Every season, I have hitters who work their tails off at improving their bat path to become a more successful hitter and make huge strides, only to be told that they are doing everything wrong by their coach in the spring. I have countless conversations with young hitters asking me how they handle this situation. I will address this later, but first I want to discuss what coaches who disagree with a hitter using an upward bath path are missing.
Baseball has been undergoing a hitting revolution over the past few years. There seem to be 2 camps that have developed. The old school approach and the new school approach.
Old School Approach
Terms used: Swing down or Level, Hit the top of the ball, Hit line drives and ground balls, keep the barrel above the ball, Knob to the ball, short swing, etc.
This is the way that hitting has been taught throughout the majority of the history of the game. The thinking is that avoiding strikeouts, increasing contact and keeping the ball out of the air will lead to a successful offense.
New School Approach (I use this term only to simplify the article, as the mechanics taught here are what can be seen in good swing from 100 years ago)
Terms used: Drive the ball in the air, hit line drives and fly balls, take an upward bat path, hit the middle/bottom half of the ball, don't hit the ball on the ground, take a curved path to the ball, etc.
The thought behind this school is that hitters take an upward bath path to not only increase their chances of making solid contact, but also have more of a focus on trying to drive the ball and increase extra base hits.
This approach is starting to expand in the world of hitting. Coaches and instructors who teach this school of thought have utilized high speed cameras, data, analytics, and other technologies to show that hitters don't do what has been commonly taught.
I have written a bunch of articles on all of this, but will give a quick synopsis.
Here are 2 videos, one of Jose Altuve hitting a HR and one of Greg Bird hitting a scorched line drive. Watch their bath path closely. Notice how the barrel gets under the ball and works up to contact. These are just 2 examples, and is what you will se in just about every good hitter at any level.
This "New School approach" was even advocated for by Ted Williams in the 1970s. Somehow, even when perhaps the greatest hitter of all time flies in the face of conventional wisdom at the time, people won't agree.
Why if it is so clear what good hitters do, do coaches still advocate for the old school approach?
Even though Ted Williams advocated for taking an upward bat path over 40 years ago, this "new school approach" has really only become popular over the past decade or so. Why is this important? Coaches start their coaching careers often times right after the end of their playing careers. Most coaches have, at a minimum, played through the end of high school with many playing in college and possibly professionally. This means that most coaches have been around baseball for somewhere between 12-20+ years before they get into coaching. If we go back 12-25 years, we have to recognize that the "Old school approach" dominated hitting. Why? We didn't have the technology or data that we have today that proves that hitters don't swing down. When most coaches enter coaching, they have been engrained with this thinking for much of their lives. Try believing something for that long and changing your mind. Not easy to do.
With all of that being said, I do think that the "New School Approach" can be taken too far. A wave of power has swept over the Major leagues over the past few seasons, with home run totals jumping back up due at least in part to hitters trying to elevate the ball. So what is the problem with this? Many young hitters do not have the size or strength to hit the ball over the fence that these Major League hitters do, so getting these extremes in positive launch angles will not translate into a ton of success.
So what are these coaches missing?
Coaches who still teach the "Old School Approach" believe that all fly balls are created by hitters swinging up too much and that line drives are created through a level or downward swing. Fly Balls are created by the bat hitting the bottom of the baseball, often times from a bat path that is working too down or completely level. The whole point of an upward bath path is the increase contact area with the baseball and create line drives. This is what successful hitters at any level do.
What can we agree on?
I think that finding common ground is the key to being able to weather a storm from a coach who teaches a style of hitting that has never really worked in the game. What can we all agree on? The main goal of any hitter is to create as many line drives as possible. Take a look at the chart below. This shows that batting average is highest between the launch angles of 10-25, aka line drives.
How to deal with a coach who teaches the "Old School Approach"
1. Don't tell him that he is wrong.
Josh Donaldson gave the advice to young hitter to say no to a coach who tells you to hit the ball on the ground. While I agree with his premise, never tell your coach that he is wrong. For one, this is the easiest way to find yourself on the bench. secondly, like I stated earlier, you are not going to change his mind. I have sat down with coaches and given them all of the evidence in the world and they still refuse to buy in.
2. Find common ground.
If you know your coach teaches the "Old School Approach" and he approaches you about your swing, simply tell him that you are not trying to create fly balls but rather your aim is to create line drives. This is something that he cannot argue with. As much as I advocate for fly balls (to a point) being superior to ground balls, hard ground balls still trump weak fly balls to the infield.
3. Stay the course
Most coaches who teach the "Old School Approach" don't have a tremendous eye for hitting mechanics. I have seen it time and again where a coach will tell a hitter to swing down, the hitter takes their normal swing (upward bath path), hits a double to the gap and the coach applauds the hitter for doing what he told him to do. Don't overhaul the mechanics that you know work because often times these coaches will not really be able to differentiate between what you are doing versus what they are telling you to do. They will only see results and taking an upward path will lead to results.