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Many moons ago, in the year of 2012, I wrote an article that went through the use of the front leg (scroll down the page about halfway) in an elite hitter’s swing. Since then, my views of the front leg have not changed whatsoever. I do, however, now have a much deeper understanding of the front leg and its multiple functions in a swing. So to revisit this part of the swing, I thought I would take you through a step by step use of the front leg during a swing with a little help from one of my favorite players who I believe has one of the best swings in all of baseball, Francisco Lindor. In the end, I hope that you will also have a much better understanding of how the front leg of a hitter affects his or her swing.
To get us started let’s take a look at the swing in real time.
I love this GIF because you can clearly see Lindor stutter as he tries lifting his front foot to sequence up to the start of his load with the pitchers windup. I have seen enough video of him to know that this is not always the same. Depending on the pitchers’ move he does such a good job of making sure he gets into his loading process early so that he can fully be prepared to smash. Using the front leg/foot lift you can alter when you start in case the pitcher changes into a faster motion, if they pause, or goes into a quick slide step. Now the process of loading should never change but in this “dance” between us and the pitcher, it is the hitter’s job to follow.
Once the lift of to the front leg has been timed up to the pitcher’s windup, slide step, or whatever, now the leg and foot are along for the ride. What I mean by “along for the ride” is that the movement forward is not as much a reach with the front leg as it is a hips and body weight shift forward. This will, of course, bring the front leg with it. Too many players try reaching their front foot to a specific spot on the ground. This will only serve to minimize momentum and power along with making it harder to adjust to the ball and the many speeds and locations it could go. Through the majority of Lindor’s stride, notice there is no early rotating of the hips, leg, or foot. This will happen next when the commitment to the pitch happens.
“Opening the gate” refers to when the hitter’s brain allows their front leg open upon deciding to swing which is the violent opening of the hips. I italicised the word “allows” because remember the hips open the leg, not the leg itself, for the most part.
Now, this does have some gray area. Because we don’t know exactly if the next pitch will be hittable or not, a hitter must always bring themselves right to the edge of swinging and be able to “GO” or “DON’T GO”. If the pitch is clearly a ball the hitter might not open the front side at all but if it’s close, they may flinch the hip turn and there will still be some opening. Ideally, in a swing, we want the front foot to open face in fair territory, at the very least. This will ensure maximum hip rotation for more power but also keep the ankle, knee, and hip joints safe from wear and tear. Here you can see Lindor’s front leg open upon committing to the pitch. Notice how close to the end of the stride he is before you see an opening, this is key. Reacting as late as possible but still be on time is a huge part of his success.
Becuase there is some “bleeding” into the next stage at this point I wanted to add stabilizing at the end of this stage. Once the foot enters the ground, the hitter should begin to stabilize by keeping a firm yet bent front knee which will be used next. The firmness is very important because it keeps the momentum of the stride from drifting the body weight over the front foot too much while helping to maintain a good spine/head position. The bent front knee will be used slightly after foot plant.
Picking up right where stage 4 left off, once the leg is firm and the head/spine angle is stabilized the leg will straighten out. This will come from the hitter’s front heel, just like when squatting. This will activate the hitters largest and most powerful pushing muscles to help continued stabilization through the swing while helping with the rotation of the hips. If this breaks down, you will see a lot of butt out – arm swings that in no way are powerful.
During an adjustment on an off-speed pitch, you will see good hitters continue to bend their front knee for a bit longer before really engaging in their swing. This extra bend equals extra time. All we need is a little extra time to allow the off-speed pitch to get closer to the hitting zone. There will be some power loss here but well trade that for time. We’ll trade it because we are most likely in a two-strike count at this point and we have to swing. You won’t break and distance or velocity records when doing this but you can still be powerful enough to succeed in hitting the ball hard and out of the infield.
The end is really simple. Keep the front leg straight until the end and it can recoil. You see Lindor’s front knee bend again right at the end. Most hitters will do this at the completion of their swing. As long as the hitter is doing its job until the shoulders have fully rotated then a recoil at the end is no big deal. The ball will have been hit and the front leg’s job is over.
I hope that this stage by stage look into the role of the front leg has helped many of you. Understanding the different parts of the swing and their role is a huge step in making you or your hitter’s swing the best that it can be. Thanks for reading!