change our stride based on pitch locations. This is one of the worst taught things I see from coaches.
As many of you know, upper body rotation is a specialty of Baseball Rebellion instruction. The Rebel's Rack has helped thousands of hitters learn to achieve their body's maximum rotational distance and power. If you stepped into a lesson at BR you probably will hear the cues, "turn your shoulder's more," or "back shoulder to CF."
These are all correct terms for hitters trying to learn how to properly pull the ball in the air, which is the hardest thing to do in hitting. These terms/cues might not always (if ever) be correct for trying to drive the outside pitch to the opposite field.
Here are two different swing clips from Betts this season. One of them is an outside pitch he crushed to the opposite field, the other is an inside pitch he pulled for a homer. Again, I want you to watch the clips and tell me what you see:
The biggest difference, aside from the direction of his body approaching each pitch, is the total rotation of his shoulders. You can see on the left (outside pitch) his shoulders do not rotate all the way compared to the right (inside pitch).
there's a good chance you or your hitters are over rotating. A common cue I use daily for this is I tell the hitter to "flip the field" with their shoulder rotation. When pulling the ball we need our back shoulder to get to CF, on the outside pitch I want to shift the field to the right (if I am a right-handed hitter). This allows a finish with the back shoulder pointed toward Right-Center or Right field. You'll want to flip flop for left-handed hitters.
This will help ensure the over-rotation of the shoulders does not occur and the outside pitch can be DRIVEN to the opposite field.
If the hitter seems to be doing all of the above things correctly, the final issue could be their vision on the ball. What I mean by that is where they are aiming to make contact on the baseball.
With the outside pitch requiring the hitter to hold off contact for a split-second longer the barrel of the bat has slightly more time to get 'deeper' behind them. Because of this, it can cause hitters to sometimes "miss under" the ball and produce a pop-up.
If the hitter is constantly missing under the simple cue for this is to aim higher on the ball.
Help your hitters achieve their maximum potential and learn how to drive the outside pitch. Here are a couple of my favorite drills to help put their body in the right positions to do so:
If you do not have a launch angle tee, first off get one here. In the mean time, set up the tee about 6 inches in front of home plate and put a bat at the angle of the yellow line. This angle helps give the hitter a visual of their bat/body direction. Placing the bat at this angle for batting practice is a great visual cue as well!
One of the biggest things you can see here is that his stride direction DOES NOT CHANGE. Too many of my hitters tell me that their coach wants them to step in on the outside pitch. All that does is cut off their hip rotation and can force a push swing.
You can also see the hitter's direction of the body and the rack bat working towards the opposite field gap. This is a great way to get the hitter to not only feel but more importantly, see what their body is doing.
Again, you can see the deliberate effort from the hitter on working their back shoulder and the rack bat towards that opposite field gap.
Also, had to leave the audio in there. Too good not to.
Thanks for reading along. Hopefully, the information in this article will help you join me on the journey to help to make the next great group of hitters!