My Current Thoughts on Hitting | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

My Current Thoughts on Hitting

April 15, 2010

Recently my thoughts on hitting have been addressed in other blogger’s pieces.  While I certainly don’t take offense to these allusions, I feel as though it is necessary to explicitly state my current hitting philosophy.  Before I begin, however, I must make perfectly clear that, like all philosophies, my thoughts on hitting are perpetually evolving and truly quite fluid in time.  To think that it has taken me twenty years and countless influences to develop the philosophy to which I currently subscribe reminds me of how far the game has travelled and that where it is going can scarcely be imagined.

Let’s begin.  We must first define hitting before we can explore it.  Hitting in its simplest terms must reflect in some way the ultimate goal of run production.  Since only a single player can be the hitter at any given period of the game, hitting therefore is the individual act of run production while in the box.  How does an individual influence run production while at bat?  The only way to score without the assistance of teammates essentially is by going yard.  I would certainly call that the best result.  Since this is a rare occurrence, we must address ways to score that eventually involve teammates.  The only way to score is by not getting out.  If a player is out at any point along his way to home, he cannot possibly score.  Therefore, the goal of hitting must be to prevent getting out.  Implicit in this statement is the act of prevention.  Already we notice a flaw.  Hitting the ball requires a great deal of positive action, so beginning with a negative inevitably results in conflict.  We will address this more completely later.  For now, we will simply continue understanding that homeruns are best, and getting out is failure.

What must we do to accomplish the first goal?  Homeruns are products of bat speed, bat path, and contact.  Contact means both the area on the bat striking the ball as well as the point in the swing where contact takes place.  Ideally, force will be greatest at a position in which the ball strikes the “sweet spot” of the bat.  This area is defined as the portion of the bat that produces the least mechanical vibration and varies with the bat.  These vibrations are basically wasted force that could have been transferred to the ball that is instead being transferred elsewhere.  In terms of body position, we find the greatest force to be created with the hands at the plane of the lead hip and with the lead triceps contracted while the rear biceps contracted.  We desire a lead leg with the quadriceps contracted and a rear leg with the hamstring contracted.  What we find when these all take place in unison is a head in line with the rear thigh and torso.  The torso will rotate as a product of these factors, but I prefer not to think of hitting in terms of rotational vs. linear.  Hitting is a combination and a rejection of these absolutes all in one. The goal of the lower half is to drive as much mass forward as possible as rapidly as possible, thereby maximizing the force we generate.  Bat speed comes nearly entirely from the lower half when it is used to its fullest.

Bat path is the concern of the upper half.  Ideal bat path is one headed downward from a position above the strikezone.  Logically in order to travel downward, we must begin from above, so to cover the zone, we must begin above it.  Because force depends on acceleration as well as mass, we must take the most linear path we can to the ball while staying inside of it.  We must stay inside the ball with our hands in order to strike the ball on the sweet spot.  So, the hands must begin above the ball, travel downwardly to it, and stay inside enough of it to strike with the sweet spot.  These are the only roles the hands play.

The pre-pitch goal of the body is to establish our weight to be transferred as well as reduce frictional coefficient.  Since the coefficient of static friction will always be higher than that of the active coefficient, in order to overcome resistance, we must begin our swing with a body in motion, upper and lower.  This way we can accelerate more quickly in our path to contact.  When people speak of “loading,” they simply are using baseball vernacular to describe a decrease in friction and a maximization of mass to be accelerated.

Vision is absolutely essential to contact.  Since the ball spends so little time in flight, it is a quite a tall order to expect the eyes to relay perceptions to the cortex and make adequate adjustments.  Asking for these same adjustments with eyes drifting excessively makes this request practically impossible.  Generally speaking, I prefer a relatively quiet load for this very reason.

When do we load?  Since the goal of the load remains to eliminate friction, ideally there exists no temporal separation between the end of the load and the initiation of the swing.  An average fastball will call for a load whose termination approximates release.  However, we notice immediate contradictions in the case of off-speed pitches.  This is another reason why a quiet load is preferred.  Forceful loading likely leads to a forceful stride that inevitably causes the hitter’s front half to leak resulting in a reduced contraction in the lead leg quadriceps and a drifting axis.  A drifting axis of the swing will be the end result, and bat speed will be dramatically reduced.  Quiet loads allow weight to stay loaded longer.

I never place much emphasis on following through.  Personally, I believe an acceptable follow-through is simply one that is the product of everything happening correctly up until and including contact.  Because the hands must take a linear approach to the ball, however, single-handed follow-throughs are ideal since a two-handed follow-through would be the result of an angled approach to contact.

The strategic portion of hitting is unique in sports.  It demands awareness, discipline, concentration, and resilience.  Hitting is comprised of both an offensive and defensive component despite the illusion that it is purely offensive.

The offensive component is essentially everything we have discussed in the previous paragraphs.  Generation of maximum bat speed allows the hitter to aggressively attack the pitch.  Making contact is a challenge, however, and every single swing that has ever been taken by anyone has been at some level a compromise.  No player can actually swing at 100% and still make contact.  The hitters with the most power tend to come closest, but they tend to swing and miss more frequently.  Immediately we notice the inherent tradeoff occurring with every swing.  Hitting for average is basically the defensive component of hitting while hitting for power is the offensive.  Strike-zone judgment is at least equally important to these two components, and I think it belongs in both the offensive and defensive categories.

If all three of these features were utilized cohesively, the hitter would only hit strikes and every space of the strikezone would be coverable with bomb potential.  No one can do this.  Awareness of this impossibility is where the mental side of hitting begins.  It is really quite simple.  As hitters develop, they tend to improve all three of these aspects.  They tend to cover more of the zone, hit the ball harder, and exercise more discriminating taste in pitches.  When others have mentioned my affection for walks, it is because I recognize that walking is a manifestation of a skill just as valuable in terms of player development as bat speed.  Getting on base is forever the goal. I am not suggesting that getting hits is secondary to walks.  I am suggesting that hits are a manifestation of a different type of skill, not completely independent, but not necessarily intertwined with strikezone discipline.  The combination of these skills is the goal, and all are equally important in terms of developing as a hitter.  Statistically power is the least important in terms of run production, but the skills necessary to hit for power begin with hitting for average, so suggesting that power is less important that average is flawed.
The reason for not attacking the first pitch, in my opinion, is not because it is not a great pitch to hit.  The reason for not attacking it, especially a first-pitch fastball, is that the box is a different environment.  No matter how great a hitter is at preparing in the dugout and on-deck circle, he still is not entirely familiar with the view he will have at the plate.  Taking the first pitch provides the hitter with information unattainable in any other environment that certainly will prove useful in the immediate future.  Are some pitches too good to take?  Occasionally.  Answer me this, though.  Would you be better off with that pitch had you seen one similar to it from the box shortly prior to it?


That being said, on-deck work is an absolute imperative.  Understanding what pitch the opponent thinks is his best as well as his worst provides a great deal of information about pitch sequences.  Hitters are often told not to think like pitchers and just to drive the ball, but it is far easier to hit a pitch when the hitter knows it is coming.  If a guy throws his 3rd pitch 5% of the time, why would he throw it in any key situation?  He clearly has little confidence in it.  If he has not thrown his second pitch in the zone in 20 pitches, why would he throw it behind in any count?  Now that you know what is coming, go hit his fastball to the moon.

And finally, pitch counts.  The skills required to relieve are less than the skills required to start.  Getting into a team’s bullpen early should be the goal of the starting nine every single game not just because it helps win the current game, but also because it taxes the team’s bullpen for the next game in the series and possibly for the remainder of the series.  Strike zone discipline is the primary skill involved in taxing pitchers.

Like I said, this is how I think about hitting today.  It was not necessarily the same yesterday and may not be the same tomorrow, but any amendments will be the result of a lot of thought and a lot of experience.  Hitting is an American treasure, and I invite everyone to develop your own philosophies and ideas regarding it.  No two hitters are alike, and that in many ways is the fun of hitting.

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