Approach to swing plane 101
What is swing plane and how much you should really mess with it when beginning
Different coaching styles
Some kids react differently to either type of coaching so it’s good to know how to use both
Basically a list of definitions of short, concise verbiage that you should be using with your players
The problem with most hitting instruction Hitting instruction has become so prevalent in the baseball world it can often be difficult to know the best way to hit a baseball. Most coaches have their own hitting “theory” about what is the best. Some of the information isn’t all that bad… (most of it is) however it can be difficult to then apply that information to a youth player, especially with so many conflicting theories.
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All the information in this guide will be framed around teaching youth players to be great hitters, as well as giving you realistic expectations for what you can expect in their mechanics.
One of the great paradoxes in teaching youth hitting instruction is this idea of what will generate the most runs/win games for the team vs. mechanical efficiencies that will give those players the best chance to compete as they grow older.
At younger ages, teams are more likely to score runs by simply putting the ball in play (often on the ground) and hoping for a bad hop or an error. This is partly why, in my opinion, so many coaches will teach players to “swing down” or hit the ball on the ground… If you do this enough it will work and you will win the game. Youth players often throw the ball around the diamond while the other team runs around the bases. This strategy can be effective for the team as a whole to generate runs, however this might not the best strategy for an individual player to improve his chances of moving up to the next level.
The game changes a lot as players get older; the fielders get better, the pitchers keep the ball down better, the park gets bigger, players get stronger, etc.
There will be a number of disclaimers throughout this section expanding on these different ideas.
This guide will be written for mechanics to help an individual player reach their potential as a hitter. It’s interesting because I had to battle myself quite a bit while writing this on whether to write this guide on how to teach hitting to purely win games at the youth level, or write the guide to help players develop as actual hitters later in life. I decided to take the latter. Let me be clear, I am in no way suggesting this guide will hinder your players at all, in fact it will definitely help if you follow these steps. I just placed a number of disclaimers throughout this piece just to give you an idea on what to expect realistically. There is often a time and a place to just hit the ball on the ground and score a run… there is also a time to practice to become the best you possibly can. All the information in here will apply to players about 14 years old or younger… give or take. Hitting instruction can often be difficult to write about… it is much easier to demonstrate on video. Check out the different videos and gifs in the other sections of this guide if you ever get confused.
Let’s get started!
Defining Correct Hitting Mechanics
Definition:We define correct mechanics by using objective measurement of hitting fundamentals through body geometry.
Everything we will teach you in this guide has been thoroughly researched through a scientific lens. We have looked at thousands of hours of video clips of the greatest hitters throughout history, and in present-day. It is interesting to see how the evolution of major league hitting mechanics have changed over the decades, much of this is due to the increased size and strength of players, as well as the constantly increasing pitch speed from pitchers. Not only have we looked at professional clips, but we have also looked at thousands of college players, high school players, and Little Leaguers. By doing this you can begin to draw conclusions of how mechanically sound your swing needs to be to reach a certain level.
Every level players go up, the hitters get better and so do the pitchers, therefore certain things that worked in a swing at 14 years old, might not work at 18. Things that worked great for a division-1 players, might not work in Double A ball, etc. The pitches become too fast, the ball has more movement, and the pitchers make fewer mistakes. The more flaws we have in our swing, the weaker and less efficient we become… this is what weeds out players as they move up the baseball pyramid. The better the mechanics are, the better your chances of making it to the next level. If you can learn to become a great hitter, you can play baseball for a long time…
When we use comparative analysis of great major league hitters throughout history, we are able to identify what the important elements are that make up a major-league swing. This guide will talk about all the information you need to start building a major league swing in your youth player.
We’re going to talk to you about a lot of different angles with your body parts, meaning where your body is in space. With all of these angles there is going to be an upper and lower threshold. We are going to make sure you understand exactly what those thresholds are to help maximize all of the angles in your swing.
Again, this is all based on sample size. It is not based on what one player does (like so many modern hitting coaches do), it’s not what ten guys did, but rather it is based on what the overwhelming majority of all the greatest hitters throughout history did. If your youth players can learn to implement the information in this guide, it is going to set them up to have great success as they get older.
Creating a stance
Elite level hitters stand in many different positions in the batters box. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter where you start. Sure, once the player is older and are more knowledgeable about their mechanics, they can manipulate parts of their swing by changing their stance, but for right now lets just assume we want our stance to put us in a good athletic ready position. Most youth players have no idea why they are standing a certain way in the batters box… so let’s give them a good reason!
As a rule of thumb for beginning baseball players we want to first put them in a “universal athletic position.”
This position contains: 1. Feet spread out into a good athletic position 2. Slight tilt forward at the waist (chest over toes) 3. Evenly balanced (no more than 60/40 weight on back foot)
By starting in this position you are automatically putting yourself in the most athletic position possible.
Note:The batters back foot should be perfectly square to the front of the plate or slightly in. It is very common for youth players to start with their back foot pointing out… this puts their weight on the outside of their body, they are likely to stack their weight, which can make a full pivot more challenging. This body part moves at zero miles per hour, so make sure they check their feet every time… there is no excuse to mess this one up.
By starting in this position you are automatically putting yourself in the most athletic position possible.
Basic Geometry of Stance
Putting your players in this basic position is going to be the simplest.
Generally, the farther batters start away from launch position the more challenging it will be for them to get to the correct spot. Not that youth players can’t do it of course but it can often make it more challenging… we will expand on this concept later on.
Generally, the farther batters start away from this position the more challenging it will be for them to get to a proper launch position (scroll down to read more on launch position).
It doesn’t really matter how a hitter stands in the box. Some of the greatest hitters throughout time have had some of the most bizarre stances.
Note:When the batter is in the box you want to make sure they aren’t standing perfectly still… they should have a little movement or inertia created, this will help with their timing and cadence.
Where to stand in relation to the plate
As a rule of thumb the batter should not be too far away from the plate or too close. We want to achieve that perfect distance where the batter is able to hit a pitch that is low-and-away, as well as crush the pitch that’s up-and-in. If the batter is standing with their feet square in the box their front foot should be no closer than 8” and no farther than 12” from the plate. Taller players are going to have a longer bats than shorter players, which means they should stand a little further away from the plate than a shorter player. The most important part is the batter is able to hit pitches that are low-and-away.
Tip: An easy way to measure for younger players is to place the bat across the plate with the tip about 1” over the far side of the plate, and then place their foot where the knob of the bat is… it should roughly fall between 8-12” range depending on the size of the player.
Understand: this bat trick is just a general rule of thumb, this wont work as well for older players as their bat is too long.
The distance to the pitcher in the box will vary slightly from hitter to hitter. The most neutral place to stand in the box is with your front foot lined up with the middle corner of the plate. For slower pitchers you can cheat your way closer to the pitcher. For the faster pitchers, scoot back in the box a little.
Definition:The “launch position,” is defined as the 3-dimensional geometric shape of the body (including position of the bat) at the moment the front toe touches the ground, which if done properly is the instant before the hands fire forward.
One of the main elements of being a great hitter is being able to produce consistency within the swing. The swing needs to be able to be reproduced over and over until the player’s muscle habit patterns become so deeply ingrained that it’s the only swing the player knows. If we take one swing a certain way, and then try to take another swing a different way, we are doing ourselves a disservice. A player needs to be able to get into a good launch position over and over, regardless of the situation. It can be an extremely difficult task for youth players and should be THE MAIN MECHANICAL ELEMENT your players work on, because it is going to be the entire foundation for the rest of the swing. Stance doesn’t matter… launch position is everything.
Hitting a baseball is extremely reactionary. When we begin the loading process we have no idea where the pitch will be, how fast, how much movement, what type of pitch it is, etc. The only thing we want to have to rely on is our reaction, and our ability to make micro adjustments as the pitch comes in. The launch position is something a player should be working all for the length of their career. If you can get into a good spot here, the rest of the swing will often take care of itself.
Launch position is going to be our main reference point when analyzing the swing. Having a consistent reference point then allows us to use comparative analysis to identify the common mechanics of big leaguers. Lunch position can be found a couple different ways depending on what is happening with the swing.
At the big league level this occurs right at front toe touch, which is the instant before the hands fire forward
If you are going to no-stride you better be extremely strong and quick, or be stellar in the field because you are setting yourself up to swing from a weaker position… some players can do this and it works well for them, but it is only going to be a very small percentage of the population.
How to go from stance to launch position
Teaching your players to not step-and-swing and not to slip is one of the most important things they should work on.
Slipping is when the batter put their foot down too early and the swing doesn’t start right away, there is often a drifting motion that is then associated with it. The swing should start the moment after the front toe touches the ground; there shouldn’t be a delay.
A step-and-swing is when the batter initiates his swing before the front foot has hit the ground. Stepping and swinging is problematic for two reasons: 1. Major reduction in power potential 2. Makes off-speed pitches extremely challenging
The way we get to launch position is the idea of going “foot-forward, hands-back.”
“When instructing youth players, one of the most important fundamentals is teaching them how to load properly.”
Think of this as if the batter had a rubber band attached to the knob of his bat and the front of his foot… we are trying to create dynamic tension by “stretching this rubber band.” Ideally the batter stretches this rubber band, once the front food hit the ground the swing will start.
Stepping and swinging is the opposite of stretching the rubber band. Here are a couple examples of what stepping-and-swinging looks like. We can see the left handed hitter has a severe step and swing, while the right handed student is much better, but it is still present.
DrillWork on this concept with students by going “Stance… Launch…. Fire” and the players work on going foot-forward hands-back, over and over. As they learn this move you can start to shorten the duration of pauses between positions “stance, launch, fire.”
The hitter should always be timing off a fastball unless they are guessing strategically for another pitch.
*Note: There will be a slight delay on the start of the swing on off speed pitches due to the change in speed. The hitter should always be timing off a fastball unless they are guessing strategically for another pitch. Front toe touch is our main reference point when analyzing a swing. Angles at launch position
The geometric shape we create at launch position is one of the most important parts of the swing. It is amazing how consistent elite level hitters are at getting into this position properly. There is a large list of angles our body will create at front toe touch. Within each of these angles, there will be an upper and lower threshold. We just need to make sure we are within spec within all of these angles. It is actually pretty incredible how consistent these angles are in major league hitters.
I want to emphasize here again these are not just angles that we think are best. You will see a number of different pictures of major leaguers at the same moment in time getting into this position. Understand, these are players that didn’t grow up together, didn’t have the same hitting coach, didn’t play on the same high school team, might not even be from the same country, etc…. yet these are the players who never got weeded out. The players who made it to the top of the baseball pyramid… consistently get into this position the instant before the hands fire foreword. This is profound information, and it’s something the majority of hitting coaches know nothing about.
The most important ones to note for beginners are the following: – Knob of bat: points to ground around catcher’s feet. “Barrel up.” – Back forearm: Close to level to the ground – Front arm: Close to 135 degrees – Front forearm: Points slightly uphill (hands above elbow) – Even weight distribution – Slight tilt forward at the waist (universal athletic position) – Eyes: Level to the ground and square to the pitcher. – Spine angle: slightly back (nothing forward of vertical) – Front shoulder: Slightly down-and-in (at least level at best)
As the player gets older these angles become more and more important to achieve… at younger ages it’s more important for them to load properly and swing hard. They are going to have a very difficult time getting into this position, especially out on a baseball field with another beginner throwing to them. Dialing in all these different angles is going to be easier one-on-one vs. with the whole team. Learning to keep the barrel up is going to be one of the most important things they could implement.
Tip:Doing dry reps (Practice mechanics without hitting a ball i.e. swinging in the air) from stance to launch will help the players feel what it’s like to get into this position. “A proper launch position allows the hitter to properly swing on plane with power.”
Launch position (expanded) Bat angle: This is one of the most important elements of being a great hitter. Youth players are going to struggle with this; this is one of the most challenging parts of hitting for them. When the barrel is flat it sets the hitter up for higher pitches, when the barrel is nice and steep it sets the hitter up for lower pitches.
Disclaimer: At younger ages the pitchers often have a hard time keeping the ball down in the zone, and in order to keep the game moving at a normal pace umpires are often required to call pitches at the letters strikes. Pitchers often have to “lob” the ball to the plate in order for it to be a strike, which creates a big arch. The combination of these factors often lead to the barrel being flat… which can often cause success at young ages, but will severely hinder the player as he/she gets older.
Spine angle: Spine angle is going to be the axis of rotation; this is taken into account from the side view as well as the front/back view. Once a player gets to launch position, they then want to rotate as fast as possible around their spine. We keep the spine angle slightly back because it allows the hitter to more properly hit line drives with good trajectory. (INSERT MCCUCHEN GIF HERE #6)
Front shoulder down-and-in: This is going to create counter-rotation for the batter. The hips should be square to the pitcher at launch, while the shoulders are closed off down-and-in. This will create torque in the player’s mid-section/core, like a winding up rubber band ready to release.
Back forearm parallel to the ground: This is usually going to work directly with bat angle. When a player’s bat is too flat, the forearm hangs down more vertically. When the barrel is up, the forearm is way more likely to get level. This forearm should also be perpendicular to the line of the pitch… or parallel with the front of the plate Again, since youth players are almost always flat with their barrel they will usually have their back forearm closer to vertical.
Even weight distribution: This gives the hitter proper balance. Without good balance, the rest of the swing is likely to get thrown off somewhere down the line. If weight gets too stacked onto the back leg, the hitter will likely not be able to rotate as well or they will slip. See flaws on slipping.
Front Arm Angle: The closer the hitter is to 90 degrees the higher the contact potential. The more this arm is stretched out the more power they will have. Composite major league is around 135˚. Front arm should not get locked out and should never be less than 90-100˚.
Eyes Level: Players will often stand in the box with their eyes tilted down hill. This is going to cause major issues for them while trying to hit a moving object. Both eyes should be level and as close to square as possible.
Examples of Youth Launch Positions
Example #1 (insert youth launch position example #1 here, Picture #7)
This launch position from student 1 is pretty good! The barrel is pointing to the ground close to the catchers feet… he is a little wrapped around his head, but overall pretty good there. His back forearm is level with the ground, spine angle is back, front shoulder is slightly down and in, and he is close to evenly balanced. Overall pretty well done. You can see however he is pretty far back with his spine angle… we only say spine angle needs to be ‘slightly’ back, not way back… so getting the player to stay up a little more vertical would be a good coaching cue.
Example #2 (insert youth launch position example #2 here, Picture #8)
This launch position is more of a typical position for most youth players. We can see the barrel is a too flat… notice how the tip of the bat is hanging behind his head. We can also see the back forearm is hanging down too low. Again… bat angle and back forearm often go hand-in-hand. The player’s spine angle is good, but you can see his front shoulder is pointing uphill. The player is close to evenly balanced and his spine angle is good, so no worries there. This is your classic example of a typical youth launch position.
Example #3: (insert youth launch position example #3 here, picture #9) This is another classic example of a beginners launch position. This student did step-and-swing quite a bit. We can see the barrel is way too flat and too laid off… which we can see the back forearm also hangs down because those two flaws often go hand-in-hand. The spine angle is slightly back, which is good, but this is happening more so because of the front shoulder pointing up (along with the step-and-swing). The front foot did step in the bucket a little too. He is evenly balanced so he’s got that going on!
Example #4: (Insert youth launch position example #4 here, Picture #10) This student here also has a pretty good load. You can see the bat angle is right at the catcher’s feet along with his back forearm being level to the ground. That’s great! The main problem here is the front shoulder is pointing uphill.
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* Disclaimer: As mentioned before at younger ages this isn’t really a big issue because the pitches often come in from a steep angle. If this was a high school player it would be much more problematic, but for this 10 year old student… not the end of the world.