Hitting Twitter is a fun place. It seems that a lot of the eye-wash coaching that I saw a few years back is disappearing and it’s becoming a place where new idea’s are advancing where hitting is. One good idea is rearward barrel acceleration. This is the thought that the barrel should go backwards and around fast making a shape kind of like a Nike Swish and intersect the path of the pitch in front of the catcher’s glove.
It seems really simple when you think about it. If the pitcher is throwing a strike the catchers glove is final destination of that pitch.
I can’t argue the logic, and for 2 or 3 years. This was exactly what I was teaching. While I loved the fact that my guys and girls were hitting the ball harder than ever. I didn’t love two things about the results I’d been seeing.
1) My hitters were not as adjustable as I would like them to be when it came to pitches on different sides of the plate.
2) My hitters were hitting too many balls right up the middle. Let me briefly elaborate because I’m sure many of you reading this just scratched your head in confusion. If you’re wondering why hitting the ball up the middle would be bad. I can explain it in two fairly simple reasons.
First, three of the other teams best defensive players SS, 2B and CF play in the middle of the field. I don’t want them touching the ball if I can help it.
Secondly, on nearly every field you’ll play on the fence is deeper to center field. If you hit a ball 300-310 feet to right or left it’s probably over their heads. If you hit it the same distance to CF it’s almost always a fly-out. It takes less effort to do more damage to right and left. But also, if you’re just transitioning to playing on the big field, getting the ball over the infield is a big challenge for 7th and 8thgraders. It’s 127 feet from home to second, and only 90 ft from home to 1st and from home to 3rd. As a hitter you have to play your odds, and up the middle they are just not as good.
Ok, so what the heck are you supposed to do differently? Lets start with understanding barrel angle at contact and how that relates to where you hit the ball. The angle the ball comes off the bat is roughly 90 degrees from the angle of the bat. This isn’t always true, the angle isn’t always 90 degrees but it is usually pretty close (within 15 or so degrees of variance) . Take a look below to see what I mean. Things that can effect the exit angle are spin of the ball on approach, angle of approach and where the ball makes contact on the bat. That said, you can see what I mean below.
With the way that rearward barrel acceleration is typically taught it aims to cover the plate for the longest period of time possible, which allows for hitters to mess up and still have success. I agree with the idea of being in the way of the ball for the longest time possible, I’d be crazy not to. But I want the sweet spot of the bat to be in the way of the ball for as long as possible. So it’s a little more specific than just pivoting the barrel around your front forearm and covering a wide swath of the plate. Success involves timing of the hips, timing of the hand pivot and direction of barrel press.
What’s the hand pivot? The hand pivot is basically the way that hitters deliver the barrel into the path of the pitch.
Edwin Encarnacion is in the launch position with the knob of his bat facing the catcher. Which means his bottom hand is below and behind his top hand from our perspective.
Edwin Encarnacion’s hips have started the swing and his bat has moved backwards behind his shoulder with the barrel to the right of the catcher. He’s a little early for this pitch location so he’ll need to delay the turn of his barrel while also establishing plate coverage. Since this pitch is on the outer half of the plate.
Now It’s time to deliver the barrel into the the baseball. So Encarnacion needs pull his bottom hand out of the way up exactly opposite the ball and push his bottom hand towards the path of the ball. This opposite direction movement creates a hinge like function between the hands and delivers the barrel kind of like a swinging door.
Ok, but his bat moved backwards; how is this not rearward acceleration? The idea of rearward acceleration is that the bat starts moving back fast immediately so you can carry that bat speed through the zone. In Edwin Encarnacion’s case, he moves the bat back at a sub-maximal effort and delays the turn of his barrel which allows him to still crush this pitch even though he was really early when he initially started his movement pattern. So he is not moving fast with his barrel right away. But he could on a different pitch if he wanted or needed to.
We see swings in the MLB all the time that accelerate the barrel really quickly. I personally love swings like that because it shows an ability to minimize get in the way time. I cover this extensively in another article but it is essentially the time between when you start your swing and when your bat is in the way of the pitch.
This concept is huge for the way that I teach the swing as a hitter we want to be able to decide to swing or not to swing at the last possible moment so we know the most information about the pitch before committing to the swing.
That said, sometimes hitters start too early or need to hit an inside pitch out in front. In these cases a standard rearward barrel acceleration move won’t work because the sweet spot won’t intersect the pitch for long enough if you turn the the barrel deep. Essentially on away pitches, you want to turn the barrel really deep (behind the plate) and then press it out towards the opposite field. And on inside pitches, you want to turn the barrel later (when your hands are over the plate) and then press it out towards the pull side. Turing the barrel is executed by pivoting the hands as we saw in the above Edwin Encarnacion sequence.
Why didn’t I mention press the barrel to the middle of the field? I don’t want to hit it there.
Everything to the left of the line is a pitch that a hitter with a solid upper half can pull to LF. All balls to the right of the line should be hit to RF (reversed if you are a left handed hitter). So when the ball comes in a hitter should make a decision Pull or Oppo? Decide and execute. In 2 strikes counts, you do what you have to and the thought process might change to hit it hard wherever, depending on the situation of course.
A hitter should have 3 swing types that they can execute at anytime.
1) The Behind the Plate Pivot: This swing is used for pitches that are away that you are trying to hit to the opposite field.
2) The Over the Plate Pivot: This swing is used for pitches that are inside that you are trying to hit to the pull side.
3) The Emergency Swing: Aka the this is a great pitch try and foul it off swing.
We’re not going to cover the emergency swing much today, other than the 2 strike count sentence above.
It’s important to understand that these swing types are not rigid, they are dynamic. In the case of the sequence that we looked at above, Encarnacion had to reach out over the plate before he executed an over the plate pivot because he was early on an away pitch. On any given swing, you might need to execute the Hand/Barrel pivot at any location: in, out over the plate, behind the plate, or even in front of the plate if you’re really early. The two ideal swings that I present are not always attainable.
- The Behind the Plate Pivot: As stated above this swing is used primarily for away pitches. On away pitches once that immediate turn of the barrel begins, a hitter must keep his or her barrel moving toward the opposite field. Check out the video below to see what this looks like.
The behind views of hitters work best for looking at this type of barrel/hand pivot because the velocity of the barrel is obtained in a sideways direction. It’s really hard to “quantify” (that term is used somewhat loosely here) the change in angular velocity from the opposite batters box view because the acceleration is coming right at the camera.
As we see above in the swings of Willie Mays and Giancarlo Stanton the turn of the barrel starts turning drastically before the shoulders have turned much more than a few degrees. Resulting in the barrel and shoulder becoming parallel very early in the swing, before the bat becomes parallel with the front of the plate.
(The video quality was different in these two videos so 117 degrees vs 99 degrees comparison is not quantitative in any way, only meant to show deep turn)
You can see this drastic change in angular velocity of the barrel shown in the photos above. In a solid swing, this fast change in angular velocity must happen somewhere, this is how bat speed and power are produced. Obviously having bat speed is very important but where you obtain the bat speed should be different on different pitch locations.
On pitches that are away, good hitters create lots of angular velocity very early in their movement pattern. Essentially while the barrel is still behind their shoulder. The way this is done is by pivoting your barrel using the pull of your bottom hand to turn the knob followed by the push directional press of your back forearm. As displayed in the sequence of Edwin Encarnacion (shown way above). On away pitches, this pivot of the hands/barrel should happen behind the plate, and then press out towards the opposite field.
2. Over the plate pivot: The over the plate pivot is used to crush inside pitches and direct them to the pull side of the field. On inside pitches the horizontal turn of the barrel should be delayed so the sweet spot of the bat is covering the inside part of the plate for as long as possible. The pivot of the hands and barrel on an inside pitch should happen later, when the hands are over the top of the plate and the shoulders have already turned a fair amount. Waiting to turn the barrel horizontally allows the angle of the barrel to be perpendicular to the pull side of the field for a long time and prevents rollover.
To view later barrel turn, side views work really well. That said, here’s a behind view of a Matt Olson hitting a bomb on an inside pitch so we can compare.
What you’ll see in this case is less turn deep, and way more turn out front prior to rollover.
On away pitches, guys end up turing the barrel out front as well, but it’s usually rollover turn, since the early full extension needed to reach a pitch on the outside corner results in rollover of the hands. The instant you hit full extension your no longer are powerful, because the force of your swing loses direction, and your body has no more length to exert force.
For example, look at these 3 photos of Stanton.
He’s so close to full extension at contact (top) that his barrel is forced to take a hard left turn immediately (middle and bottom) after contact. (He crushed this ball over the fence I’m just showing what full extension does to the barrel) At this time his top hand rolls up so his elbow are at equal height (middle and bottom) this position is not a good one to exert force. Could Stanton hit one out with his barrel rolling over like this? Maybe (he’s huge), but certainly not with his full force.
Also this below photo is the next frame, you can see how much more drastic the left turn of his barrel has become. So much so that his barrel isn’t intersecting the plate at all.
This is what I mean when I say his swing loses direction. The hands stop and the angular velocity of the barrel drastically increases, and the barrel shoots to the left.
You might be thinking fast angular velocity is good right? Yes, but it has to be produced with the bat perpendicular to fair territory for it to matter. Also, in order to hit the ball hard, any type of velocity must be paired with Mass. According to Newton’s Second law, Force=Mass*Acceleration. So if you have no body weight behind your barrel, you wont hit it far. Once your arms lock out there is nothing you can do to continue applying force.
(Yes I’m aware that acceleration and velocity are not the same thing. Lets keep it simple, I don’t want to go on a math adventure today.)
Full extension of you swing is similar to the lockout of a snatch.
What is this guy really going to do exert more force on the bar? Stand on his tiptoes? No, thats not going to work. Long story short, when you reach full extension you’re done. So on inside pitches, we want to turn the barrel later, and then press the barrel towards the pull side but delay full extension until after the barrel has turned past where a fair ball could be hit.
Check out the GIFs below to see what I mean
Look how much longer the turn of the barrel is delayed in the GIF’s of Harper and Bonds. Also notice where the hitters show the greatest change in angular velocity. Out in front of their body. This means that they their barrel’s peak horizontal acceleration is when the hands are over the top of the plate. Not behind the plate like we saw before on away pitches. This allows the sweet spot of the barrel to cover the inside part of the plate for longer and and stops hitters from fully extending for as long as possible to so you can keep from turning you barrel out of the zone too quick. Heres another GIF of Jeter doing the same thing just for fun.
Staying on away pitches and keeping the ball fair
As we look at Bonds and Harper’s swings; I’m guessing that you are probably wondering “How the heck do these guys keep the ball fair?” With the angle of the barrel changing so fast how do they not pull it foul every time? The answer is once you get the angle of the barrel that you want you have to try and keep that angle until you’re fully extended.
Bio-mechanically, the movement that allows hitters to keep inside pitches fair is the same as the movement that allows hitters to keep their barrel in the way of an outside pitch that they swung too early on.
What do you notice about the angles once the barrel is in the path of the pitch? The angular velocity slows, and it becomes linear velocity.
Notice in this slowed down GIF Judge’s upper half is all turning as one piece. His hands are right next to his shoulder and you see that the turn of his shoulders combined with the pivot of his hands are turning the barrel into the path of the pitch. This is a picture perfect behind the plate pivot.
Once the barrel matches the plane of the shoulders and the back forearm is pointing the the same direction as the chest, the bat becomes “press-able.” This is how angular velocity is translated into the linear velocity. Check out the below GIF to see Judge pressing the handle forward (relative to his chest) to maintain his barrel angle.
The most important thing to note here is the direction that his back forearm is moving results in the direction of the barrel.
What do I mean when I say press-able? Well, when you do a push up what makes the floor press-able?
Above: The floor = Press-able
Below: The floor = Not Press-able
The difference between these two pictures is the angle of the forearms. You couldn’t bench press if your forearms were not pointing up, and you can’t effectively press your barrel if your back forearm isn’t pointing in the direction that you your barrel to go. This is where everyone gets lost in the push swing or turn swing argument. I think the answer is not one or the other, it’s one, then the other. Turn the body/barrel then press the barrel.
Once you turn the barrel parallel to your shoulders, you then can press it with your back forearm (using chest muscles) just like you would a bar on a bench press. See below, the bar is parallel to his shoulders. If it wasn’t the bar wouldn’t go straight up.
Can you see the same relationship between the shoulders and the barrel with Judge (below) as you see with the guy bench pressing (above)? The difference is Judge moves his body rotationally and pivots the barrel rotationally before he presses it out towards right field.But prior to Judge pressing the barrel out he turns it parallel to his shoulders.
Once he’s able to turn his back forearm to face the direction that he wants to hit the ball he’s able to press it, just like just like he’s doing a one arm (upside-down) dumbbell bench through the ball. This speeds up the handle of the bat up which keeps the barrel facing the same direction for longer allowing hitters swinging at away pitches to stay on the ball longer, and for hitters swinging at inside pitches to keep the ball fair.
Below: Here’s Judge’s full opposite field swing. He uses a behind the plate pivot, with an opposite field press.
Below I used Judge again, so we’re looking at the same guy’s swing just with the pivot at a different time and the press in a different direction.
Below: Judge uses an over the plate pivot with a pull side press
Very important: Nothing with the upper half matters if the lower half (the main engine of the swing) is inefficient. Rotational speed and power always needs to come first.
One last GIF to show you the same swing from the side but also to show you how much rotational force Judge is generating with his legs and torso.
In conclusion, on away pitches, we want to turn out barrel deep using a behind the plate pivot. Once the barrel is turned and parallel with the shoulders we want to press the barrel out towards the opposite field so we can stay on the outside pitch longer.
On inside pitches, we want to use an over the plate pivot, which will bring our barrel parallel with our shoulders later. If done right, the barrel will be angled towards the pull side when the barrel becomes parallel. Once parallel, we should then press the barrel towards the pull side with our back arm to keep the ball fair.
Thanks for reading!
Kurt Hewes – Director of Hitting and Founder of Ignite Baseball
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Source Credit: Craig Hyatt Twitter @HyattCraig Many of the GIF’s used in this article were adapted from the originals found on his Twitter feed. Much respect!
Chas Pippitt owner of Baseball Rebellion: Twitter @BRrebellion Chas was the first one that I heard explain why it doesn’t make sense to the ball to the middle of the field.