When I left the college game in 2003 I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself. I had traveled the United States for years looking for the next great high school prospect. What I had found were way too many high school seniors who lacked the basic fundamentals associated with this great game. They could not get to the five basic check points in a swing nor could they throw correctly. All too often we would sit at a weekend showcase and leave with just a handful of players to follow up on. So when some friends asked me to work with their children I decided that maybe I could make a difference.
The first thing I purchased was a top of the line video system complete with cameras and the Dartfish Video Analysis Software. Dartfish is the number one analysis system in the world today. It is utilized by everyone from sport coaches to the United States Olympic Teams. There is no better system out there, in my opinion, to evaluate a persons athletic abilities. If you are currently working with a trainer who does not conduct routine video analysis it may be time to look elsewhere. Video may be negative in nature but it is a vital tool to improve one's technique. Rather than argue about what someone is or is not doing, record and show them. I do believe, however, that finding the good is just as important as finding our flaws.
Since those early days, we have recorded over 6,000 baseball players of various ages. We see the same faults in every one of them. Some do them "more wrong" than others but their mistakes are all the same, weight out front early, front side flying open and the bat dragging behind. I listen to what is being taught in our parks and on our travel teams and I cringe as a lot of it is wrong. Some coaches will admit that they don't know what to tell the player and will encourage them to get some outside help. I applaud them. There are others, however, that continue to teach "what worked for them" or even the typical textbook philosophy to hitting a baseball. We are not all the same!!! One person may be rotary, another linear or still another a hybrid mix of everything. Turn the television on any night and you will see any number of different approaches to hitting. The one constant that remains is that we are looking at two completely different levels of athletes. Those guys are big and strong but more importantly they are fast. They can make mid-swing adjustments that the average player can only think about after they have swung.
So what do we do to make a difference. I think most young players can trace their problems to one of the first two check points, Stance and Trigger. If our stance is bad, the rest of our swing will be poor. Even if our stance is good but our load or trigger is poor, so will our swing be. BUT, if we can start our hands out of trigger and still be closed, then we have a better chance of succeeding. Almost all players fly open (the front hip turns too soon) and that is why we try to pitch everyone outside. Problem is, the guy on the mound usually doesn't throw the ball correctly so he can't always get it where he wants to. He misses 6"-8" outside and good hitters will take it. Or he'll miss down the middle and the ball will get hit hard. But it can be hit harder if we can generate more hand speed.
In our stance, step 1, I try to get players to remember four things. First, feet apart. We are going to eliminate our stride. Wait a minute coach, we need to stride to get more power. Maybe, maybe not. Bottom line is, when players stride, all their weight goes out front so I'll argue that you actually loose more than what you are trying to gain. Everyone would agree that if you find a hitter with his weight out front you'll throw change-ups or breaking balls instead of fastballs. I have yet to find someone who has perfected the stride. Second, toes down, shoulders over the toes. One of the biggest problems we face is getting kids to get their weight on the balls of their feet. They squat, bend their knees too much, the list is endless. If your weight is on your heels, you'll never stay through the ball. Third is the elbows in which ties directly into the hands, number four. Kids today, grip the bat way too tight in the bottom of their hands. This slows the hand speed down. We need to get the bat into our finger tips. Problem is, with the elbows flared out at the side, we can't get it all the way down into the fingers. When air exists in a pocket between the fingers and the bat, the hands will rotate when we load. They'll actually move. When that happens, the front elbow comes up and it becomes virtually impossible in today's young players to throw the hands. The hips spin, the bat drags way behind and we fly open. Now we have to get way up on the plate to hit the outside pitch and when we do come across that guy who can hit his spots, he's coming inside. By keeping that front elbow in, we will be better able to use the hands, create more "pop" in our swing and remain closed a lot longer.
Out of stance, we'll move into our trigger or load. I always tell players remember two things. Trigger is nothing more than raising the hands to a "punching position." The top hand is slightly above our back shoulder. The back knee slides back towards the catcher (NOT DOWN AND OUT) to a point just inside our back foot. One neat trick to help them find that spot is to make two fists and place one in front of the back knee in their stance and the other right beside it. Tell them to move the knee back and in front of the other fist but not to touch it. They'll pick that up quick. Do it at the same time we raise our hands. After that, take the knob and the hands and "stick" them into the pitch.
In the end, I think it is important to note that I believe our job as coaches is to prepare players for their next respective levels, whatever that may be. Winning makes the game enjoyable, yes. But so does succeeding on the field and being better prepared for that middle school or high school team. Who cares what your philosophy is in hitting or what worked for you. Have that player balanced and able to cover the whole plate and watch how many more quality at bats he has. Until next time.....