Bringing a Batting practice approach to the game

Bringing a Batting practice approach to the game

Often times when a hitter looks great in the cage but struggles in games, approach should be the first aspect to look at. While mechanics can certainly change from a practice setting to a game setting, approach is often the culprit to the discrepancy. More often than not, a lack of aggressiveness is to blame.

What is a batting practice approach?

The batting practice approach is made of of 2 components:

  1. Expect the pitcher to throw a strike

  2. expect to swing the bat

Incredibly complex I know, but the implications are incredibly powerful.

In this approach the hitter is EXPECTING the pitcher to throw the ball where they are looking and are EXPECTING to crush the ball. This is a far more aggressive way of thinking than the opposite approach.

The opposite approach would be when a hitter is looking for a pitch in their zone and deciding to swing if the ball is thrown there. Doesn’t sound incredibly different but these two approaches couldn’t be more apart.

Think of it this way. The Batting Practice approach is the YES YES NO approach and the more passive approach is the NO NO YES approach. With about 1/3 of a second to see the pitch and decide on swinging or not, it is far easier to anticipate swinging the bat and put on the brakes on than it is to switch from having the brakes on to swimming in that time.

Observe the way that you approach swinging the bat in batting practice and try to replicate that in any hitter’s count that you get to in a game.

All About Weight Shift

All About Weight Shift

Weight shift is a very delicate part of hitting mechanics. Get too far out front and bat path and timing get messed up. Keep too much weight back and we can screw with bat path and limit power. Weight shift is unlike most flaws seen in swings. Where with most flaws most hitters tend to fall on one side weight shift is different. I probably see just as many players who stay back too much as players who shift too far forward. Today I want to review why we weight shift, what it should look like, implications if we are at either extreme, and how to work on it.

What should weight shift look like?

  1. Counter movement: The initial phase of weight shift is loading back onto the back leg. This helps to load the muscles of the back hip to transfer energy.

  2. Weight shift: The weight shift occurs as soon as the lower body begins to move weight forward. For most hitters, this phase begins right around the time of ball release.

  3. Stabilizing: The final phase is when the front leg absorbs the force of the weight shift and no more linear (forward) movement occurs. In high level hitters this is seen right when the heel of the front foot is planted in the ground.

Why do I need to shift my weight?

Simplest answer is power. Lets follow the way that high level hitters transfer weight. In phase 1, the energy in the lower body is transferred to the muscles of the back hip. From here, that energy is transferred to the front leg. Once the front leg stabilizes (stops moving forward), that energy is sent back up through the body as the body begins to rotate. Without a weight shift, the swing would lack the energy to generate maximum power.

Now, lets take a look at what happens when we get too far to either end of the weight shift spectrum.

Sitting back (not shifting enough weight forward)

What it looks like: Head stays over back leg. No forward shift. Back shoulder drops too soon

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Problems

  1. Lack of power: As discussed earlier, the primary reason for a weight shift is to help energy transfer in the lower body to generate maximum power. Sitting back also causes the upper body to unload too early leading to a lack of stretch through the middle of the body which also limits power.

  2. Impaired bat path: Check out this article from a few years ago. To summarize, the more I lean back, the more natural it is for the bat to move up through the zone, and vice versa. The more a hitter sits back and doesn’t transfer weight, the more the hitter is inclined to move the bat at too steep of an incline through the zone.

Drill: Dowel dry swings

  1. Get into stance

  2. Feel the wight load back and shift forward so that the head is in the middle of the body with stick pointing down the baseline.

Lunging (shifting too much weight forward) Full Article on Lunging Here

What it looks like: Heavy landing on front side. Head over front leg. Too upright

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Problems with Lunging

  1. Impaired Bat Path: As discussed above, the body position is a key factor in a correct, slightly inclined bat path. When a hitter gets shifted too far forward, the hitter loses the ability to drop the back side and move the bat up through the zone. This causes hitters to either swing level or down and try to create the proper path with just arms. Many times hitters who lunge will create hard ground balls to the pull side and weak fly balls to the opposite field.

  2. Timing Issues: The biggest key to timing is having the ability to keep the upper body back in the most loaded position until the swing fires. This is nearly impossible to do when too much weight gets shifted onto the front side.

  3. Lack of power: Many times, hitters who lunge limit power because they don’t have the strength or stability on the front leg to absorb all of the force being place on it. Without the final phase of the weight shift, energy cannot be redirected back through the body and into rotation. This causes an energy leak and limits how much power can be created.

Drill: Deep Tee Drill



The Importance of Posture: Hip Hinge

Out of all of the hundreds of hitters that I have worked with, there is one thing that leads to most of the flaws seen in swings. That is posture. Get too upright and we lose power and hinder bat path. Get weight too far forward we lunge and impair bat path. Stay too far back and we limit power and so on. Most flaws in swings begin with a postural cause. Of the many different posture issues seen with hitters, on of the most common is an inability to get into a hip hinge position. Today we will discuss what a Hip Hinge position is, why it is important and how we can fix it.

What is a Hip Hinge Position?

Think about the body hinging at the hips, the position of a basketball defender, a dead lift position, etc. The hallmarks of this position are the hips behind the heels and the head out in front of the feet. Watch this quick clip of Pete Alonso getting into and maintaining this position from launch position through contact.

Why is it important?

The hip hinge is important for 3 reasons.

  1. Power generation.

    In short, the hip hinge loads the biggest strongest muscles of the body right before we initiate the swing. Think about a deadlift. For most people who have good form and are injury free, the deadlift should be the most weight an athlete should lift in the gym. Why? The deadlift, which utilizes a hip hinge position, uses the hamstrings, glutes and other muscles of the posterior chain. These muscles are extremely big, powerful muscles. When we hit, getting them loaded is essential for power generation.

  2. Covering the entire plate

    Take a look at this video of Cody Bellinger hitting a Homerun against the Mets. The biggest take away should be where he strides. Hitters are always taught not to step in the bucket. So how in the world can he reach outside pitches and hit them extremely well? Look at the position of his body when his stride foot hits the ground. Hips back, chest forward, head out in front of feet. This allows him to get closer to that outside pitch and cover the entire plate.

3. Proper Bat Path

Every good hitter at high levels moves the bat on an upward plane. In order to achieve this, the back shoulder must drop. Beginning in a hip hinge allows this to happen and make it easier for the bat path to follow the plane of the shoulders by keeping the upper body tilted over home plate. Take a look at the video below.

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How to work on the hip hinge

The first step in getting into a strong hip hinge posture is to know what that position feels like. Below is a drill to feel the position.


What my daughters have taught me about hitting

What my daughters have taught me about hitting

Most people that get my emails know that I have 3 kids, a 4 yr old boy and twin 1 year old daughters. They have taught me a ton about life and often times, can shed light into my coaching. Today I want to talk something cool my daughters have recently taught me that I think applies to my hitters.

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As I have written about in the past, one of the biggest intangibles that my successful hitters have is the ability to fail and to trust the process. They buy into what we are working on and understand that there will be stumbles along the way. Some of my best hitters have had some of the worst training sessions I have seen since opening Elite Diamond Performance. Why? They are willing to try things out, understand that struggling is part of the learning process and trust that the end result is worth the failures.

So, how does this relate to my girls? My daughters are at a very cool stage where they are learning how to walk. While the mode of locomotion they still prefer is crawling, they have been testing the walking strategy for about 2 months now. They have spent the past year observing people walking, and are beginning to realize that in the long run, walking will be the best mode of transportation for them, just like each and every one of us does at some point in our infancy. So with that, they have been trying it out for a few months. Each day they get a little bit better. Not much, but ever so slightly. However, unless they land in the arms of someone at the other end, every attempt at this en-devour has ended in failure. They take a step or two or three and fall on their butt. Do they cry and give up? No. They don’t make a sound. They get right back up and try again.

Applications to hitters

  1. Successful players are continually trying to get better

    Babies realize that crawling gets them from point A to point B. So why do they want to continually try walking? They realize that it is the best method in the long run. Many hitters (especially hitters who have success at younger ages) are afraid to change anything. They may realize that there may be a better, more successful way to do things, but aren’t willing to try something and risk short term failures. Players who get complacent and aren’t willing to change, get left behind.

    Take a hitter who swings down through the hitting zone. Many young hitters who have good hand eye coordination can have success in the early stages of the game with this approach.. However, try to find a high level hitter who has success with this approach. Swinging the bat on an upward path is a better way to hit long term (walking), but many hitters aren’t willing to change, want to stick to swinging down (crawling) and get left behind.

  2. Successful hitters are persistent and willing to fail

    I watch my girls fail continually at their attempt to walk but continue to have the determination to get back up and try again and again in hope that each time they can travel a little further than last time. All of the successful hitters that I have ever worked with are willing to fail because they understand that results usually are not instant and that the end result will be worth it. They are able to realize small improvements and take those away from a session instead of focusing on the struggles. Babies focus on the small successes, walking another step further, reaching mommy or daddy, not on the continual butt fall. Hitters who give up on something because it “doesn’t feel right” or they don’t see instant results rarely make very far in the game.

Conclusion:

Every one of my players has gone through the same process that my daughters are going through right now. They are willing to continually try, most of the time unsuccessfully to try and achieve a better way to do things. The most successful hitters that I have every worked with continue this same approach when it comes to baseball. They know that achieving success in the long run is often taking a path that includes a good deal of struggling.

Controlling what we can control in the Batter's Box

Controlling what we can control in the Batter's Box

There is a ton that goes into hitting. During the off-season, we spend time breaking down minutia of the swings to improve the swing that we will eventually take into the box in the spring. Not to say that we can’t continue to work on swing mechanics during the season, but when it comes to the mental approach once we get between the lines, it is a whole different ball game. I speak constantly this time of year about only worrying about what we can control as hitters. The 2 things that we can control once we get into the box are the pitch we swing at and the way that we swing the bat. Lets dive into each.

The Pitch we Swing At

Listen to my discussion on day one with a hitter or listen in on any session that I give and you will hear me talk a lot about pitch selection. I truly believe, that above almost anything else we can do as hitters, pitch selection is paramount to success at the plate. Many, many hitters are able to get in the box with less than perfect mechanics and be relatively successful simply because they swing at good pitches. I will take a hitter with good pitch selection any day over a hitter with ideal mechanics and lousy pitch selection.

So what is the pitch we are looking for? That is dependent on the hitter and the situation. Check out these articles on what our approach should be in different counts.

Hitter’s Count

Neutral Count

Generally speaking, with an advantage count, the hitter should be looking for their favorite pitch in their favorite part of the zone. Neutral counts open that box up a little, but still looking mostly for their favorite pitch in a slightly larger area of the zone. 2 strike counts should see the hitter focusing on an outside fastball to help stay back on an off-speed pitch while still maintain the ability to catch up to a fastball.

The Way that we Swing the Bat

This may sound like we are focusing on mechanics, but mechanics are the last thing that should enter our mind at the plate. For the vast majority of hitters, the way we swing the bat simply means be aggressive.

Hitters come to Elite Diamond Performance, go to practice, and hit on their own to improve their muscle memory so that when they enter the box, they have as sound of a swing as they possibly can have.

Give yourself the Best Chance to be Successful

The only thing that I can ask of a hitter at the plate is to get a good pitch and put an aggressive swing on the ball. The reality is that we are going to fail most of the time when we get up to bat. Control the pitch that you swing at and the way you swing the bat and it will give you the best chance to be successful. After a game, go through your at bats in your head and think if you were able to check off both boxes during the swings you took.

Intangibles of a Successful Hitter

Intangibles of a Successful Hitter

With my college and pro players gone, high school kids starting practice this week and my younger players gearing up for the home stretch of the off-season, I think about what traits the kids who have success possess. Yes, there are players who are physically more gifted than others, but regardless of the level a player starts at, there are a handful of traits that every one of my players has the ability to possess that can make them into an exponentially better player. Here they are:

1. ABility to understand Key Concepts and interest in learning

The biggest thing that I try to do with my hitters is educate them. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of swings that each and every one of my players takes will not be with me watching them. The ability to understand and grasp the concepts that we are working on and the desire to learn, are paramount to success.

I love when players are constantly asking questions. I would say that most of the hitters who succeed here at Elite Diamond Performance are the ones who ask the most questions. I wrote an article about a year ago speaking to the most important word my hitters can use is “why.”

The baseball world is still filled with a ton of misinformation and fallacies when it comes to hitting. Just about every week I have at least one player come in and say “my coach tell me that what you are teaching me is wrong.” The players who don’t grasp the key concepts will jump ship and immediately throw everything we have worked on out the window. The players who truly understand what is being taught here and the ones who have a true grasp on the key concepts of successful hitting are the ones who are able to drown out that noise.

2. Ability to fail

If there is one constant over the last 150 years in baseball it is that hitters fail. Not only do they fail the vast majority of the time, they fail at a rate unseen in just about any other sport. I get a kick out of emails from players and parents asking me why they or their child had a bad round of batting practice or an O-for game. I wish that every hitter would go out and hit .500 with a HR every game. However, that is not the reality. Successful hitters have the ability to understand that they are going to fail and not get down on themselves.

This goes back to Trait # 1. Those hitters who have a true grasp on what we are working on usually have the understanding that change doesn’t happen overnight. When we understand why we are trying to do certain things, we understand that struggling will be part of trying to figure it out.

3. Patience

Change take time. It is why working with a new player right before the season or in the middle of a season in extremely challenging. I often think about one of my pro hitters and how the first 10 sessions that we did together were exclusively tee and front toss work. This is a professional player who needed 10 sessions to learn certain concepts and movements before I ever threw a ball overhand. However, he was patient and understood why we needed to do that. The successful hitters I have worked with understand that mechanical changes take a lot of time. Even if a swing may not produce the best outcome, these patient hitters are able to trust that the results will come.

I often talk about muscle memory, which is, in a nutshell, the body’s ability to reproduce a movement without conscious thought. It is incredible how many reps it can take to rewire the bodies muscle memory.

Lastly, I have seen an interesting trend in many hitters when it comes to the data collected using the Hit Trax. Many hitters will see an initial spike in their numbers. This often comes from big changes such as moving the bat up through the zone instead of down, or using the lower body more effectively. However, after this initial spike many hitters will fall off slightly. I believe this is due to the body trying to rework much of the incorrect muscle memory that has been ingrained over the years. This stage can last from 1-2 sessions to a handful. However, many hitters will put everything together after this stage and the new muscle memory takes hold. It is getting through that rough patch in the middle that successful hitters are able to do.

4. Work Ethic

There are a lot of hitters who come through the door at Elite Diamond Performance. Aside from my pro and college players (who are home for such a short time that they are in just about everyday), the most frequently I see most of my hitters is twice a week. I tell every player that coming in 1-2 times a week on its own will not get most hitters to where they desire to be. The players who succeed the most, are the ones who take the information being taught in their session and work on it on their own. One of my favorite quotes is “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” I am a true believer in that. I have yet to see a player who makes it to the higher levels of this sport who does not put in the work.

Player Profile: Max Matilsky

Player Profile: Max Matilsky

A Huge Congrats to Elite Diamond Performance hitter Max Matilsky for hitting a HR in his first at bat in nearly 2 years! After suffering a broken leg in pre -season last year and missing the entire season, Max went 3-7 with a HR, 2 Doubles, and 4 RBI in his first action for Dickinson College since April of 2017.

Max’s story

Max, a shortstop, played his high school ball at Morristown Beard, where he helped lead his team to a county championship in 2016. Max began his training at Elite Diamond Performance during the winter of his freshman year of college in 2016. Max trained a few times a week for about a month before embarking on what would be an amazing freshman year. He led the team in batting and was the only freshman to be named 1st team All Conference.

What makes Max unique is his ability to trust the process of what is being taught at Elite Diamond Performance. During his initial evaluation, some of the bedrocks of what he thought went into a good swing were dispelled. Many players who had success in high school may be resistant to change, however, Max bought in. He was hungry to improve on a good high school career and through a ton of hard work has become a very successful college hitter.

Interview with Max

What were the biggest differences in what you had been taught in the past and what you were being taught at Elite Diamond Performance?

All my life I had been taught what was thought to be the basic swing technique of a level swing path working my hands down to the ball. When I started my training, everything was thrown out the window. I began developing a vertical swing path while meeting the ball along the same path it was being thrown at.

What were your thoughts when some drastic swing changes were being proposed? 

While initially hesitant, I trusted this idea and had it glued into my brain. It began to make sense and the results came instantly. The keys to my success with this new concept came as a result of repetition and certain mental cues that helped me develop into my new and improved swing. In addition, videos, hands on training, and advanced technology in the facility contributed to my progress. 

What has been the change to your swing that has contributed the most to your success?

My bat path has been the most drastic change in my swing since beginning at EDP. There was no change ever made to my stance, stride, or load, but simply the path I took to the ball, a minor change with incredible improvements to my overall hitting but specifically to my power numbers.

Front shoulder at Launch Position

Since using the K-Vest and having the ability to measure the bio mechanics of all of my hitters, I have been able to track the differences between high level (college and pro) hitters and younger hitters. As you may guess, there are many differences. Today I want to discuss one of those differences: The position of the shoulders at the Launch Position, specifically the front shoulder.

What is the Launch Position?

The position when the heel of the front foot lands.

What should the shoulders look like?

Compare that with what most younger hitters look like

What do we notice? Most younger hitter’s shoulders are slanted the opposite direction with the back shoulder below the front shoulder.

Now, lets take a look at the shoulders from the pitcher’s perspective

3 Takeaways from the Pitcher’s Perspective

  1. Front shoulder lower than back shoulder

  2. Front shoulder turned in so that the torso is angled back towards the catcher

  3. Front shoulder pointed in direction of 2nd Baseman (Shortstop for a lefty)

Why should the front shoulder be lower than then the back?

  1. Power Generation

    One of the most important components of generating power is loading the upper body correctly. The best hitters in the world are going to position the upper body in the most stretched position possible to allow the hips to pull the torso around faster. This means that they stretch from the front hip to the back shoulder as much as possible before unloading the upper body.

    One component of loading the torso correctly is the keep the upper body turned back slightly towards the catcher at heel plant. However, we can increase the amount of stored energy in the muscles and connective tissues of the upper body by lowering the front shoulder as we turn back towards the catcher. Try it for yourself. Stand up and get into the launch position. First, turn the upper body back towards the catcher. You should feel a slight stretch across the torso. Stay in that position and drop the front shoulder. Notice what happens. The stretch should increase.

  2. Ability to commit later to the pitch

    The best hitters in the world are able to commit as late as possible to swinging at a pitch. They are able to keep the upper body and hands back as the hips start to allow them to pick up velocity, spin, and location on a given pitch. This allows them the ability to adjust and gather more information on what they are swinging at.

    How much lower should my front shoulder be than the back?

    Every hitter is different, so the answer is: it depends. The examples shown above show that some hitters (Betts, Baez, etc.) can get into more extremes than other guys. From a numbers perspective, some hitters can get the front shoulder sloped 15-20 degrees below the back shoulder. Most pro guys will be slightly positive, meaning that the front shoulder is just slightly lower than the back. Even having the shoulders level is acceptable. However, we just don’t want the back shoulder lower than the front at heel plant.

    How do I work on the shoulder positioning at my Launch Position?

    1. Active takes- During BP, take pitches and get into the launch position, focusing on getting the front shoulder slightly down and in.

    2. Tee and front toss from Launch Position- Get into the launch position and hit the ball from that starting position. This will allow you to feel the body firing from the new, more loaded position.

Stride Leg Mechanics

Stride Leg Mechanics

What is the role of the stride leg in the swing? Most players are taught to lock out the front leg. Others are taught to stay bent on the front side. So what should the front leg look like and why?

Lets take a look at what the stride leg does in an elite hitters.

Hitter 1: Max Muncy- Bent front leg at contact

Hitter 2: Matt Holliday- Slight bend, almost locked at contact

Hitter 3: Jose Reyes- Locked at contact

Which is correct?

The short answer is all are correct. Most hitters will be either locked out on their front leg or very close to it at contact. Some, like Max Muncy create tremendous power with a ton of bend.

The role of the stride leg

The stride leg is responsible for receiving energy from the stride, stabilizing and allowing the lower body to have a firm base to rotate from. The key is stabilization. If you go back and look and the previous videos, you will notice that as soon as the heel of the stride leg lands, there is no more forward movement from the front leg. The reason why most players get locked out on their front leg or very close it it is that this position is easier to stabilize from. The more bent stride leg is harder to stabilize, but can still be done. The biggest key is that the front leg does not move forward once the heel lands.

How to work on front leg stabilization

In order for the front leg to learn to stabilize, the most effective drill that I have used is the launch position separation drill. It teaches the hitter to land in the launch position, firm up and stabilize the front leg to begin rotation of the hips.





Feel vs. Real

Feel vs. Real

One of my favorite articles that I have ever read was from a 1986 sports illustrated conversation between Ted Williams, Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly. IF you have never read it here it is. Essentially, it is Boggs and Mattingly (both near or at the prime of their careers) talking hitting with arguably the greatest hitter ever. The conversation goes back and forth between what Boggs and Mattinlgy think they are doing with their swing and Williams continually telling them that what they think they are doing is wrong. The best example is Mattingly and Boggs talk about trying to swing down to which Williams accurately corrects them that they actually swing up. It is a great example of what I want to address today. The concept of feel vs. real.

While many of the hitters of today have come around to Ted Williams teachings, you can also listen to some of the greatest hitters of all time (Mike Trout, Don Mattingly, George Brett, Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter) and you will hear that they want to try and stay on top of the ball. Then watch the way they swing in a game. Bat gets under the ball and moves up like every other great hitter of all time. Here is a picture of Albert Pujols talking about what he is trying to do at the plate with another picture of his actual swing.

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So how do these great hitters think of things that are obviously wrong and turn in hall of fame careers? TO be honest, I’m not really sure. Could they be even better if they didn’t think about swinging down and staying on top of the ball? Maybe. Ted Williams certainly thought so. However, I don’t think that I need to change the way that Mike Trout thinks about hitting. I want to address younger players following what these great hitters talk about.

Should I follow the thinking of hitters who talk about trying to visualize things that I know are wrong mechanically?

My suggestion is it depends. You have to know your swing inside and out and what helps you to create the best swing possible. Mike Trout and Derek Jeter could think about staying on top of the ball and swinging down because their swings are already pretty good and mechanically sound. If you have trouble swinging down too much, thinking the same way that they do will only exacerbate the problem.

I certainly think that some hitters can think about something completely off the wall and still have success at the plate. However, with all of the information we have today, there are just as many if not more that think about doing things that should actually happen in a swing. My general advice is the practice and think about what actually happens in a swing, much like what Ted Williams was trying so desperately to get across to Don Mattingly and Wade Boggs.

How Hip Rotation contributes to power generation

Every player that I have ever worked with from little leaguers through pro players all know one thing:  your power comes from your legs.  After all, this is what kids are told from their first days on the t ball field.  However, while almost every player I have ever worked with can recite that to me, I find that very few players understand and/or can implement how to actually use the lower body to generate power. While there are a number of factors that go into how the lower body produces power, today I want to discuss the most talked about: hip rotation.

“Squish the Bug”

One of the first cues that young hitters get is to “squish the bug”. While I have my reasons for not liking this cue for older hitters, it highlights the importance of rotating the hips from day one on the baseball field. Players know they need to turn their hips, but why?

The way that I like to describe the lower body is as the engine of the swing.  The hips are what should start the swing and drive power.

Take a look at Justin Smoak.  Watch how once his foot hits the ground his hips start rotating first as his upper body stays closed. Once his hips can’t rotate any further, the upper body pulls around because of the hips.  

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Separation

The video above shows how, in its simplest form, how the body works to generate power. The hips and shoulders “separate”. This simply means that the hips rotate towards the pitcher as much as possible and the upper body stays rotated back towards the catcher. The best hitters in the world do this to generate power and the best pitchers in the world do this to generate velocity. It is why Mookie Betts at 5’9” and weighing 175 pounds can hit 32 homeruns in a Major League season.

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Why the timing of the hips is more important than turning the hips (Short Anatomy and Physiology Lesson)

For most younger hitters, or hitters who don’t generate much power, the timing of the hips and upper body is off. Watch a little League hitter and most likely, they will lead the swing with the upper body first. While these players may turn their hips fully, there is almost no contribution from the hip turn because the hips are not pulling the muscles of the upper body. Hitters who start their hip rotation before the upper body can generate a ton more power even if they don’t fully turn their hips.

The muscles in the body generate power by what is called the stretch shortening cycle. Simply put, we want to stretch a muscle just before firing it. This will produce the most amount of force possible. This is why when a basketball player goes up for a rebound they will drop down an immediately jump up instead of squatting down for 3 seconds before jumping.

This means that we want a hitter to stretch the muscles in the upper body just before they fire them. If the hips don’t go first, we won’t activate this process.

K-Vest Application

Since I have begun using the K-Vest at Elite Diamond Performance, I have been able to gather some incredibly valuable data on how much separation players create at different points in the swing, as well as the sequencing of body parts. I knew that I would find that many young hitters struggle with leading the swing with the hips but it certainly helps to have a quantifiable measure.

The first thing that I am looking for with the data is that the hips reach peak velocity and pull the upper body around. This means that the lower body should power the rotation of the upper body, which should rotate faster than the hips. If the hips rotate at 600 degrees per second, the torso should move about 1.5 x that or 900 degrees per second.  If we see a torso that rotates too slowly, their is almost always a lower body flaw that can be corrected.

The second thing that I look for is a hitter who creates separation during their first move (the beginning of upper body rotation after the launch position). Major League hitters are able to create between 25-45 degrees of separation between the hips and upper body. Here is data of an amateur hitter of mine and a pro hitter of mine. The amateur hitter’s upper body is 3 degrees ahead of his lower body. The pro player’s upper body is 31 degrees behind his lower body.

Amateur Hitter

Amateur Hitter

Pro Hitter

Pro Hitter

 

Drill

Below is an introductory drill to allow hitters to feel the separation of the upper and lower body, and help the hitter feel the hip rotation lead the swing.

Elite Diamond Performance Welcomes K-Vest!

Elite Diamond Performance Welcomes K-Vest!

In a continued effort to provide the players at Elite Diamond Performance with the most state of the art technology and learning tools, I am excited to announce the integration of the K-Vest System!

What is K-Vest?

K-Vest is a system of bio-mechanical sensors that track every movement of the body throughout the swing. It is the latest technology that is currently being used by 15 different MLB organizations to help hitters get the most out of their bodies. Some of the metrics that it tracks are:

  • Efficiency of the swing

  • Hip/Upper Body Rotation speeds

  • Proper body sequencing to produce power and a mechanically sound swing

  • Body positioning at different points in the swing

  • Compares hitters to the sequence, efficiency and speeds of professional hitters

The K-Vest gives players at Elite Diamond Performance another tool in their tool box to help correct flaws and limitations in the swing.

What else can K-Vest do?

The amount of information that the K-Vest gives us is amazing. However, the biggest reason that I wanted to invest in K-Vest is the training module. In the training module, a player can see an avatar of their body in real time and be forced to get into the desired positions needed for an efficient, powerful swing. Most players are either visual or kinesthetic learners. The Hit Trax allows my hitters the visual component: to see, in real time, what the mechanical differences were between a good swing and a poor swing. The K-Vest will allow players to feel the difference.

Why is the k-Vest Important?

I want to provide all of the players that come to Elite Diamond Performance the best tools to help them improve. If there is technology that can help give players an edge and learn more about their swing, I think it is worth investing in. All of the technology at Elite Diamond Performance helps to give the best look at different aspects of hitting. The Hit Trax can tell us a ton about the swing. It gives us insight into really the most important things about hitting: exit velocity, launch angles, line drive percentage, distance, essentially, how the ball comes off of the bat. The Blast Motion gives us insight into how the bat moves from start to finish. The K-Vest will help teach hitters about their body, show any bio-mechanical limitations, and help them learn to move their body in the best way possible to get the most efficient, powerful swing they can.

Launch Angle vs. Attack Angle

Launch Angle vs. Attack Angle

I was scouting at a high school game recently, and another scout asked me if I teach the “Launch Angle Swing.” Before I could answer, the player that we both there to see did something of note so we never returned to the subject, but it got me thinking. There seems to be some confusion as to the difference between Launch Angle and Attack angle. Today I want to clear up that confusion.

Launch Angle

The term Launch Angle has recently become a popular and for some reason polarizing term in baseball. The reason is has become so well known and has such a strange connotation is it really began being used right around the time a few years ago when many hitters began trying to hit the ball in the air more. Those who disagree with this approach will talk against launch angles. However, launch angles have always been a part of the game, it just wasn’t until recently that we really had a term for them. Let me state this very clearly: Every single ball that gets hit has a launch angle. Launch angle refers to the angle of the ball off of the bat, so without a launch angle, you are missing the ball. Launch angle refers to the way that the ball moves off of the bat.

Groundball: -90 degrees to 10 degrees

Line Drives: 10 degrees to 25 degrees

Flyballs: 26 degrees to 90 degrees

Look at the chart below (From a pro hitter I train): The highest batting averages are seen between 10 and 20 degrees: Line Drives. Launch angles above and below this range begin to fall off and limit our ability to get a hit.

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Attack Angle

Attack angle is about the bat not the ball. Attack Angle is the path that the bat takes as it makes contact with the ball.

Downward bat path: Anything negative

Level: 0 Degrees

Upward bat path: Anything positive

How do Launch Angle and Attack Angle interact?

Launch angle is determined solely on where the bat meets the ball. If the bat hits the top of the ball, the ball will go down and if the bat meets the bottom of the ball it will go up and everything in between are varying degrees of launch angles.

We can get any launch angle with any type of attack angle. No matter whether a swing is up, down or level, a hitter can hit any part of the ball.

Why do high level hitters swing up?

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Good hitters have a positive attack angle, swing up, uppercut or whatever you want to call it. The best hitters in the world get the bat on the path of the ball early and stay in the hitting zone for a long time. The average fastball come in at between 6-12 degrees and they need to move the bat up to stay on the plane of the pitch for a long period of time. This increases their chance of hitting the center of the ball and creating a line drive.

While any attack angle can produce any type of launch angle, most players and coaches have the opposite view of what really happens. To read more about why swinging up does not actually produce pop ups check out my article here on EliteBaseBallPerformance.com


Exit Velocity Update

Exit Velocity Update

About 2 years ago, I wrote an article on Ball Exit Speed detailing things that can effect exit velocity and tips on how to improve it. While all of those things still hold true, I now have much more data than I had then. When the article was written, I was using a radar gun set up in front of an L Screen, much like what is now done at most showcases. While this worked, there were a number of variables that effected the results. Since opening Elite Diamond Performance and have been using the Hit Tax with every session that I do, I have obtained thousands of data points on exit velocity from players of all ages from 6 years old through professional players. In today’s article, I wanted to give an updated version of Exit Velocity Ranges for each age group.

Exit velocity is very important. Simply put, the harder the ball gets hit, the batter chance the hitter has to get on base. However, there is much more that goes into hitting besides exit speed. Each age group has a minimum that I feel has to be reached to be a consistent hitter. Beyond that, there are so many factors that go into success at the plate.

Note: All of the exit speed numbers below are from live batting practice.

Level Average High High

Pro 97.5 104.4

College 93.8 101.8

High School (Varsity) 90.9 101.2

High School (Fresh/Soph) 84.6 96.4

13-14 81.7 86.9

11-12 67.9 79.7

9-10 59.5 69.1

The Most Important Word my players can use:  Why

The Most Important Word my players can use: Why

My biggest job as an instructor is to educate my players. I want each and every player that I work with to understand their swing, their approach, etc to the best of their abilities. This is simply because the vast majority of swings that my hitters take will be outside of my facility, and the only way for them to improve is to truly understand what can make them better. The hitters that do the best with what I teach are the ones who overuse the word “why.” Let me explain.

Someone once told me that the 6 deadliest words are: “That’s the way its always been.” This could not be truer in baseball. The sport, and hitting in particular, are going through somewhat of a “revolution”. The typical wisdom about hitting is changing. The terms “Launch Angle”, “Exit Velocity”, Flyball revolution, etc. highlight the perceived change that are going on in the game. However, hitting really hasn’t changed over the past 150 years. Much of what the great hitters from 100 years ago are the same as what the greats of today’s game do. However, we have so much more information and technology that can highlight what good hitters actually do, rather than relying on theories.

In the coaching world, baseball has never been so contentious. There are the old school coaches fighting with the new school coaches, hitting gurus getting into online fights like kids over mechanics, and numbers guys arguing with eye test guys. Why is this? Baseball, like every other sport has never had so much information, so many statistics, and so much technology that can disprove much of the old wisdom. Baseball is improving, yet many who have been around the game for a long time, are trying to hold on to outdated thinking. Baseball is older than any other american sport and is usually the slowest to change, but slowly, people are beginning to.

Going back to my original point, the players who do the best with my instruction are the ones who come in with an open mind and question everything that I tell them. Yes, many of the things that I talk about sound completely backwards from the traditional wisdom surrounding hitting. The board of rules in my facility reads like a list of what bad hitter do, not good hitters. Here are the first 2:

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However, as against conventional teachings as some of these things may be, the hitters who succeed the most are the ones who ask me a ton of questions as to why I am teaching them things that are completely different from what they have always been taught. They are eager to learn and don’t close off when they hear something that goes against what they have been taught previously. They can see from exit velocities, launch angles, video, that when they do certain things their swings improve.

I was taught many of the wrong things throughout much of my career. When I began to be introduced to correct information, I fought it because I didn’t want to believe that what I had been taught could be wrong. However, if I didn’t get exposed to correct mechanics and began to question what I had previously been taught, I never would’ve had the opportunity to play professionally.

Think about what has been taught to you over your career. If you have always been told to swing down on the ball or squish the bug, ask yourself why. Don’t simply trust someone because they played at a certain level or have coached for x number of years. Use the technology that we have at our disposal that coaches who came up with many of the fallacies surrounding hitting didn’t have. Watch players, observe what they do and always question the “conventional wisdom” because as soon as we stop learning, we are doomed to failure.

Extension

Extension

Extension during the swing is something that is one of the most talked about phases of the swing. While the extension position is something that we should pay attention to, it is not something that most hitters should force. I believe that the extension position is more of a diagnostic part of the swing that can help highlight problems earlier in the swing that need correcting.

What is the extension position?

The extension position is the moment in the swing when the arms are fully extended. Most swings will display this position but there will be swings, especially in younger hitters where they may not get fully extended. This is because the extension position is something that should occur naturally as a product of the arms not being able to hold the bat close to the body as the force of the swing takes over.

When should it occur?

This is still an often debated topic but I’m not sure why. There are still coaches who will tell kids to get extended at contact, but take a look at what good hitters look like at contact. Unless they are completely fooled by a pitch off the plate, hitters will maintain some bend in the arms at contact. Take a look at the pictures below. The picture on the left shows what an amateur hitter looks like at contact vs a pro hitter on the right.

What should the extension position look like?

Biggest thing to look for in the extension position

Back forearm position

Look at the photos above and notice the back or top hand forearm. Regardless of pitch location, the back forearm should point either straight or up, never down.

What does this position tell us?

  1. Bat Path

    The Bat needs to move up through the hitting zone to match the plane of the incoming downward moving pitch. If the bat moves level or down, the arms will point to the ground rather than up and out

  2. Hand Path

    In order for the bat to move in an upward path, the hands must not shoot down. Rather they should work in an upward path through contact. If this doesn’t occur, the arms will point towards the ground. Notice how the hands work through contact in the video below.

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3. Time in the Hitting Zone

The reason the bat path and hands have to work in an upward fashion is to keep the bat on path with the pitch for as long as possible. If you notice an extension position with the arms, particularly the back forearm pointed down, the bat will not be on path with the incoming pitch for long. This will result in inconsistent contact and reduced power.

Significance of the Extension Position and how to work on it

The extension position is a byproduct of the rest of the swing. We should observe it to diagnose issues that occur before and up to contact, but we have to remember that it occurs after contact. Without addressing body position, weight shift, hand path, bat path, arm position, etc., focusing on the extension position will likely only cause hitters to try and force a good looking finish, overuse the hands and under use the rest of the body.

One of the cool things about the Hit Trax machine is when I show a player a swing, the clip usually pops up at the extension position. Instantly, my hitters can tell me if it was a good or bad swing based on the position. From the information gained from the extension position, we go back and look at the the beginning parts of the swing to determine why the swing turned out well or poorly. However, we never try to put the cart before the horse and focus on the ending position when the wheels are falling off earlier in the swing.



Long vs. Short Swing

Go to any baseball game from little league through professional baseball and you will probably hear a coach tell a player to shorten their swing. I hear players all of the time talking about trying to shorten their swings. So today I wanted to discuss what the difference between a short and long swing is, why having being on either end of the swing length spectrum can be bad and some drills to work on swing path with.

Swing Length Defined

Swing length is basically the length that the barrel of the bat has to travel to get to the ball. This is represented by the blue line in the picture below. The shorter the distance, the shorter the swing, longer distance means a longer swing.

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What do we want short or long?

Like just about everything else in hitting, somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, most coaches think that every player needs to shorten their swing.

Benefits of a long swing

A longer bat path when done correctly, will come through the zone and contact point with much more bat speed. A longer path can also allow the bat to get on the plane of the incoming pitch sooner and increase the time the bat is in the hitting zone, thus increasing chances of making contact.

Downside of a swing that is too long

The biggest weakness of a hitter with a long swing is that they usually have to commit to the ball sooner. This can leave the hitter more susceptible to off speed pitches. Also, a hitter with too long of a swing risks being late on fastballs if they don’t initiate the swing early enough.

Benefits of a short swing

More time to react to the pitch. The shorter the path of the bat, the more time a hitter can wait to commit to swinging at the ball.

Downside of a swing that is too short

Often times players who shorten their swings too much will not be able to drive the ball due to a lack of bat speed creation. In addition, many times players who shorten too much can display an impaired bat path that does not work up enough through the zone.

Where coaches go wrong

Have you ever heard a coach tell a player that their swing was too short? Probably not. However, while I do see many kids who have swings that are too long, I see just as many kids with swings that are too short. Let me explain.

Most coaches think that shorter is better. However, this is just not the case. Most coaches advocating for a shorter swing will throw out cues such as “point a to point b”, “take the shortest path possible”, etc. Drills like this tee will help players develop this sort of swing.

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Yes, the shortest path is straight to the ball, however, this is not what good hitters do. Good hitters allow the bat to work behind them for a few reasons. Look at the pictures below:

In the first 3 pictures, the barrel of the bat is working behind the hitter, getting underneath the ball and as shown by picture 4, working in a circular path, not straight. This is a constant among good hitters. Every high level hitter will take this elliptical path to get to the ball to both increase bat speed as well as ensuring the bat gets on plane with the pitch as deep as possible.

How do I know if my swing is too long?

Although every major league hitter that I have ever studied take a circular path to get the the ball, they also usually display a limit to how long that path is. After all, if they took too long of a path, they would get beat especially by the increasing fastball velocities in the big leagues. Take a look at the pictures below. I have drawn a line about 6 inches behind the hitters back foot in their stance. What do we notice? The bat doesn’t cross that line. They are allowing the bat to work behind them and get into the zone early, but in the shortest possible route to achieve this. If the bat crosses behind this line, that is what I would consider a long swing.

Drill to work on swing length







Deep Tee Drill

As I stated in this previous article, I have a love/hate relationship with the tee.  I think that the tee can be a very valuable tool that can make learning new mechanics much easier.  However, I also see many hitters take some pretty terrible swings off the tee that can reinforce bad habits. 

Today I wanted to talk about my current favorite tee drill:  The Deep Tee Drill.  You can check out the video below and be sure to subscribe to the Elite Diamond Performance YouTube Channel.

 

 

Checklist for Choosing the Right College

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Travel baseball for high school players comes down to one goal: Get seen by college coaches.  Yes everyone wants to win, but the main point of traveling all over the country and spending thousands of dollars is to help get exposure to play at the next level.  Today I wanted to discuss what players should look for in a potential college.  Many players simply choose the best baseball team with the most recognizable name.  While the caliber of the program is important, there are many factors that players should assess before committing to a school.

The Obvious:

1.     Right fit on the field

Choose a school where you will have the best chance to play and develop as a player.  Whether you are a top prospect being contacted by SEC and ACC schools, or a kid who cold calls division 3 coaches, you want to find a school where you can get time on the field and develop.  Look at the team’s roster.  Look for schools who have upperclassmen starting at your position.  This will likely give you the best chance to get on the field earlier in your career.  If a school has a freshman starting and producing at your position, it will make it much harder to beat them out for a spot as a newcomer.

2.  The Right Fit Academically

As much as I would love to see every player that I work with go on and make a living playing baseball, the sheer fact is that most won't.  The senior year of college will be the end of the road for most players on the field, and then it is time to start a career outside of the game.  While you don't have to, and probably shouldn't know for sure what it is that you want to do after baseball, spend some time and really consider what that future might be.  Make sure that there is a major that you would be interested in studying.  This is a mistake that I made when looking at schools.  I had no idea what I wanted to do and just chose the school where I felt the most wanted from the coach.  I thought my best guess as a senior in high school was physical education.  However, the school that I went to didn't offer it and I just pushed that aside and thought that I would figure it out later.

3. Location/atmosphere

Some kids want a small environment where they can know most of the kids on campus and some kids want a huge school where 100,000 people go to Saturday football games.  Think about what type of environment you want.  While baseball will consume much of your time as a college student athlete, there will be a good portion of time where the rest of college life will be very important.  Picture yourself not playing baseball.  Would you be happy at the school if you suffered an injury couldn't play baseball?

The Not so Obvious

The reason I wanted to write this article was for this final point.  Make sure you really know what the program is about.  Not just what their record was last year or who got drafted from there, but know what the coaching staff’s philosophy is.  This means that if you are a hitter who has been successful working on driving the ball in the air and trying to work on an incline path to the ball, make sure you don't go to a school where the coach is advocating hitting the ball on the ground and chopping down on the ball.  If you are a pitcher and you know that weight training has helped you increase velocity, don't go to a school where the coach doesn't think pitcher should lift.  I have had many players who fight for four years against stubborn, misinformed coaching staffs and it can make for a very frustrated player.

The best way to learn this information is to go to camps that are held at the school and talking to players at the school.  This should give you a good idea of what the coaching staff emphasizes.

All in all, there are a lot of choices out there for players aspiring to play college baseball.  When considering your options, go through this list and ask yourself some of these tough questions to help determine which schools might be the right fit ratchet than simply choosing the most recognizable name.

The Unrealized Difference between Professional Hitters and Amateur Hitters

Last week marked the official end of the off season for all of my professional hitters with the independent minor leaguers leaving for spring training.  I have spent a good deal of time noticing differences between my amateur hitters and my professional hitters this off season.  While there certainly are physical differences between them, the biggest difference I have noticed is in the mental and emotional side of the game.

One of my favorite days since opening Elite Diamond Performance was the "Night with the Pros."  We invited the younger players to come hit alongside all of the pro players that train here.  In addition, we had an extremely informative and valuable question and answer session.  Interestingly enough, the talk of mechanics never came up.  Overwhelmingly, the topic of mental approach came up much more than I was expecting.  The pro guys talked about 2 very important aspects of the mental side of baseball:  Trusting the process and keeping emotions in check.

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1. Trusting the Process

Since it is their careers on the line, professional hitters tend to know their swings inside and out and know what they need to do within themselves to be successful.  These hitters understand that in training, we may spend an entire week doing boring drills or may do some things that make them uncomfortable.  They understand that every swing will not result in a great hit and they learn to take positives out of negative outcomes.  They trust what they have learned about their swings and what will ultimately make them successful.  

Amateur hitters often times want a quick fix in their swings.  They don't understand that improvements as a hitter take lots of time and lots of repetition.  They jump ship from something either because it feels uncomfortable or they don't have immediate success.  This leads to them constantly chasing a quick solution when  

2.  Controlling the emotional side of the game

One question that was asked at the Night with the Pros was how do you handle the metal grind of playing every day for an entire 100 plus game season.  The answer was that you have to take each day as a separate event. You cant dwell on the successes or failures of the previous day.  If you do, it will eat you up because of the overwhelming amount of failure you experience as a hitter. 

This was probably the best advice given during the night.  Professional hitters have a unique ability to handle the inevitable failure that comes in hitting.  This time of year I get calls, texts, and emails just about everyday from players of all ages.  When everything is going well, they sound very similar.  However, when things don't go well, there is a glaring difference in the way that players communicate that to me.

The typical amateur player or parent will tell me of a game or 2 where the player struggled.  Lets say the player went 1-4 and 0-3 in back to back games.  I will often get a panicked message about how they need to make some drastic change in their swing or how they need a new bat or some other fix.  Sometimes there is something to fix but more often than not, it is just the inevitable ups and downs of being a hitter.

On the other hand, lets say a professional player has a similar stat line in back to back games.  I will get a message pointing out the positives in those 0 for at bats.  Many times, they will state that they are seeing the ball well, swinging at good pitches, or hitting the ball hard but right at someone.  When they don't feel well at the plate, they don't panic and take a step back and try to make some small adjustment rather than over hauling everything, and this goes back to trusting the process.  

Final Point

In this article, I use the terms professional hitter and amateur hitter.  For the most part, the terms hold true to the level that a player is playing at.  However, I have many, many younger players who have a very similar mindset to the true professional players, and guess what, they are the ones who tend to be more successful over the course of the season and their careers. 

I had a younger player who told me that his teammates were getting on him for taking practice swings with an uppercut.  He looked at me and said, "Coach there are kids on my team who may be successful right now doing it a different way, but I know that this is what I have to do to be successful in the long run.  I don't want to just be a good player at my age, I want to do things the right way so that I can go as far as I can."  Even as a little leaguer, that is the mindset of a professional hitter trusting the process.