RAISE THE ROOF! – How to Help Raise a Hitter’s Ceiling

Written By: Tyler Zupcic

Last month, I got the opportunity to speak at the North Carolina High School Baseball Coaches Clinic in Greensboro, NC. It is an awesome event held each December for high school coaches across the state to hear from guest speakers on a wide range of topics from hitting to pitching to defense, and even turf management. It is also a great way to get all the great coaches from across the state of North Carolina together to talk baseball, trade stories and pick up a few tips from their peers along the way.

The purpose of this article is to share my presentation for all who could not be in attendance and to share some of my thoughts about the weekend as a whole as well. The article of my presentation was, “How to Help Raise a Hitter’s Ceiling” and the whole idea for this topic came about a few months ago when JK and I were talking about our clients and all the kids who come through Baseball/Softball Rebellion. As we were sitting there discussing hitters he said something that really stuck with me, the conversation approached the topic of what exactly it is we do and that’s when JK said that our goal is to raise the ceiling of each person we work with. Baseball Rebellion isn’t selling some quick fix guarantee to help your son or daughter get to the next level, what we are doing is working to raise the height (or ceiling) of their talent to a level that might not have been possible before.

My opening slide explained our thought process behind what raising ceilings actually means. Creating a higher ceiling gives kids more room to explore and experience new levels of success, it allows them to feel a sense of accomplishment that they might never have had before. Clients who come to us have goals and dreams of making it to the big leagues all the way to just wanting to make their local little league team for the first time. For the most part, we tailor our instruction to each of them the exact same movement/swing patterns with the goal of helping raise their chance of getting them to a higher level than before.

One of my least favorite phrases, when people talk about hitting, is the “cookie cutter” mentality, and it is probably for a different reason than you think. If talking with another coach or instructor about what their hitting philosophy or approach is and the only thing they tell me is that they don’t believe in a cookie cutter swing then I immediately believe that they really have no idea what they want or are looking for. I understand that no two hitters are the same, but all great hitters eventually get into the same general positions in their swing. As you can see in the pictures above, they are all in the same positions at those points in the swing and one of the beautiful things about hitting is that they all got there differently. When working with your hitters or your son or daughter, understand that no matter what kind of stance or stride they have, that they must all eventually get into these positions! They are not “checkpoints” necessarily but simply desired destinations along the journey to a high-level swing.

WHY DO I WANT MY 120-POUND SECOND BASEMEN HITTING THE BALL IN THE AIR?

 

Don’t assume a hitter can’t obtain success with a certain philosophy just because of size or ability level! Every day we interact with kids of ALL ability levels. Instead of putting a “ceiling” on what they can do we push them to move in ways they didn’t think they could. PUSH PLAYERS TO FIND THEIR LIMIT, THEN KEEP GOING!

 

So many times, coaches will limit the development of a player simply by just not believing they can achieve something. The biggest argument I hear from coaches is that my smaller or less talented players can’t have a swing that produces balls in the air because they are not strong enough. That argument simply isn’t supported by anything other than their opinion. Daily I see kids much smaller than any high school-aged player hit the ball high and far. The goal for players who are not able to hit the ball over the fence is just to hit it OVER the infielders’ head and BEFORE the ball gets to the outfielders. This will give them the best chance at success, not trying to hit the ball through the infield. Check out this stat from Alan Nathan, who is a Physics professor at the University of Illinois and one of my favorite guys to follow on Twitter. (If you want to see more of his presentation, you can click here)

 

The argument against “weaker” hitters not trying to elevate the ball shouldn’t even be a discussion. This study states that 68% of all baseballs hit with a launch angle between 10 and 25 degrees and an exit velocity between 60 and 80 mph are hits. Even at lower exit velocities, launch angle still matters.

Check out this video of one of our clients at Baseball Rebellion, Nick, who is 10 years old and weighs 70 pounds. From the video, you can see Nick has a decently high leg kick and attacks the ball on an upward swing plane. Nick’s coaches told him that his movements wouldn’t work for someone his size until he then hit a ball over the RF head for a triple in their first game. Nick is now allowed to swing the way he wants to while regularly hitting the ball 180 feet…

FOUNDATION OF PHILOSOPHY

Anyone who is familiar with Baseball Rebellion knows our general swing philosophy. We want to help give the hitter the greatest chance at making hard contact. One of the biggest misconceptions Baseball Rebellion gets about the style of swing we teach is to just get our hitters to hit fly balls, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The swing path we help hitters create gets their barrel in the zone EARLIER and keeps it there LONGER, thus helping the hitter’s chances at hard contact. Look at the two pictures below and you’ll see which swing path carries the greater chance to do damage.

Red Arrow represents a down or level swing with small contact window (Yellow Square)

Red arrow represents slightly up swing with larger contact window (Blue Square)

This slide I showed during my presentation was the one that I was asked the most questions about. For the ones who were interested, they finally saw that an uppercut swing isn’t just for trying to hit fly balls. They could see that it really is the MOST beneficial bat path for consistent success. The best reactions I got were when I showed them this picture right after:

 

The drawings I made in the two pictures of Spencer’s swing were simply the same drawings that Ted Williams had in his book “The Science of Hitting”. I hear all the time coaches talk about this “new age swing” or the “Josh Donaldson swing” (who in my opinion still has a much flatter swing plane than most, but that’s a topic for another day) and in reality, this concept of hitting has been around for much longer than many coaches or instructors who now teach it have been alive.

 

One of the most important things in developing hitters is tracking their progress. As many of you know, at Baseball Rebellion we use HitTrax machines in order to do that. However, I know that for 99 percent of the coaches/instructors out there, the ability to have one isn’t possible. One of the best ways you can track progress is by video. We use Hudl Technique every day during in-person and online lessons and it’s a great way to help show your hitters exactly what they are doing. You can compare them to other hitter’s side by side and you can voice-record over the video to explain what they’re doing as well. Like I stated in the slide when I was coaching at Providence High School in Charlotte, NC we used Hudl to video games, practices and scrimmages and it really helped us fine tune exactly what we needed to be working on with each hitter. Video is a great way for coaches and instructors who lack the financial capability to own a Hit Trax machine really track the progress of their hitters.

THAT’S GREAT, BUT HOW CAN THIS WORK IN A TEAM SETTING?

One of the biggest questions we get asked all the time at Baseball Rebellion is how can the movement patterns that we teach translate to a team setting since we are only private instructors. Well, the answer is YES. Just ask Tom Eller, Head Coach at Harford Community College, in Bel Air, MD. Coach Eller brings his hitters down every winter to train with us and my last slide of my presentation shows just how amazing their team offense production is:

Pretty impressive, right? Coach Eller, his staff, and players deserve ALL the praise and recognition for their outstanding offensive production and we at Baseball Rebellion are extremely grateful that we get to play a small part in their success.

TAKEAWAYS

I wanted to close out this article by talking about something that occurred while I was at the NCBCA convention that has been stuck with me ever since. There was another hitting talk that took place by a coach a few speakers after me. The concepts and approach to hitting that he talked about couldn’t have been more opposite to what I presented on. During his talk, a few coaches I knew leaned over to me and asked how could I listen to this and why I haven’t gotten up to leave yet? My response was simple if we expect other people who have a different opinion than ours really listen and try to understand what we have to say then we should be doing the exact same thing. Does that mean that I agreed with what he was saying? No, I certainly did not. But does that make what he teaches any less important to the people he is working with and respect him? We ALL have the same goal in mind, which is to use what we know to help hitters reach their full potential.

I hope all you readers enjoyed my presentation and this article explaining the thoughts and theories behind it. I knew going into my presentation that there may not be many open minds and that I couldn’t make this sound like what we teach is the only way to do it. I believe my explanations have shown that we simply teach what we think is the most efficient way to help hitters raise their ceilings and have a higher level of success than they ever thought was possible.