If I were Commissioner of Baseball, one of my first official acts would be to ban coaches and commentators who praise hitters for “keeping their hands inside the baseball” or “staying inside the baseball”. I am always both amused and frustrated when I hear this, because it is silly, and it doesn’t make and (hitting) sense.
Let’s start with the silliness of even using this phrase. Unless the ball actually hits the batter on the hands or the lead arm during the swing, ALL HITTERS KEEP THEIR HANDS INSIDE THE BALL! I understand what is trying to be conveyed by using this phrase; I just wish those using it would find a better way to describe batters who pull their hands into their bodies to hit pitches to the opposite field.
This phrase is also code for letting the ball travel deep into the hitting zone, before using a flick of the wrists and arms to poke the ball to the opposite field. Hitting instructors who teach “staying inside the ball” typically believe that contact is more important than power. This is bad advice, because I know it is possible to make consistent contact AND hit with power to the opposite field.
Derek Jeter was known as a hitter who was able to let the ball get deep in the hitting zone and still hit it for power to right field. It didn’t make any difference if the pitch was an outside or inside, Jeter’s natural tendency was to take almost every pitch to right or right-center field. As a hitting coach, I loved watching Jeter hit and would tip my cap every time he delivered a clutch shot to the opposite field. Derek Jeter is part of a small group of hitters in baseball history who could use this type of hitting approach successfully. Others included Hall of Famers Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn.
The name of the game today in baseball and softball is power AND consistency. Unless an inside pitch sneaks up and jams a hitter, there is no reason to bring the hands into the body after the initial set-up. Great power comes from great extension. Hitters who are taught to move their hands in as the ball travels deep into the hitting zone, are sacrificing precious power in order to make some degree of consistent contact. These hitters have difficulty extending their arms, which forces them to rely on their wrists and arms to generate power.
I believe the basic premise of letting the ball travel deep into the hitting zone is flawed. The ideal area to make powerful contact with the ball is out toward the front portion of the hitting zone. Making contact in this zone naturally allows hitters to extend their arms fully at impact with the ball, resulting in optimal power.
I have written several times about the two primary benefits of lifting the front leg to begin the swing sequence. The first is to effectively stack a hitter’s weight on the back leg and foot to capture the power that emanates from the ground. The second, and equally important benefit, is to hit inside and outside pitches with power.
Let’s assume a pitch is tracking inside, hitters who lift their front leg are able to re-plant their front foot slightly outside of where it started in order to achieve unimpeded hip rotation. If the hips are allowed to rotate fully, hitters will have enough room to extend their arms completely. Hitters who don’t lift their front leg are more susceptible to getting jammed on inside pitches. Or, they have to start their swings much earlier to get any meaningful extension.
The same is true for outside pitches. Hitters who lift their front leg are able re-plant the front foot slightly toward home plate to achieve enough hip rotation and arm extension, without reaching for the ball. Hitters who don’t lift their front leg have to awkwardly reach for the outside pitch or wait for the ball to get deep in the zone to make only marginal contact. These are the hitters who are praised for “staying inside the ball”, which always causes me shake my head.
What most people don’t understand is Derek Jeter only allowed the ball travel deep into the hitting zone when the ball was pitched inside, like the picture above. This allowed him to drive the ball to right field. Most hitters would turn on that inside pitch and hit it to left and left-center field. If the ball was pitched down the middle or on the outside corner, Jeter would hit the ball in the front portion of the hitting zone, so he could extend his arms for more power. Here is a video that proves my point.
I’m not sure where all this “staying inside the ball” stuff started, but I hope it eventually fades away. After reading this, hitters who pull their hands into their bodies while waiting for the ball to travel deep into the strike zone should realize they are playing right into the hands of pitchers and defenses. When I see hitters who intentionally try to stay inside the ball, I encourage pitchers to pound the inside of the strike zone to jam them. This will induce weak ground balls or easy fly balls. It is unfortunate that even strongest hitters become very average when they TRY to stay inside the ball.
Since we now can agree all hitters stay inside the ball, there is no reason to manually move the hands at all during the swing sequence. Great hitters keep their hands still, while allowing their bodies generates power from the ground up. The arms and hands will automatically explode into the ball after the powerful rotation of the lower and upper body. Instead of staying inside the ball, these hitters crush the inside of the ball!