Swing Path (Ancaster Baseball)

PrintSwing Path
Written by Tim Olsen

One of the biggest problems with hitting—Dropping the Barrel

The swing plane is the path (or arc) the barrel of the bat takes around the body. The majority of kids have a similar problem with their swing plane. It’s a very common problem with youth hitters. The problem is caused by dropping the barrel of the bat to level (or even below level) a split-second before the swing starts. This causes the bat to be in good position to hit the high pitch—but terrible position to hit the low and the low and inside pitch.

And a low pitch to this hitter—is between the waist and knees. This is the prime hitting zone at higher levels. Also, high-level hitters apply the most leverage by swinging in an arc such that at contact—the barrel is lower than the hands. Keeping the barrel up—puts the knob in the same plane for good strikes and allows starting the knob in that same plane—making the swing shorter. To swing at the higher pitch from a position with the barrel up--comes natural. The barrel flattens naturally because of gravity and hand pull--and falls right into the flatter plane. However, if a hitter has pre-flattened the barrel—he has a couple ways (exercises in compensation) to go after a lower pitch. To compensate, the hitter must then:

- Use his hands early to bring the barrel up and over the shoulder—this throws the barrel out of the most efficient inside-out path and brings the barrel to the outside-back portion of the ball. To make matters worse, the barrel is descending to the contact point and never has adequate time to match the plane of the incoming ball. Worse yet, the wrists now have a tendency to start rolling early. All these are bad mechanics.
- The second way a hitter may make this adjustment is by dropping the rear shoulder and/or coming around the rear shoulder. The batter is trying to retain the flat plane he started with--even on a lower pitch. In addition to dropping the rear shoulder, the batter may attempt to adjust by bending the knees lower so that the flatter arc can get to the lower pitch. The problem here is that you are using the lower body to make finite adjustments to a quickly approaching pitch. This is taking the lower body away from what it should be doing—starting a kinetic chain to get the swing effectively started.

The worst part of both of these compensation methods is that it adds extra mechanical actions. Instead of bringing the knob—and then the barrel--smoothly into an arc around the body—the hands must additionally try to force the knob down—and raise the barrel. Or the body must adjust by dropping lower or dropping the rear shoulder.

To determine how to fix this problem—you must first understand the underlying causes which I believe are:

- Throughout their early learning, kids have coaches that don’t keep the ball down in the zone. Essentially, coaches must lob the ball—the ball starts with a high arc and often stays that way—and kids groove a highball swing. If a coach throws dropping pitches that start high as well but then drop down, many kids will lunge forward to hit the ball before it drops down into the proper hitting area.
- Other factors are that kids are more comfortable standing upright and early on—don’t adequately bend forward at the waist. Also, kids are more prone to swing at the high pitch because it is closer to the eyes.

Further, in youth-level games—many umpires--because of bad umpiring mechanics--call lots of high strikes and don’t call enough low strikes. The slow pitching speeds at this level, allow kids to do well as highball hitters. By the time they reach more competitive levels—many kids have developed high ball mechanics which means they often:
- Flatten the barrel just before the swing starts to be in position to deliver a flat blow to a high pitch. But they can’t hit the low one well.
- Drop the back shoulder when needed to get lower. Creating uppercut and other problems.
- Dropping the lower body (knees lower) which is not an accurate way to get on the plane of the pitch.
- Don’t keep the shoulder down and in and wait for the ball. They often pop up during the early part of the pitch and don’t wait (especially on offspeed pitches). Not only does their head movement make the pitch appear to drop even more, but the opening up of the body and jumping at the ball makes it difficult to stay with an outside pitch. Many of the corrective actions coaches suggest to hitters may address these problems—but not the underlying causes. Here is the way I would fix this common problem. First, the barrel must be kept up (more vertical is better than flatter). I say at least 45 degrees or higher—although straight up I believe is counterproductive. The barrel must not be allowed to drop back down based on the impact of any cocking motion the batter employs. Often, hitters with a hitch will drop the hands—and the barrel will point straight up. But when the hitter raises his hands back up—the barrel will often continue too far—into a flat position.

So by constant repetition, and checking and rechecking with video, the coach can get the youth batter to focus on keeping his hands stacked—and therefore the barrel in a more vertical position at the start of the swing-launch position. However, of equal importance is the focus of the batter. If the batter is not keeping down on the ball—looking for strikes from the knees to the waist—it is doubtful that the mechanical change will be retained. They must be drilled on lower pitches with techniques such as forward underhand toss and then have practice at full pitching distance and wait for the pitches to drop into the zone (and if they don’t, don’t swing). They must stay down and avoid coming up (raising up as they stride).
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Printed from ancasterbaseball.ca on Sunday, December 17, 2017 at 9:00 AM