DOWNWARD TREND – FACT OR FICTION ?
Now don’t all of you get your eggs in an uproar ! This is totally fixable . I spoke of ” changing the culture ” in my interview with the Cubs Insider guys . I feel very strongly about this . And extremely passionate that , as far as hitting goes , I am 100 % right in what I am doing . After all , I have waited 25 FRIGGIN YEARS to be able to say this !
In the last 10 years , a perfect storm has developed that has featured a coalition of baseball junkies who have made it their lifes mission to figure out the answer to the question that burned in their ” baseball souls ” . WHY ? WHY WASN’T I THE BEST PLAYER ON THE FIELD ? It is consisted of brain surgeons ( neuroscience guys) , who figured out how the brains of elite athletes ( not just baseball players ) work , strength and conditioning guys who figure out how to isolate and train the muscles that receive these messages from the brain not only for injury prevention , but maximum performance , pitching and hitting guys who articulate these techniques to be able to get these elite athletes from the retention of this knowledge to the execution of the technique , and the sabermetric guys who analyze the data that results from this execution . The results are in and continuously evolving . I have had the absolute privilege to work with Dr. Alan Sills , self professed baseball nut and leading authority in neuroscience , Kyle Boddy and Eric Cressey , two of the best strength and conditioning guys in the country who work with hundreds of MLB athletes , Lantz Wheeler who is highly respected as a pitching instructor and works with hundreds of Division 1 and MLB pitchers , and hitting guy Bobby Tewksbary , who works with dozens of MLB hitters including MVP Josh Donaldson , AJ Pollock , and Jose Bautista among his growing client list . I am one of the featured speakers along with this ALL STAR GROUP at Lantzs’ annual PALOOZA in Nashville every December . This event is open to anyone who wants to attend and attracts over 300 High School coaches , College coaches , Pro Scouts , and MLB front office guys . The room is full of HIGH OCTANE , passionate individuals who are willing to share this valuable insight .
Which leads us into the ” WHY ” of this article . Let me begin by setting this up . There are several phrases that a hitting instructor should NEVER use . In the words of Josh Donaldson , who , when asked what should a hitter do if his instructor says to hit the TOP of the ball : ” Tell him . . . . NO ! ” When you hear these phrases , be respectful if you must speak . . . but . . . IGNORE THEM ! Here they are :
1 – HIT THE TOP OF THE BALL
2 – KNOB DOWN TO THE BALL
3 – LET IT TRAVEL
4 – LET IT GET DEEP
5 – THROW THE HANDS
6 – STAY BACK
7 – BACKSPIN IT
8 – SQUISH THE BUG
9 – WEIGHT BACK
and my favorite most stupid thing a hitting guy can say . . . . . . .
10 – HIT IT ON THE GROUND ! ! ! ! ! ! ! 1
Now before all of you contact some kind of heartburn , angina , numbness in your left arm , or just plain get ” butt hurt ” , I will explain , in detail , why you should NEVER say these words to a hitter . ESPECIALLY a young and impressionable one .
First – WORDS MEAN THINGS ! If you tell a young hitter to do something , he is going to take you at his word . A hitting instructor needs to communicate effectively . If he does not , he will ingraine bad habits into his student . If you tell a hitter to HIT THE TOP OF THE BALL , and he is successful at it , he will hit the ball ON THE GROUND virtually 100 % of the time he is successful at it . Fangraphs has calculated the percentage of ground balls in play to be an out 85% of the time . That means that only 15% of balls hit on the ground get through the infield for a base hit – batting average ? .150 . ( remember Ryan Zimmerman ? ) Also – and this is a very peculiar stat : IF they do happen to MISS HIT the ball with a DOWNWARD ( negative launch angle ) stroke in the middle or near the bottom of the ball , it is a POP UP in the INFIELD nearly 90 % of the time . ANGLES are of the utmost importance ! Conversely , Fangraphs has also taken note of balls that are MISS HIT with a ” positive ” launch angle . What they discovered was that if a ball is hit too much ” under ” the ball , it ends up a foul ball out of play and is rarely popped up in the infield when miss hit . Folks – this is cold , hard sabermetric analysis . Unbiased in its content . The numbers may vary 1 – 3% over time but this data is rock solid reliable .
Taking the KNOB DOWN TO THE BALL on a DOWNWARD negative angle delays the barrel of the bat and its entry into the hitting zone significantly – as much as TWO FEET TOO LATE ! This leaves ZERO TIME to adjust the PATH OF THE BAT to the movement , both VERTICAL and HORIZONTAL , of the baseball . This THOUGHT PROCESS is 100% WRONG and causes the student to :
THROW THE HANDS which causes the natural chain of kinetic energy to be completely destroyed altogether. By THROWING THE HANDS , the swing is completely out of sync in that the HIPS should be the FIRST MOVEMENT ( NOT the HANDS ) in the kinetic chain , followed by the HANDS , then the BARREL of the bat . A lot of really cool stuff happens between the HIPS and the HANDS that is ESSENTIAL to getting the barrel in the zone for the maximum amount of time.
LETTING THE BALL TRAVEL and LETTING IT GET DEEP are probably the two most MEANINGLESS phrases I have ever heard . How deep Coach ? All the way into the catchers mitt ? That would be good wouldn’t it ? WHERE ? What spot do I hit it at Coach ? How do you give words like this TEETH ? If you watch video in slo-mo of a Big League hitter , all the hits are in ” front ” of the plate . BEFORE it gets DEEP . BEFORE it TRAVELS ! All the good solid contact occurs approximately 3 inches ( one ball ) to 9 inches ( 3 balls ) in front of the FRONT KNEE . Watch and believe what you see . Once again , your words mean things .
Which leads me to another question : How do you STAY BACK and hit it out front ? The answer is simple : YOU CAN’T ! You have to transfer your weight from your back foot to your front foot in order to make solid contact ” out front ” – where the HITS are . A more appropriate term would be to stay BEHIND – BEHIND your front leg so you don’t continue the weight shift OVER the front side , which needs to be FIRM to be able to handle the massive transfer of kinetic energy from the BACK side to the FRONT side . Staying back causes the hitter to FIRM up his back leg too early thus creating ROTATION around the BACK LEG . This is INCORRECT . The back leg should NEVER firm up . The ROTATION needs to occur around the FRONT LEG . STAYING BACK also causes the hitter to separate his elbow from the ARM SLOT ( which we will discuss later ) and results in CASTING the bat AWAY from his body instead of through the zone . It is impossible to stay inside the ball with the hand path as a result . Once again , words mean things !
BACKSPIN IT ? Help me with this one ! Backspin is a NATURALLY OCCURRING result of good solid contact if you are hitting the ball slightly BELOW the MIDDLE of the ball at an UPWARD ANGLE . You simply DO NOT have to FORCE IT . Rolling over the ball ( ground ball ) happens when you hit the TOP OF THE BALL as a result of DISCONNECTING your elbow from the ARM SLOT . Again , bad , and meaningless advice . One would infer that to create backspin , the hitter would have to hit the top of the ball with a downward blow , in effect , ” pinching ” it . Have we not established that the major league swing is an ” upward ” stroke to the ball ?
Lets talk about SQUISHING THE BUG . Wait . . . . . REALLY ? . . . . . . NO ! . . . . . . . Gimme a break !
Keep your WEIGHT BACK ? UHHHHHH . . . . . . Let me just say if you all out there in cyber land can find me ONE . . . . . . ONE MLB hitter who , at the point of contact in a well executed swing , has his weight on his BACK FOOT , I will personally give you . . . . . a years supply of antibiotics , Bob Dylans new unlisted phone number , a fool proof plan , and an air tight alibi . And perhaps a couple of free one hour lessons !
So . . . . what is the reason we see so many HS hitters from Las Vegas who are good enough to get drafted but are struggling mightily when they get into professional baseball ? I have identified several reasons :
#1 REASON – I really hope this one stings a bit . THEY ARE BEING TAUGHT THE WRONG WAY TO HIT . There is only ONE WAY TO HIT FOLKS ! That is as a MLB hitter hits . You must THINK what they THINK , DO what they DO and PRACTICE the POSITIONAL HITTING TECHNIQUES that they PRACTICE . The spike in home runs this year was BY DESIGN ! MLB hitters are figuring it out . Young hitters will NEVER be able to adjust to the velocity as the speed of the game increases if they continue to swing DOWN on the baseball , trying to hit the TOP of the ball . It is NOT going to work folks ! Get over it and start teaching them the right positional hitting techniques . As TED WILLIAMS said , ” Hit it hard and hit it in the air ! ”
TED WILLIAMS was 60+ years ahead of the curve . He FIGURED IT OUT and became the greatest hitter that ever lived . One can only imagine the gaudy numbers he would have put up if he didn’t enlist in the US Air Force and gave the 4 years of his prime to his country instead of the MLB . I am so privileged to have been able to work with him as much as I did .
There are other reasons as well :
#2 – more and more players are foregoing Little League to play club ball . Little League has its issues but there was no better way to speed up the game than to play on that small diamond . Everything was faster – pitchers threw harder , infielders had to get rid of the ball quicker because of the shorter bases , and it afforded the opportunity for 9 , 10 , and 11 year olds to play up with the 12 year olds . THAT is always a good thing .
#3 – the explosion of club ball teams has diluted the talent base so that the best players are not on one team playing against the best talent regionally . While some organizations lay claim to being able to offer this , it is simply not working . These players are not acclimating to the speed of the game during the developmental years of 8 – 14 years old . By the time they get to high school , they are ill prepared . Hardly any freshman are making their varsity squads whereas when Kris was playing , some high school teams had as many as four freshman in their starting line ups ! Several teams had at least ONE freshman on their team making an immediate impact to their program . I see this as a huge factor in why there was a HUGE drop-offin the number of HS players drafted since 2013 .
#4 – the culture of baseball at the high school level . There is an adversarial , unhealthy , and uncooperative situation taking place where high school coaches do not want to support the various organizations and scout teams discussed in my previous piece ” SOME THOUGHTS ON HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL . ” They are unwilling to push their players ” UP ” . They prefer to keep them ” down ” . Players and families are intimidated and are in fear of some kind of ” retribution ” and / or ” punishment ” . AS a result , the good hitters are rarely challenged and do not get to face 90+ MPH fastballs day in and day out throughout an aggressive summer and fall schedule and those talented pitchers that throw 90+ MPH fastballs don’t get to face these good hitters on regular basis . These are the sentiments of many MLB scouts . Their job is tougher as a result and it makes it very challenging to project a players developmental curve .
Now I know many of you are out there conjuring up ways to blow some holes in my philosophy . Im seriously not worried at all . I will plug them instantly with common sense analysis , not meaningless phrases and catch all , feel good words . All the MLB hitters are moving in the direction of this philosophy at warp speed . Offense is coming back to the game of baseball ! No-hitters are boring ! ( Sorry Lantz and Tony ) . Believe me . I saw TWO in Kris’ rookie season . Its time for the hitting instructors of the baseball world to unite ! Check your egos at the door , do a mea culpa , bow before the baseball gods ( small “g” ) and ask for forgiveness ! Its OK ! You will be better off for it . And best of all , you will be giving credit to the guy that deserves it the most – TED WILLIAMS ! It has been many years since his passing but he is fast becoming a LEGEND . And to borrow a line from the greatest movie of all time , ” SANDLOT “. In that moment where ” The Sultan of Swat ” revealed himself to Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez in a dream and imparted these immortal words of wisdom , ” LEGENDS never die Kid ! ”