The baseball/softball community, in general, has been really split on the idea of swinging up or swinging down for a long time. It’s a battle we have weighed in on: we think swinging up is the optimal way to move. However, as many old school coaches will point out you can find a million examples of people swinging down. In our view, the swing plane is important, but there are other absolutes that all good hitters share that are arguably more important than swing plane.
So what are they?
1) The Forward Move: The forward movement of the pelvis during the loading phase of the swing is the most important thing in hitting, wild right? You would think that a part of the swing would be the most important thing in hitting, it’s not. What we find is that if athletes don’t prepare to swing well, they almost never hit well when they are faced with reasonable pitch pressure. I want to be very clear about what we mean when we say forward move: when we’re evaluating this we look at the pelvis, because often people that want hitters to “stay back” are looking at the position of the athlete’s head. We absolutely agree that the head needs to stay back. We just need to make sure the pelvis slides forward.
We challenge you to try and find an elite hitter that doesn’t do this. Style doesn’t matter for this one, take a look at Paul Goldschmidt’s loading sequence below.
I purposely selected hitters with polar opposite loading patterns, Bichette and Goldschmidt could not be more different in style, but they still make this movement, as all elite hitters do.
Ok, so why is this important?
“Get in the way time” is why it’s important. What is “get in the way time?” It’s a measure of the time between the moment when our brain says, “time to swing”, and when our bat actually enters the path of the pitch. At Ignite a lot of what we do is to try and minimize get in the way time, if get in the way time is short, we can decide late successfully. In today’s baseball/softball, this is huge because of pitch tunneling. Pitch tunneling is essentially the way that pitchers make 2 pitches look exactly alike during the path to the catcher’s mitt. Almost like the two pitches are traveling down a tunnel. Until they leave the tunnel and divert paths. I’ve written and spoken about this before—if you want more detail check out this youtube video and this article.
The only tool that we have to combat pitch tunneling is minimizing get in the way time. This way we can decide late and still put a good swing on the ball. Early decisions are bad decisions typically since we don’t have enough information yet. An analogy I use sometimes is if you’re about to visit a friend that lives 7 hours away you might call them an hour into the drive and tell them you’ll be there at 8:00 pm, but how often do you actually get there at 8:00pm exactly? I’d say rarely. However, if you call them when you’re 5 minutes away from their house your prediction of when you’ll arrive will be much more accurate. Early predictions have a good chance of being wrong, late predictions have a good chance of being right, you just need to be quick enough to execute on what you’re seeing. Moving your pelvis forward in your stride, helps your body do just that.
Below you’ll see 2 GIFs, in both of which I’m swinging from a pause at landing position. In the top video I’m swinging with approximately 70 % of my weight on my back leg. In the bottom video I’m swinging with approximately 55% of my weight on my front leg. Since I’m swinging from pause the get in the way time will be slower than a normal swing because we’re going from static to kinetic, while on a normal swing we typically stay kinetic the whole time (Newton’s first law). Notice how much quicker the get in the way time is in the bottom video when compared to the top video.
The single greatest predictor in “Get in the way time,” is whether or not the hitter gets weight to their front leg during the loading phase. Does that mean hitters should fly forward during their stride? No, the head needs to stay back as a counterbalance so that the forward movement can be slow and controlled. But if you don’t get forward your swing could take as much as twice as long to get off. A “get in the way time” with that much difference can have severe positive or negative effects on the athlete. This is why we start with teaching how to properly move forward before we do anything else. If your stride isn’t able to get weight to your front leg you won’t be able to generate any force with the front leg, and the next two absolutes would be impossible to accomplish.
2) Creating horizontal force with the lead leg: The forward move we discussed above is a tool to get your front leg to accept weight which can be used to generate ground force.
To restate something we said earlier in a different way. How much ground force can your left leg exert if it’s not touching the ground? Answer: None.
So if we don’t get at least some of our weight to our front leg our ability to use that leg in our swing is compromised. Well once we get the weight to our front leg in our forward move how should we then use that leg?
It’s important to note that this part of the swing is a transition from one type of energy to a different type of energy. During the side phase, our energy is linear in nature, and when we use our front leg in our swing we’re converting that energy into rotational energy. Since we want the front hip to work backward the front leg needs to push back against the ground to propel the hip in that direction.
So just to piece all of it together, the front leg should push into the ground horizontally, meaning the hitter should feel like they are trying to push the ground away from them and pull the ground towards the dugout. This effectively stops the hitter’s forward momentum (I referred to this as linear energy above) and converts it to rotational energy.
Since the push of the ground away from us drives the front hip backward, it also pulls the back hip forward and unweights the back foot. These are all connected because as the pelvis moves it manipulates the legs and feet.
Typically a great indicator of an efficient front leg is a momentary un-weighting of the back foot. Why? Studies show that the horizontal ground force of the front leg is generally very high in the best hitters. What do I mean by horizontal ground force? Any force parallel to the ground. So jumping would be a vertical force. Running in a biomechanically functional way would be a horizontal force.
Proper front leg movements are also a horizontal force in 2 different directions, 1) in the direction of the backstop (yellow above). And 2), in the direction 90 degrees from that away from home plate (blue above). Research papers typically refer to these two horizontal directions as Ground Reaction Force X (GRFx) and Ground Reaction Force Z (GRFz). Whereas Vertical force would usually be referred to as GRFy (red above).
The colors above will match the colors below.
Here’s an excerpt from a Ph.D. dissertation called “Biomechanics of The Baseball Swing” by David M, Fortenbaugh.
FYI – When used below, BW means Body Weight.
4.1.4. Swing Initiation This phase was marked by major movements in the lower body and moderate movements in the upper body. The lead foot GRFx –Yellow increased rapidly from 11% BW to its maximum value of 50% BW while GRFy – Red peaked at 28% BW around −123 ms. By definition, the lead foot GRFz – Blue rose quickly during the swing initiation phase from 50% BW to its maximum value of 130% BW.
Peak ground reaction forces in the horizontal plane
GRFx Peak (towards the backstop, yellow) = 50% body weight
GRFz Peak (90 degrees from the pitcher, away from home plate, Blue)= 130% body weight
Peak ground reaction forces in the vertical plane
GRFy Peak (Vertical, Red) = 28% body weight
As you can see horizontal, force created by the front leg is wayyyyyy more important than the vertical force created by the front leg. As a result, it’s a HUGE focus of our training.
3)Fast, Quality Rotation: Can you turn your body well? I could talk about this for pages. I’ve written about this a lot in the past and talked about it in videos even more, but If you can’t turn fast and aggressively then the engine of your swing is broken. As a result, if your engine is broken you’ll try and pull in energy from different sources that don’t work as well.
In the most efficient swings, energy comes from the ground and gets passed rotationally to the pelvis, then the ribcage, and last the arms and the bat. This slow-motion swing of Harper is a great visual to show what’s going on.
We’ll continue to write and talk about rotation so I’ll hold off on writing 6 paragraphs here. Just know that if you’re a baseball or softball player you need to rotate well so toss medicine balls, and do just about every type of rotational exercise you can think of it’ll help. We’ll be writing a K-Vest article soon where we’ll discuss the details of rotation a lot more.
In conclusion, the bat movements that everyone seems to fixate on, don’t matter until the hitter can consistently move their pelvis forward, create horizontal force with the front leg, and rotate efficiently.
Thanks for reading,
The Ignite Baseball Team