I think a lot about athlete development, it’s my job. I also enjoy watching and playing basketball. In hoops, size is so important if you’re tall you can lack some other skills and still be effective solely because of your height. As someone who is about 5,10 (small by basketball standards) I have to be better at almost everything in order to compete with guys that are much bigger than me on the court. As a small player that’s the reality that you live with. If you’re a big player, you can do pretty well with a limited skill set because you can easily shoot over people, block shots on defense and grab rebounds.
People don’t usually think of size in baseball and softball the same way, but they should. While hitting, (and always) Force = Mass X Acceleration, which roughly means the more weight you move multiplied by how fast you move it equals how hard you hit it.
Mathematically, I could get somewhat complex here because acceleration is usually measured in (m/s^2) or (deg/s^2) (meters per second squared or degrees per second squared). But I’m not going to do that, because this isn’t meant to be a math exercise. So instead, I’m going to use speed MPH and pounds lbs. The units on these answers won’t really make a ton of sense so i made up fake unit called Hard Hit Units (HHU), all you need to know is more HHU = More force and less HHU = Less Force. Simple.
Big Mike and Small Ben are both 12, they play on fields that are about 200 feet to the fence.
Big Mike weighs 140 lbs and swings 40MPH.
Weight X Speed = HHU
140 LBS X 40 MPH = 5,600 Hard Hit Units
Small Ben weighs 90 lbs and swings 50 MPH
Weight X Speed = HHU
90 LBS X 50 MPH = 4,500 Hard Hit Units
The big takeaway from this is that even though Small Ben swings faster than Big Mike will still hit the ball harder/further. Of course there are other factors than weight and bat speed but I want this to be easy to understand.
Big Mike can hit the ball 230 feet if he exerts all 5,600 Hard Hit units on the Ball. This makes him a hitter that can hit home runs in little league. If we look at Small Ben’s HHU production we can estimate that his Maximum distance would be 184.82 ft. Since 1 HHU translates to about .041 feet of distance gain (in this imaginary world with fake units).
Big Mike (230ft/5600Hhu)=(184.82ft/4,500Hhu) Small Ben
Big Mike is most likely one of the better hitters on the team and coaches tell him he’s good and let him do his thing without much interference.
Small Ben is a pretty good hitter as far as average is concerned but every ball he hits far that’s not in the gap ends up caught by the outfielders because the fence in 200 feet and he can’t quite get it over the fence. As a result, Ben knows he’s not as good as Mike, and he works really hard to be able to improve his trajectory as a baseball player.
Which is interesting because at this point, Small Ben has a better swing than Big Mike. However, Mike is still a better hitter than Ben at age 12, but the only reason that is true is because of his size. If neither player changes their swing, and Ben winds up being close in size to Mike. Ben will not only hit for a better average than Mike but he’ll also hit the ball further.
At age 12, there isn’t much that we know about the future of these two baseball players. The paths of the two hitters described above might be very different, but physics will always be the reason for the success or failure of a hitter. Can you consistently hit the ball with a solid amount of force, at an angle that lands the ball at a location where nobody can catch it? That’s really what hitting is all about. When pitching is poor that is an easy feat to accomplish, but when pitching is good it becomes quite a bit harder.
When hitters move up to a higher level of baseball or softball many swings get exposed for their flaws. The size and athleticism of the hitter is that thing that allows hitters to get away with flawed movement patterns. At some point high school, college or pro pitching becomes good enough where regardless of your size and athletic ability you have got to have a movement pattern that puts you in the way of the ball quickly and keeps you in the path of the pitch for a long time. Aaron Judge is a great example oh how pitching makes you change and adapt your swing.
Here’s a GIF of Judge’s swing in the Cape Cod League in 2012.
Here’s a GIF of a Aaron Judge home run last year for the Yankees.
The reality is, failure breeds change. If you consistently fail the pain of continuing on that path with surpass the pain of the change that’s needed, this is when change typically occurs. Aaron Judge’s college Cape Cod swing wasn’t a swing that could succeed in the big leagues. He’s not in the way of the ball quickly enough and once he gets in the way he doesn’t stay there long, that’s not a recipe for success in high level baseball. Your size, strength and athletic ability determine how long you can survive with a bad swing. Judge being a really big guy, as well as a very talented athlete allowed him to dominate college baseball with a swing that frankly wasn’t very good.
Being big and athletic enough to do well with a compromised swing is a blessing, but also a curse. It can allow players that athletes to become very stubborn and unwilling to adapt in the face of real, potentially career ending adversity. Luckily for Judge, he has so much power that he was given a lot of time to change and adapt. Smaller players aren’t always as lucky because the pure stature of someone like Aaron Judge makes coaches say things like “My god, if he could just figure out how to make contact more often.” Unless they have a plus plus tool like Billy Hamilton like speed or Andrelton Simmons like glove, smaller guys just aren’t given as much time to fail at the plate. The logic of most resistant to change hitters goes like this. “I’ve dominated every level of baseball from the time I was 5 through college. I have a great swing the fact that I just hit .202 with a 40% strikeout rate in my first year of pro-ball doesn’t matter, I’ll be fine.”
I’m talking about a hitter in pro-ball above but this happens most often when hitters transition from Little League the the big 60-90 field, and from middle school to high school. Your ability as an athlete to be self aware, and realize that you’re not as good as you thought you were is (in my opinion) the greatest predictor of an athlete’s eventual success or failure.
In my experience, hitters like Small Ben if they are still playing at 15 usually have swings that grade out higher than hitters like big Mike at that same age. That doesn’t mean that Ben will be a better player at 15, it just means typically guys like Ben move better because they’ve struggled, and through failure have been forced into better movements.
If Small Ben grows, he’ll be an absolute beast because he already has the efficient movements needed to be successful at his smaller size.
A great example of what learning to play like a smaller player can do is Anthony Davis. In high school Davis, who is now a top 5 player in the NBA, was a 6’2” (Yes I know 6’2” is big but not NBA big) shooting guard at age 15 with minimal interest from serious Division 1 Basketball programs. He was motivated, and trained hard as if he were a 6’2” shooting guard developing ball handling and outside shooting abilities that make him the dominant presence that he is today. By age 19, Davis was 6’10” and because of his length and elite balls skills for a player his size was the top recruit in the country. Now we watch him in awe of his ability to handle the ball get to the rim and finish like a shooting guard in his 6’11” frame. All of this happened because he didn’t realize he would be as big as he ended up being he trained to max out his potential as a 6’2” player and won the lottery when he grew.
Your kid probably isn’t the Anthony Davis of baseball or softball, but my point is it best to train to hit the ball as far as your son or daughter’s current body weight will allow, so if one day he or she does have a growth spurt, they are already where they need to be.
Parents, be real with your kids, they need to hear the truth from you. Tell them they’re doing well when they actually are, and tell them they have work to do when they are struggling. The key is to never get too high, or too low. If your kid is an incredible athlete tell them they’re doing great but there are always kids that are better. If your kid is really struggling, tell them that the work that they put in will be the greatest predictor of their future success in the sport, because that’s the truth.
As far as hitting goes, we should be aiming to maximize whatever bodyweight and athleticism that your son or daughter has, no matter what their current size and strength is. Little league and High School Baseball/Softball are two totally different games. College baseball coaches always say that High School Baseball is played by boys and College Baseball is played by men. Well little league baseball/softball is played by kids pre-puberty and High school baseball is played by kids post-puberty. Adapt accordingly or sadly there may not be a spot on the team for them.
Thanks for reading!
Kurt Hewes – Director of Hitting and Founder of Ignite Baseball