One of the most intriguing things about coaching hitters is that there are so many details that go into the swing that are unique for every hitter. Each hitter is built differently and has different needs when it comes to getting the most out of their swing. You can watch 2 hitters who both make millions of dollars a year swinging a bat do certain things in completely different ways. Today I want to talk about one such detail :stride direction or where the stride foot lands in relation to home plate.
Take a look at the picture below. On the left is Jose Altuve and on the right is Kike Hernandez. Almost identical pitch locations (middle/down) and both resulted in pulled homeruns. However, there is a big difference in where they are at this part of their swing. Altuve strode towards home plate and Hernandez strode away from home plate.
So which one is correct? The answer is both, because every hitter has unique needs. Most hitting coaches would strongly advise against any hitter doing either of these. Many kids are taught that the only place they can stride is straight at the pitcher. But why? Here are 2 hitters who aren’t big guys by major league standards doing things that many kids are told are wrong. Let's take a look at the difference in what both of these stride directions provide.
Striding closed can be a valuable way for hitters to decelerate their hips to allow for better energy transfer up the kinetic chain. Essentially, striding closed can prevent a hitter from over rotating their hips and leaking energy in the transfer to the upper body. This move should really only be used for players who have good hip mobility. If a player lacks internal rotation on their lead hip, this move may not allow for enough rotation from the lower body. in addition, this move should not be too extreme as to lock up the body from getting to inside pitches.
Any coach who sees a player stride out will call it “stepping in the bucket.” However, as long as posture is maintained with the upper body, there can be some advantages to striding away from home plate for certain hitters. First, players who are super mobile can may benefit because of a need to create more stretch through the core. Think of super mobile hitters as having long rubber bands for muscles that need to be stretched. In order to create tension, they need to allow the lower body to rotate more out in front of the upper body. Next, for hitters who lack hip mobility, striding slightly out can be a good way for them to get more rotation from the lower body. However, this hinges on the having the ability to have the stability to maintain their upper body positioning.
All in all, stride direction can play a big role in swing mechanics, power generation and consistency. While I feel that a good baseline for most hitters is to stride straight towards the pitcher, some hitters may actually see big benefits to striding either towards home plate or away from home plate. Many coaches will tell players not to stride in certain directions without any knowledge of their hip mobility, core stability or energy transfer. Knowing what your unique abilities are as an athlete can be key in figuring out where to best direct your stride.