The biggest problem that I see in nearly all amateur hitters, is that they often get stuck on their backside. Getting stuck back forces hitters to push forward with their back leg to begin their swing. This delays their rotation since the rotation can’t truly begin until the front foot is weighted. Here’s an example of someone getting stuck and being forced to push forward from their back foot.
Notice how the back knee sides really far back into the black dots. Then he pushes forward to try and get back to his front side to begin his swing. This is not what we see great hitters do. This mistake plagues young hitters making the beginning of their turn sluggish, and forces them to swing steeply down as we see above.
Ideally, as hitters, we want to be able to go from not committed to swinging at the pitch, to barrel in the path of the pitch as quickly as possible. In the past, I’ve referred to this as “get in the way time,” defined as the time between when your brain commits to swinging and when your bat is actually in the way of the pitch. To minimize get in the way time we first need to understand that the first step in the rotation of high-level swing is the hips turning towards the pitcher. Here are a few examples of that phase of the pre-rotation below.
I encourage you to watch more youtube videos of high level hitters, (unless it’s an emergency swing where they are just trying to foul off a pitch with 2 strikes) they all start their rotation with their hips. The important thing to understand about when people say hips is that they really mean the pelvis. This hips are the ball sockets on the pelvis. Functionally, the pelvis connects the legs to the spine.
In the rotation of the swing, most people say hips first (myself included) but in all actuality, the hips are used to twist the pelvis creating a gradient of rotational potential energy across the spine as can be seen in the picture of Mookie Betts below. He probably has the best and most obvious hip-shoulder separation in baseball and he needs all he can get when you’re smaller you have to move more/faster than those bigger. F=MA
Ok, so what does this have to do with getting stuck on your backside? Well if we know what the first step of a good swing is then we can set our loading sequence up to be able to start that movement as quickly as possible. In this case, the turning of the pelvis is the first thing that needs to happen in the rotation of the swing. So we need to think about how we can best set hitters up to rotate their pelvis quickly. A lot turn quickness has to do with the back hip’s circumference of rotation. The smaller the circumference of rotation the quicker the turn.
Think about it in terms of Nascar, the biggest track, Talladega is 2.66 miles long, and the fastest lap time around that track is 44.998 seconds and an average speed of 212.809 mph. The shortest track, Martinsville, is .526 miles long and the fastest ever lap time is 18.746 seconds with an average speed of 101.014 mph.
Rotational velocity is typically measured in degrees per second, so is we look at these lap times through the degrees per second lens you’ll see that that the smaller track yields more degrees per second even at slower car speeds because the track is shorter.
Talladega – 360 degrees/44.998 sec = 8.00 degrees/sec
Martinsville – 360 degrees/18.204 sec = 19.204 degrees/sec
By the same logic, we want the rotation of our hip turn to be as tight as possible, so we can maximize our hip rotation in degrees per second (of course we still need to turn as fast as possible as well). This leads to a good stretch across the core and a fast/aggressive swing on top.
In order to keep our turn as tight as possible, we need to establish our spine as the axis of rotation and not our front leg/hip.
Front Hip Axis of Rotation
Front Hip Axis of Rotation – Overhead View
Front Hip Axis of Rotation Swing
As you can see in the above GIFs when the body rotates around the front hip, the circumference of the turn is pretty big (too big), this slows rotation in degrees/second because even if the back hip is going really fast the “track” it’s moving on is twice the size.
When the spine is the axis of the turn, the hitter’s pelvis is the diameter of the turn. So turning around your spine makes the circumference of rotation half the size as well, making your turn tight and efficient.
See what a Spinal Axis of Rotation looks like below.
Spinal Axis of Rotation
Spinal Axis of Rotation – Overhead
Spinal Axis of Rotation Swing
The benefits of this type of turn hip can’t be overstated. It keeps the head still during the rotation since the axis of rotation is the spine. It shortens get in the way time because the turn circumference is smaller, and it allows for the efficient turn of the torso behind the hip turn since the opening of the Hips/Lumbar Spine creates a stretch across the core of the hitter.
So now the question is how do we ensure that a hitter rotates around their spine? As I talked about a little bit at the beginning of this article it really starts with the hitter’s loading sequence. If your load allows you to land with weight on both your front and back foot you can obtain the leverage needed to turn both sides of your pelvis to make your turn as tight as possible.
This is a challenge for many hitters because they are told by most of their coaches to stay back. Stay back might be the worst cue in history of hitting. In the quest, to keep things simple we have not simplified, but generalized. It’s never good to generalize an instruction when you do this the athlete or person will give you exactly what you asked for and probably not what you wanted.
Imagine if you were going on vacation the day after Christmas, and before you left you asked your friend, “Can you return my presents for me?” What you meant was, some of the clothes that you got for Christmas didn’t fit, and you needed to send them back and order a new size. But you weren’t clear, so when you get back from vacation your friend probably messed something up, but it’s not their fault, it’s yours for being too general.
The same thing happens with hitters when you tell them something general like stay back, what you meant as a coach was, keep your hands back and chest closed. But what you got was everything going backward and staying there. Now the kid can’t get his or her swing off quickly and everyone is frustrated. When speaking with hitters tell them exactly what you want, and if you don’t know how to describe what you want to, say nothing, many times words can do more harm than good.
Staying back on your back leg too long forces you to either turn in a very wide, pelvis = radius kind of way. Or, if you’re someone that turns pretty efficiently already, you’ll first need to shift weight to your front leg before your tight turn begins. Which slows your “get in the way time” significantly. Take a look at the difference in the two swings below. Note that I’m trying to swing aggressively in both cases even though it looks like I’m going much slower on the left. That said, this is the point that I’m trying to illustrate if your body positioning is too far back and you can’t use your front leg to brace/turn the front side of your pelvis. This makes you slow! It doesn’t matter how fast you’re trying to be.
Left, too far back not landing with enough weight on the front foot.
Right, good loading sequence with enough weight on the front foot to turn with the front leg’s help.
Below you’ll see both swings in full. The videos are synced up to the timer which begins in both cases at the moment that I start to rotate, or in the case on the left, attempt to rotate. Notice how much quicker I can get my swing off on the right.
On the right, after .13 seconds, the bat is in the way of the ball. And on the left, the bat isn’t even close to being in the way yet.
Hitting a baseball or a softball is very difficult. But if we can minimize the amount of time between when we try and start our swing and when our bat is actually in the path of the pitch we can improve our chances of hitting the ball hard. By knowing that the hips should be the first things to turn in a good swing, we can then understand that in order to turn your hips efficiently you need to make sure you land with a weighted front leg. If we’re able to do this every time we can ensure that our turn is tight, and our get in the way time is relatively low. Without this, it doesn’t matter what we’re doing with our hands, arms and shoulders.
Thanks for Reading!
Kurt Hewes – Director of hitting and Founder of Ignite Baseball
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