One of the pieces of advice that I have spent much of my career as a hitting instructor trying to disprove and fix in many swings is the concept of swinging down on the baseball. This is a piece of advice that I was given for much of my baseball career. I was told to take the shortest, most direct path to the ball, to hit the top of the baseball, etc. I spent many hours hitting off devices like this.
In theory, it makes sense, swing the bat in a straight path because taking the shortest path possible should be the fastest, correct? Let's take a look at a few major leaguers and how they would do at this drill.
I don’t think either of these elite hitters would do very well trying to swing down on the ball. As I have mentioned in many articles before, Ted Williams proposed the idea that a batter wants to swing at a slight incline to meet the path of the incoming pitch.
An average major league fastball enters the hitting zone at a downward angle of 8-10 degrees, so as proposed by Ted Williams, keeping the bat on this path for a longer period of time will result in an increased chance to make contact.
Successful hitters will get the bat on plane with the pitch early and stay on the plane longer. Let’s look at Jose Bautista again and Ryan Braun.
The barrel of his bat has already dropped below their hands in an attempt to meet the angle of the pitch.
In today’s world, it is not very hard to dispel this myth of swinging down on the baseball. Take a look at the clip below.
What do we notice? Pablo Sandoval gets the barrel of his bat below the ball well before contact. Why? Because this will allow him to start creating the slight upward path to his swing to keep the bat on the same plane as the ball. Even Eric Karros and AJ Pierzinski, two great major league players mention that videos like this will dispel some of the myths surrounding hitting.
Now that we have hopefully cleared up the bath path issue, let’s talk physics. For starters, before I get into a discussion on physics, I have never in a game or practice thought about trying to create a certain spin on the baseball when hitting. Hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do in sports and trying to put spin on the ball when hitting is simply unrealistic.
I have heard for years that hitters need to swing down on the baseball, hit the top of the ball to create backspin, and the ball will carry. Drills like this one below are often used to teach kids how to do this.
Since we know that the bat of a successful hitter is moving at an upward path before contact, we can already see flaws with this drill and with this advice. But what about backspin? The coach mentions that backspin is what helps the ball carry and go further.
Now, it is true that backspin will help the ball go further. In fact, a study done at the University of Illinois proves this. The researchers state that “increasing backspin from 1000 to 2000 rpm has the expected effect of keeping the ball in the air longer, increasing the maximum height, and increasing the total distance.”
So we get it, creating some backspin is a good thing. However, the problem comes in how we create that spin. Take a look at the hitters below. These are all swings that resulted in extra base hits.
Are they hitting the top of the baseball? No, they are all hitting either the middle or just below the center of the baseball. The picture below illustrates the different effects on the ball based on where the center of the barrel meets the ball.