Baseball is a game that constantly teaches if you are willing to learn. I feel I have learned a lot about the baseball swing over the past year and a half and I am excited to share some insight.
It started with my friend and teammate Chris Colabello. Chris went from 7 years in the independent leagues to the big leagues. Watching him hit a baseball was a pure joy and talking to him about his swing changed the way I look at a baseball swing.
I was also challenged by some of you through comments on this website, which made me look into things a little more. What I found may not be new or groundbreaking for some people out there, but to me it’s been an eye-opening year.
The importance of Bat Path
I was taught like many others out there to take my hands to the baseball, use my top hand, and chop down at the ball. This process would keep me “short to the ball” (a very common thing coaches talk about) and help me to be consistent more often.
There was only one problem, the best hitters in the game were not hitting that way. To make it more confusing, they often use the same terminology – but the way their swing came together it looked very different from mine. The first glaring difference was bat path.
Personally I know how difficult it is to be consistent in this game. I have had good seasons and very bad seasons statistically. I find it amazing how the same hitters year after year are tops in the league in slugging percentage, batting average, home runs, doubles, etc.
That led me to ask, “Why are the same great hitters consistently great, year after year?”
Bat Path, Part 1 – Getting your bat into the hitting zone
I had a very steep entry point into the hitting zone. I was taught if you “chop down” the baseball will go up. It was a similar thought to hitting a golf ball. But the more I talked to some great hitters and found a few coaches that devoted themselves to watching video and learning the baseball swing (Big thanks to Bobby Tewksbary and Mike Bard, who have been teaching “The Truth” for some time now), I was able to see how early the best hitters get their barrel of the bat into the hitting zone.
Their bat was in the hitting zone BEHIND their back leg… compared to myself, who wasn’t getting in the zone until my front leg at the earliest. That is a good 2-3 feet that I am missing out on!
This really hit home when I compared video of my swing against Albert Pujols. My bat was in the hitting zone for about a foot vs Albert Pujols who was in the hitting zone for almost 4 feet. Common sense tells you that if your bat is in the hitting zone longer your timing doesn’t have to be as perfect to hit the ball well.
On the left – Me getting my bat in a position to get in the hitting zone earlier.
On the Right – Me with a steep angle chopping down at the ball.
Bat Path, Part 2 – Swing trajectory
Another part to bat path is the angle in which you are swinging the bat. Most people talk about having a level swing. I also hear swing down or swing up depending on what we have been taught or a deficiency in our swing we are trying to put a band aid on.
A point that was made to me that made so much sense was to swing level with the trajectory of the pitch. Again, common sense tells me that if the barrel of my bat gets into the hitting zone early, and my barrel is traveling on the same path as the ball is coming, that is a pretty good 1-2 punch.
Instead of thinking about swing level, up, or down, we want to swing angle at the trajectory of the pitch.
On the left: Me getting on plane with the ball earlier. Swing is level with pitch trajectory.
On the right: Me pushing my hands down to the ball hoping to meet the ball in the hitting zone.
In both photos I believe the image on the left is a much stronger and more consistent position to attack the baseball when starting your swing. A bat path with early entry to the hitting zone and getting level with the pitch trajectory is a trait that all great hitters possess.
These two areas of bat path is exactly what the best hitters in the game do. I don’t want to put up pictures that infringe on any copyright laws but take a look around and see if you can see what I am describing. If you can do nothing else but have a proper bat path in your swing, you will increase your chance of being a better, more consistent hitter.
Below is a video from Bobby Tewksbary, who was the one to teach Chris Collabello this philosophy of hitting.
As you know, this website has made a very strict policy of only allowing contributors who have played/coached at the MLB or MiLB level. While Tewksbary has never played at that level himself, he works with several major league players who have demonstrated the merit of his approach. In fact, Tewksbary has given me some very valuable feedback on my own swing this offseason. If you want to learn more about Tewks’ approach to hitting, his ebook has 1.5 hours of video and 120+ pages of more detail. Click here to check out his ebook.
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I’ve stumbled on this same philosophy with my son through the years – the bat’s arc should be along trajectory of the ball. I’ve also come to believe that baseball orthodoxy has almost every player in a stance pointing his/her bat too high and wrapped too far – which makes the first movement of the swing a correction. To me, holding the bat flatter with less wrap allows getting the bat into the ball’s path quicker. Also, it seems most well timed misses are because the bat goes under the ball suggesting flattening the bat during the swing is creating an excessive dip. If you start flat there is no dip.
Holding the bat flatter causes you to lose bat speed.
Loved this article. Obviously altering swing plane and bat path is a difficult adjustment for many guys, and something that would often be addressed in the offseason. Do you have any advice for a high school coach looking to help players in-season with these types of adjustments without rebuilding the entire approach?
That’s a great and very difficult question to answer. If I had to chose one thing to focus on maybe in tee work or soft toss work, I would suggest as the stride foot is taking its stride the bat needs to start laying flat. Most players don’t complete this move but it can be obtained in a controlled and slowed environment, like the batting Tee. Also, if the player needs a little more time to complete this move make sure he is landing with a bent front leg (it will straighten at contact) I hope this helps, I work on this move everyday and its something I still struggle with. I wish I knew all of this 15 years ago, but I think this may be something players could work on during the season without having to revamp their swing. Make sure that they only think about it in the cages and once they get in the batters box, they just try to compete with any type of swing they have that particular day. Hope this helps and good luck.
One of Tony Gwynn’s major points about hitting was “swing the knob”. Would you say he is right or wrong based on this post?
I would be crazy to call Tony Gwynn wrong in anything he did on a baseball field. But I do know that different people use different terminology and focus on completely different things to get the same result. I know that Tony Gwynn’s bat path is something I and many others are trying to replicate.
Did anyone else notice that the two pictures on the right are exactly the same?
great piece, you broke it down very well…I came away with a couple of nuggets. I would throw this back in there….yes mechanics are an important part of successful hitting BUT in my mind the most important and consistent part is that Good hitters, swing at good pitches to hit.
Doug, great piece with importance of finding early swing plane that all effective hitters do consistently year after year as you mentioned and why nobody talks about it…One player in particular is Joe Mauer. Of course there are many other factors that contribute to his success as well. Pitch count, video, situational, practice, tremendous ability reading the pitch off release, knowing pitcher tendencies among many others, but I truly believe athleticism by both being naturally blessed and hard work accounts for a large degree of his success and advancement. I remember back in little league 30 yrs ago when opposing Coach Rosga (his boys all were DI athletes) had all his players keep bat level w ground in loaded position and not 45 degrees in order to have swing plane in zone (ball path of pitch) longer…at the time it was revolutionary, strange, and with tremendous success! I will completely understand the importance of getting in early swing plane for greater success! I would be interested in knowing what Erik Lovdahl would have to say as a pitching instructor for MN Twins youth camps and batting practice pitcher for MN Twins and played against him back in little league…(many, many players from around that period went on and played professionally in minors). There were some tremendous coaches back then prior to time of video that understood mechanics and taught athleticism. I would also like to comment on athleticism and for people to check out Dean Brittenham and athleticism (author of several books on this subject for all sports).. This is a huge component to success as so many young athletes these days are specializing in a sport oftentimes way too early and are becoming too robotic in movement and losing “flow”, ” fluidity” or “athleticism”… -former DII two sport athlete and collegiate coach
This is a nice post, it shows difference between two hitting. it reduce the time of hitting. Baseball bat is also important for good swing. it depends on the swing of bat and moment of inertia.
One of my sons’ baseball coaches shared your site with me, specifically, your 12 signs of good base running post and this post. I was looking at the pictures you shared of yourself and reading about your research. I thought you might be interested in watching some of Dr. Chris Yeager’s videos. He is my sons’ batting coach. He has worked with MLB players for years and continues to work with MLB players. He analyzes a player’s swing using video and compares it to the movements of the best hitters. Two things that I think you might be interested in are the “landing position” of the stride and how it helps the body get into the bat path position and the throwing like motion of the best hitters.
Here is a link showing his qualifications: http://www.dryeagersbaseball.com/dryeager.htm
He has a great library of videos on Youtube that really take the different components of the swing apart and give detailed explanations. This is a link to an introductory video. http://youtu.be/forXqJ01EuM If you are interested in more detail, you should find what you’re looking for in his other videos.
By the way, I’m not getting paid to do this. I just happen to think he’s a great coach and we’re lucky to have him.
Great comments about getting the barrel on plane with the downward flight of the ball as soon as possible.
I explain to batters how important it is to bring one’s barrel down into a level plane with the downward flight of the incoming ball.
My experience tells me that what sets one’s body into position to do so first comes with one’s rear knee pivot which fires/positions the hips which in turn sets the shoulder movement into their proper up and down tilt, batters need to be taught that during one’s hitting approach their swing should not be rotational they should tilt up and down on a lateral axis, all on a vertical plane, one’s swing is not a rotational movement.
The upper torso movement, shoulders, arms and hands etc should be executed as one movement, all together.
Best of luck in your quest to become a great major league player.
Wish I would have had enough maturity to have given myself the chance to see how far I could have gone in the game, I did quit with a banner season behind me though, league home record, 102 RBI’S, 23 doubles etc.
Great Base Ball-N
You can see the difference in the swing positions, I think it has more to do with him using his body better and using his hands less. That is the one area I have always strongly disagreed with so many MLB people especially scouts, that is the comment about hitters using their hands. If hitter is in powerful position he is getting into his legs hips pushing down creating ground force energy, he hips at the same time fire forward followed by hitter’s back shoulder. If this happens the back elbow and hands will get pulled by the big muscles in the body and you see the bat come close to the hitter’s body first then release into hitting zone. In his earlier pictures he is using hands too much and they are in front, that is like trying to walk on your hands instead of your feet. Using smaller muscles to pull/push bigger muscles instead of other way.
Totally agree Dwight. That is a problem I see with my son. He gets out in front with his hands and loses power. You are right on.
Excellent article Doug