I recently posted a new sign at my facility with my nine rules for hitting. Most of them are eye catching conversation starters since most are against the traditional teachings of most coaches. However, they are all rules that I have spent years researching and can confidently back each one of them up. I will be writing more on all of them, but today I want to talk about the second rule on the board: Uppercut.
When I tell a player to uppercut, I immediately get the attention of parents and players. Uppercut? I can practically see the thoughts running through peoples minds. "Is this guy nuts?" "This guy has no clue what he is talking about", and from the parents "This was a waste of money coming to this guy." After all, the word uppercut is perhaps the most vilified word in all of hitting, the biggest no no to every little leaguer, coach and parent.
So then why do I advocate for such an evil in the world of hitting mechanics?... Because every good hitter, at any level, uppercuts.
What is uppercutting? Uppercutting is when the bat moves through the hitting zone (area where contact can be made) on an upward plane. Like Adrian Gonzalez below:
There are three ways of moving the bat through the hitting zone. Up, down or level. Most coaches will advocate for a level or downward plane. But why? Ground balls are better than fly balls? The numbers don't support that. Better chance of contact? Nope, bat is not on the path of the pitch long enough. And my favorite, uppercutting causes pop ups.
Actually, most times it doesn't. More on this in a minute.
I'm not going to discuss the fallacies behind the numbers or the concept of matching the path of the bat to the pitch. If you want to see the numbers behind why flyballs are superior to ground balls click here. If you want more information on bat plane matching pitch plane click here. Today I want to discuss the myth that pop ups are a product of upper cutting too much.
As much as I advocate for flyballs, pop ups are balls that are hit at a launch angle over 40-45 degrees and are not desired. So why do pop ups happen? Traditional thought would say that we uppercut and got under the ball. The second part is true, the first is not. Pop ups are a product of hitting the bottom of the baseball, but is rarely from upper cutting. In fact, it is almost always a result of not swinging up enough.
Take a look at the pictures below.
Swing 1: Swinging level/down
In this swing, the batter is punching his hands and arms down to the ball. The bat never moves in an upward fashion. The bat is undercutting or slicing the bottom of the ball. The result is a weak pop up at a 52 degree angle to the 2nd baseman.
Swing 2: Swinging up through the hitting zone
In this clip, we can clearly see that the batter has moved the bat up through the zone. The bat is well below the ball in the first picture with the end of the bat a little higher than knee height. At contact, the bat has moved up to about thigh high. The bat is squaring up this ball. The result: 88 mph line drive to left center with a launch angle of 19 degrees.
From these different bat paths we can learn a lot, mainly that uppercutting is not the result of pop ups. This is just one example, but I have taken thousands of videos in my career and almost all of the weak pop ups I see are a result of not upper cutting enough. If the bat does not move up through the zone, the bat will undercut the bottom of the ball and pop ups occur.
Final Thoughts Traditional thinking in hitting has always suggested that the word uppercut is synonymous with hitting weak pop ups. This was the predominate thinking before we had the technology to prove that this was not the case. Even still, I often get push back from players and parents when I first mention the word uppercut. I think I may have even had one or two that believed so strongly against it that they stopped coming. However, when you really think about it, and look at the evidence, uppercutting is not the reason for pop ups and should not be something that is discouraged.
I can't count how many players come in and have a problem hitting weak pop ups and the cue I give to them is uppercut and try to hit the ball in the air. And what happens almost all of the time? More line drives.
This idea to move the bat through the zone on an upward plane is perhaps the biggest difference maker I have seen in players swings. I have had players of all levels, from little leaguers through professional players tell me that when I first told them to uppercut they thought I was crazy, and some even fought me for weeks. However, many of those same players have told me that upper cutting or moving the bat on a more inclined path through the hitting zone has been the biggest positive change they have ever made in their swings.