The Forgotten Key to Swing Path: 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 left out 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. Here is an image depicting this idea.
While many “old school” coaches still make the argument that swinging down straight to the perceived point of contact is shorter and therefore better, new technology (high speed cameras, swing sensors, etc…) has settled the debate in overwhelming favor of the upswing crowd. The truth is that a slightly upward swing path is shorter to the path of the pitch even though it may be longer to the actual point of contact. Just in case you think this is just theory here are a few gifs of some of the top hitters in the world clearly swinging up in the way of the incoming pitch.
You can clearly see that the best hitters in the world drop their back shoulder and keep their hands (and therefore the knob) at chest height through contact. Many hitters with swing path issues can identify that their back shoulder remains too high and that their hands drop too low but miss the link necessary to fix the issue. 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 which can cause an excessively long barrel path that does not create deep and sustained acceleration through the path of the pitch. Below I will show the progression of one of my young hitters, David W. as he illustrates a ineffective front arm progressing to one of the best swings in our entire program. He began lessons here as a nine year old in 2013 and is now about to turn twelve.
David W. Eval 2013
In the video below, you will see David’s evaluation video. While David’s back arm drops to begin his swing, the angle of his front arm remains mostly unchanged. This leads to a long delay between the initiation of David’s upper body and the start of his barrel acceleration. David’s biggest change in his front arm occurs right before and through contact as his front forearm works downward causing his hands to drop excessively.
David W. 2014
In this video, David has improved to allow his front arm to rotate upward much sooner than in his evaluation. Because of this, we see less of a delay between the start of his upper body and the acceleration of his barrel. At this point David still had a tendency to drop his front arm at the last moment causing his hands and barrel to drop which caused inconsistencies in David’s accuracy.
David W. 2016
Here is a newer video of David as he has grown bigger, stronger, and worked hard to improve his swing. He does a great job of rotating his front arm upward and maintaining this angle through contact. Since David’s upper body improvement, he has experienced more power and accuracy. David now hits the ball 70 mph and over 200 feet which is a huge jump from his 43 mph evaluation.
Common Teaching on the Front Arm
Whenever I do hear coaches instructing about the front arm, it is usually in the context that Don Mattingly refers to in the video below where hitters try to take their front arm straight to the ball (1:15 mark). When compared to the MLB hitters I showed above as well as the vast majority of hitters we have analyzed on our weekly swing breakdowns, Mattingly’s teaching is in direct contrast to what the best hitters in the world actually do… Even Mattingly himself.
Mattingly Swinging Front
Mattingly Swing Side
Perhaps Mattingly’s teaching has influenced one of his former players, Yasiel Puig. Below is a video of Puig who has the tendency to upwardly rotate his front arm less than he should which leads to him cutting under too many balls.
A Tool To Fix Front Arm/Upper Body Flaws: The Bat Drag Buster
If you are looking for some extra help in fixing the movement of your front arm or any other upper body flaw, I highly recommend the Bat Drag Buster (which you can get here). We invented it and use it every day in our lessons. In my opinion the Bat Drag Buster is our best product in that it provides a felling that is easily transferrable to live action. This is helped by the fact that it is our only product that you can actually hit in. Watch the video below as Chas explains how the Bat Drag Buster works!
Thank you for reading and don’t forget to turn your front arm up!
Gabe Dimock – Baseball Rebellion Hitting Instructor