Whenever Major League hitters come up in conversation with students, parents, or other coaches, the following question often arises: How do many of the best hitters in the world only focus on their hands, yet hit so well? This is a question that I have thought a lot about and wanted to write an article sharing my thoughts. Below are two links of Albert Pujols and Reggie Jackson talking about hitting.
If you've read Baseball Rebellion's content, you know that we disagree with a lot in the videos above. Both Pujols and Jackson demonstrated downward swing paths and did not emphasize the hips, core, or legs. That being said, I'm not writing this article to bash Albert Pujols or Reggie Jackson. I want to explore what parts of their thoughts actually help them and allow them to be successful enough to be two of the best hitters in baseball's history. Watch the video below as I describe what happens in the Major League swing and give away a free concept that explains how high level hitters use the knob of the bat as a timing mechanism for the release of the barrel.
As I mentioned in the video above, MLB hitters are athletes. The reaction time required by these hitters in game situations is amazing. This is especially true when they are facing pitchers who can throw this...
Due to the speed at which the successful game swing must happen, most hitters can't feel and think their way through their swing. What many hitters can feel is their hands manipulating the knob and barrel of the bat. Part of the reason for this is that we constantly use our hands for practically everything and are used to being in tune with where they are in space. While there are vital movements happening in the lower half, even those who really understand their swing say that they struggle when trying to think about all of the moving parts in the box. These hitters learn how to move using mirror work, front toss, and maybe BP but have to trust their movement to show up when the lights come on. Whether pro hitters individually understand their swing or not, every high level hitter achieves some level of hip and shoulder separation in games. They also reach similar positions at and prior to contact with their upper body mechanics. Let's go back to the Pujols and Jackson clips and explain what they may be thinking and how that translates to what they are actually doing.
Hip and Shoulder Separation
As I stated earlier, every successful hitter achieves hip and shoulder separation in their swing. This simply means that the hips and legs lead the upper body. Below are two pictures of Pujols and Jackson in this separated position. Both hitters lack of emphasis on this position (when demonstrating) leads me to believe that it is not something they actively think about. I believe that their body does this subconsciously to create the speed and force necessary to be successful against high level pitching. This is the point in the swing where I believe hitters start feeling their hands move to direct the knob and barrel.
Bat lag occurs when the hitter turns so that the knob is facing the pitcher while the tip of the bat faces the catcher. It is the moment just prior to the barrel being released away from the back shoulder. The timing of the bat lag position should change slightly based on the location of the pitch. The more outside the pitch, the earlier in the swing the barrel should be released from the shoulder. The more inside the pitch, the later the barrel should be released from the shoulder. The transition from separation to bat lag is where I think most hitters can feel their hands work to direct the knob and barrel accurately to or inside the ball. It is highly important that hitters continue turning the hips and shoulders as they get into bat lag. Both Pujols and Jackson fail to do this in their demonstrations but succeed in their game swings. While I don't think that Pujols and Jackson's demonstrations are very accurate, it is valuable to notice that their thoughts on upper body mechanics lead them to great upper body positions in games. While we generally avoid using many of the terms used by Pujols and Jackson, some of their mental cues like taking the knob inside the ball can be good for certain players as long as they happen in the correct sequence and are blended with a powerful lower half turn. For instance, the knob inside the ball cue can help hitters get into a proper bat lag position. The ability to do this can help eliminate bat drag which is a big issue in many youth players. Other cues like swing down to the ball bring little to no value.
From the bat lag position to contact, the hips and shoulders continue to turn but the main goal is to release the barrel away from the shoulder up in the way of the incoming pitch. This is where many hitters feel their wrists snap the barrel. While both Pujols and Jackson demonstrate downward swing paths, their game swings are definitely upward. Notice how there is a slightly downhill line where the hands are slightly below the front forearm, and the barrel is slightly below the hands. Using the wrists to snap the barrel is a key part of transferring the energy already created but should not be understood as a energy creation move during the swing.
Remember in the Reggie Jackson video above, when he referenced Barry Bonds and Miguel Cabrera as going "straight" a.k.a. down to the baseball? At further inspection, they clearly swing up in the way of the ball. That being said Bonds and Cabrera are also known for thinking a lot about their hands but create separation, bat lag and a great contact position. Below I have put gifs of Bonds and Cabrera as well as pictures of them at each position previously mentioned.
Hip and Shoulder Separation
We always want to teach the best and most accurate information but it is important to understand what a hitter may have to feel to achieve their best results. Over the past couple of months I have begun encouraging some of my hitters to key in on what their hands are doing in order to fix issues like bat drag. At times I have had to tell them to feel like they are driving the knob forward to see real changes. I always make sure that they understand what should happen (or what is actually happening) when it contradicts what they feel in their movements. As coaches we must take into account what cues work for hitters with varying swing problems instead of generically saying the same phrases to every hitter. When learning or teaching the upper body movements (or lower body movements for that matter), we must remember this end goal: To create maximal force while maintaining accuracy by getting the sweet spot of the bat in the way of the incoming pitch and keeping it there for as long as possible. Neither power nor accuracy is valuable without the other.
Thanks for reading and feel free to comment below!
Gabe Dimock - Baseball Rebellion Certified Instructor