One of the most important questions we ask hitters during their initial evaluation at Elite Diamond Performance is: "What is the most common way you get out?" Typically, we get 3 answers: strikeouts, rollover ground balls, and weak pop ups. Today, I want to discuss perhaps the most misunderstood: weak pop ups. We will discuss why they happen and how to eliminate them.
The Most Misunderstood Out in the Game
When it comes to the myriad of ways that a hitter can mis-hit a baseball, the most misunderstood is a pop up. I will routinely go to games and see a hitter pop up a ball and inevitably I will hear a coach yell "stay on top" "don't drop your shoulder", "swing down/level", etc. Most coaches, players and parents would probably be in agreement that when the ball goes up in the air, the hitter swung up too much. However, in reality, it is not.
Before I opened Elite Diamond Performance and had access to the technology that we use, I would've thought the same thing: ball goes up because the bat moved up. However, after having access to more than 2 million swings on video at the facility, I can confidently say that pop ups happen for the exact opposite reason: the bat doesn't move up enough. Before you stop reading and call me crazy, let me explain.
In order for the ball to go up, the bat must hit the bottom of the baseball. When this happens, it is almost always a result of the hands and bat working down through the zone. Check out this video:
As you can see, the hitter moves the bat down through the zone hitting the bottom of the ball and the ball goes up.
The problem with weak flyballs or pop ups is that they are completely misunderstood and with that, hitters are given completely backwards cues or drills to help combat them. Almost across the board, when a hitter pops up a ball, coaches will instruct them to swing down, hit the top of the ball, etc. when in reality it is only causing the hitter to spin their wheels and continue to pop balls up. So the first step is to truly understand the mechanism behind why they happen.
How do I eliminate weak fly balls?
Once a hitter understands why pop ups happen, they need to understand how to fix that mechanical issue. There are 2 main things that a hitter can work on to limit the number of weak fly balls or pop ups that they hit. The number one thing to limit or eliminate weak fly balls is to fix the path of the bat through the hitting zone. In order to have the best chance to square the ball up and hit a driven line drive is to move the bat up along the path of the incoming pitch, aka, move the bat up through the hitting zone. Ted Williams explained it best in his book "The Science of Hitting".
The second thing that a hitter can do is to load earlier. one of the biggest factors in hitters moving the bat down through the hitting zone is being late. When a hitter is late on a pitch, they tend to shorten their swing to the point where they move down through the zone, thus increasing their chances of hitting a weak fly ball.