This post contains 2 batting drills to help with hitting for power [New video, see below]. However, first we’re going to need to deal with some fact vs fiction on the topic of backspin.
Backspin – Separating Fact from Fiction
Recently there’s been a lot of confusion about backspin, even major disagreement among Major League baseball players and coaches.
For many years, conventional wisdom has said:
- Conventional wisdom #1 – “Backspin is important when hitting for power”
- Conventional wisdom #2 – “Chop down on the baseball to create backspin.”
“Chopping down” on the baseball may create backspin, but the problem is, most elite hitters don’t actually hit that way.
They may feel like they’re hitting downward, but the way it often gets interpreted by coaches and young hitters is that they believe they should have a swing path that is literally chopping downward.
That is unfortunate because, in the words of Cardinals’ Brandon Moss regarding bat path, “Don’t chop wood. Terrible. It’s a short swing, but it’s a swing that takes absolute perfect timing. You have to be so precise. If you don’t hit it right, you clip it. It’s on the ground, or it’s a foul out, or it’s a backspun fly ball which goes nowhere. Match your shoulders and your hips with the barrel of the bat.”
So, should hitters still try to achieve backspin?
What the pros say… Certainly without a doubt, many Major League hitters and hitting coaches still preach backspin.
According to former Red Socks hitting coach and 13 year Major League veteran Greg Colbrunn:
“…backspin, is something we work on daily… Some days we’ll come out and just check the spin of the ball. Hitting off a tee, or short toss, you just watch the spin of the ball. It’s usually a pretty good indicator that everything is working right” (Source, 2013).
What science says… Physics tells us that air resistance and the spin of the baseball have an effect on the baseball’s trajectory. It’s called the Magnus Effect and it’s the reason that pitcher’s can throw sinkers, sliders, curveballs, etc.
How does that affect hitters? Theoretically…
- Topspin makes the baseball dive downward
- Backspin makes it stay in the air longer, essentially fighting gravity (source).
“Physics of Baseball” Physicist and professor at University of Illinois, Alan Nathan summarized his research findings for me in a recent Twitter conversation: “Distance change from 0 to 1000 rpm backspin is big; distance change from 2000 to 3000 rpm is small.” (March 20, 2016)
Bottom Line. In this case, physics seems to agree with conventional wisdom in that backspin is preferred over topspin or no-spin when going for distance/power. Topspin will cause the long ball to die or dive down earlier.
If chopping down is NOT the right way to create backspin, what IS the right way?
If we accept the following:
- A steep downward bat path is not desirable.
- A level, slightly uppercut swing path is desirable.
(Need more convincing? Search “backspin” at Tewkshitting.com, a great resource on the topic of bat path)
That leaves us with several other aspects of creating backspin without chopping down:
- Contact with the bottom half of the baseball. Making contact with the bottom half of the baseball ball and staying through it will create backspin
- Bat path, staying through the baseball. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox second baseman on creating backspin: “I think it’s probably both [a skill and natural]. You have to hit through the ball. What creates backspin is after you hit the ball — you hit through it and that’s how it carries.”
- Bat path, staying inside the baseball. Robin Ventura, Chicago White Sox manager: “It’s basically your bat path that gets you backspin. Some guys naturally have it and some guys have to learn, basically, how to get it. Backspin is more about being square. It’s about having the bat come in and make square contact on the inside part of the baseball.”
- Natural by-product of good mechanics and solid contact. According to Prince Fielder and Paul Konerko, backspin is the natural by-product of good swing.
Many of these quotes came from a Fangraph post by David Laurila
2 Hitting Drills to develop a proper bat path & help with backspin
Both of these drills focus on developing good bat path while staying in and through the baseball, which ultimately will help with creating backspin.
Drill #1 – 45 Degree Angle Drill
Why it works: This drill uses an extreme open stance which forces the hitter to exaggerate the motions required for a level swing. For a hitter who is having trouble getting his bat down into the zone early, this should help.
How to execute the drill:
- You’ll need: Batting tee or soft toss
- Adjust your stance to further back and more open than your normal stance. Watch the video or see diagram. You should be able to follow the line of home plate through your back foot.
- Swing at regular speed. Focus on being in your legs and getting your bat down and on plane with the pitch trajectory as early as possible.
Drill #2 – Half speed, inside tee Drill
Why it works: A very important part of a proper swing path (and also hitting for power in general) is having your elbow “in the slot.” By that I mean tucked firmly against the rib cage.
This drill simply exaggerates the elbow position, bringing focus and body awareness by requiring the player to keep it tucked for the entire swing rotation.
The slow speed of the drill is just another way to cut down on distraction and keep the the focus on the elbow for the duration of the movement.
It may feel and look a bit awkward, but a few swings like that will communicate to a hitter faster than any words what that back elbow should be doing.
How to execute the drill:
- Set up your batting tee on the inside and forward part of home plate (see image or video), and then raise up the height slightly
- Set up in your regular batting stance
- Swing and hit the baseball at half speed
- Focus is on getting the elbow into the slot and keeping it there as long as possible even after the baseball has been hit
*Refer to the video above for more details on executing these hitting drills.
Did you miss it?
- Baseball Hitting Drills for Power: Part 1, Intro (the danger of hitting drills)
- Baseball Hitting Drills for Power: Part 2, Timing
- Top 5 batting tees – Tested with thousands of swings from the pros
- 10 Life lessons learned from baseball
There are 5 videos in this series that are going to be released over the next couple weeks. Be sure to subscribe to email updates so you don’t miss out! Click Here to Subscribe