Last night I took the opportunity to take a few swings after a night of working with young hitters. For as much time as I spend in a cage, I don’t often take the time to get in there and take some hacks for myself. With my Junior College alumni game looming just 7 weeks down the road, I figured I’d jump in, get the feel back, and see if I should head down as the guy who became a stud after his career ended, or not show my face because my below average skills lost the privilege to be called skills.
After a few rounds and some fairly well hit baseballs, It seemed like a good idea to take some video. Over the past 8 months, I’ve been fortunate enough to do about 250 sessions with hitters at the facility. Through this time, I’ve discussed and modeled the proper swing thousands of times, showing proper movements and demonstrating drills that help those often foreign movements become not so foreign. I figured after all this demonstration, my swing has to have transformed into what I’m trying to see from my guys…. right?? After a round with the camera rolling, I was excited about what I might see, I laced a few balls and boy it felt good, had to look good too!
Uh uh. Nope. Sure didn’t. My swing is NOT VERY GOOD!! Its full of inefficient movements, big time out of sequence and doesn’t work to match the plane of the pitch at all. The tempo is choppy and doesn’t allow for any adjustability or margin for error. Basically, it’s void of all of the main components that would maximize my ability as a high level hitter.
Now I do want to interlude and say that I had a lot of great coaches throughout my playing career, and they taught me tons about hitting and undoubtedly made me better. I think most of them would say that they too have progressed in their hitting knowledge over the time period since they coached me, so by no means am I bitter at them for not teaching me the right things. I am grateful for all the time and effort they put in to helping me, as I am doing what I’m doing because of them!
Now, It may seem like I’m being pretty hard on myself in looking at my swing, but that’s the beauty of the age old “If I knew then what I know now” narrative. The knowledge and experience of continuing to learn about the swing and having the opportunity to help guide young hitters has opened my eyes to the what I left on the table as a player.
Luckily for me, I have the resources available to rectify my situation! This weekly blog post will serve as a journal of sorts, recording my attempt to make my swing somewhat high level in just seven short weeks. I tell young guys all the time that spending just a little bit of time on simple drills each day will go a long way in helping make the proper movements become mainstays in their swing, so I guess it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. I’ll provide a quick initial evaluation of my swing in this post and then lay out what I did in my process for each day in my post each week. A large chunk of these days won’t even involve me hitting actual baseballs, but rather working through proper movements and doing various other drills designed to reinforce those movements. 20-30 minutes a day is what I’ll spend most of the time, with some longer sessions mixed in. Most sessions will be at the facility, but some will be in my living room, in front of the TV at a hotel, or waiting in line for the bathroom at a gas station in Raton, New Mexico.
I’m excited for you to come on this journey with me, and hope it provides some insight into how simple training can pay big dividends in working past old habits and creating a high level swing!
First thing I do when getting an evaluation of a hitter is get some background on them. I like to learn about their beliefs, areas in which they succeed and struggle and their process for trying to maintain a consistent swing. So here’s my background as a hitter.
My senior year of college at Colorado Christian University, I hit .284 with 11 doubles, 3 triples and no home runs. I wasn’t what you would call a guy that did a lot of damage. I walked 23 times and stuck out 21, so I suppose the best way to describe me was a guy at the top of the order who grinded out at bats, and who took pride in knowing that if I was going to be an out, at least I’d be a tough out. I was a hitter who utilized a little bit of quickness and bat control and made the best of my ability level and opportunites, getting on base with a well placed push bunt or benefiting from a hit and run. While I wasn’t a great hitter, I made every effort to work to get every bit I could out of my swing. My biggest focuses were to try to keep things simple. Minimal movement with body and hands, quick hands directly to the ball. In looking at video throughout college, it was always pretty apparent that I didn’t use my lower half very well, so I constantly tried to do drills that focused on driving with that lower half, while still trying to be short to the ball with my hands. This is where my understanding was a bit lacking, but we’ll get there. Most of my hits were to the left side and to the middle of the field, with the occasional bloop falling into right. I didn’t drive balls to the opposite field very well, with most of the balls hit that way having a “flare” action to them. Of my 21 strikeouts, I’d venture to guess that 75+% of them were on breaking balls, as I didn’t adjust well.
While I certainly wish that I would have known what I know now, I certainly don’t have any regrets as a player. I was fortunate enough get to play 4 years of college baseball with a lot of great guys, and made the most out the ability that God gave me. But my reminiscing is not the point of this blog, so lets get down to the reason we are really here, to diagnose an inefficient swing and see if we can turn it into an efficient one! Here is the full video of my current swing.
While to the naked eye, this swing may look okay, and the ball was certainly hit well in a BP setting, there a quite a few components that need some serious work in terms of being able to translate to consistent success in a game situation with different pitches, speeds and locations. When I work with hitters, I find it easiest to break the swing down into three stages; Load, Unload and Release. The load is critical as it sets us up to be able to unload properly, and is the portion that most often is not happening at an optimal level with young hitters, as is the case here with my swing. Understand that our load should be opposite of what we’re trying to do in our unload, just like you squat down before you jump up. Lets look at my position as my foot lands and break it down.
You’ll see above that I do a couple things well here (including still rocking my watch). I land pretty athletically with my weight about 50/50, and I have a pretty good open angle with my front foot which will allows my hips to get through. But that is about where it positives stop. Watch my hips. As I go forward into an athletic landing, you’ll see that my hips really just drift into my stride, with no coil to set up an aggressive uncoil as I swing. If you look at my back foot and leg, you can almost feel the energy leaking out of there, rather than storing it up through a good coil with my lower half. Compare this to Miguel Cabrera, look how much energy he has stored up in that back leg! This is a big reason why my backside and core look sluggish throughout my whole swing.
Take a look at my shoulders and elbow as I finish my load. You can see that my back elbow is already well on its way down and forward, not allowing any time for my already lazy lower half to get out front and lead the way. Not coincidentally, my shoulders are flattening out, making it so I won’t be able to make an aggressive a strong extension move with my front side as my hips go, helping me to match the plane of the pitch. Look at Cabrera’s position, downhill with the shoulders and the back elbow up and back! Note the differences in the angles of our bats as well, mine sort of laying off, and his loaded strong behind his head. Another thing you’ll see is that my hands make a little fake load/hitch move as I lift my leg, but then stall out and stop moving completely. This stop is going to give me major sequence issues as I work into my unload, but makes sense as it originates with my many years of trying to keep it simple and go straight to the ball. Take note of Miguel’s tempo and how his hands continue moving throughout his load.
The next frame shows my unload position which I characterize to my guys as the move I make to start my swing but not release it to the baseball yet. Ideally, unload causes my swing to start creating bat speed and plane behind me. As you can see, my elbow has rushed past my hands (because of it’s down/forward head start in the load) and that my hips really haven’t done much of everything. At this, point my sequence is all screwed up, causing me to create bat speed out towards the ball and neglect the necessity of getting on plane early and create the bat speed deep. Take a look at Miggy’s unload and note the differences.
See how much more stretch he gets with is body? See how that bat is working down behind his body and rapidly picking up speed? Hips are getting a lot of rotation towards the pitcher, allowing the big muscles to do the hard work while he gets his bat ready to release. This is all going to pay off for him shortly.
As I release my swing to the ball and finish, you can see how my hands and arms are leading the way and doing pretty much all of the important work here. Notice the plane of my swing. It’s working down until it gets in front of my body. No wonder I flared outside pitches to right field and couldn’t hit a curveball. Look at my back leg as well, see it stop turning and just kind of slide back behind my front leg? My hands are doing all the work, so my backside is off the hook. Not a good thing to waste what should be one of my main energy sources. Check out Miggy..
So much smoother. So much stronger. On plane so much earlier. Guess that’s why he’s a triple crown winner huh?
So there you have it, the breakdown on my swing that needs a lot of work! Notice how my paragraphs were longer up top when looking at and describing mine and Miggy’s loads? Goes to show how important that piece is going to be for me in making these adjustments in my swing and how the proper pre swing sets up an efficient swing. That’s where I’ll start, keep track of my training and get back to you with my progress next week! Enjoy the holiday weekend, time for me to get to work!!