The last post described how extending the arms fully at impact with the ball is like a lightning bolt. However, before the “lightning”, a hitting question that is always highly debated is “What is the ideal initial bat position?” If you watch any baseball or softball game, you will see almost every hitter with a different initial bat position. Some hold the bat high and others hold the bat low. Some hold the bat close to their bodies and others hold the bat away from their bodies. The combinations seem endless.
Hitting instructors will often tell hitters to hold the bat in a position that is comfortable. I’m all for comfort, but most hitters find the most comfortable position is high and close to their face. This bat position may be comfortable, but it will not result in optimum bat speed. Other hitters are instructed to keep their hands close to the body, in order to be “quick to the ball”. In my opinion, this is bad advice and the premise just is not true. During lessons I use the bat speed radar, which is an objective source, to disprove this theory.
In a group lesson, I will set up in a position with my hands relatively close to my body and even with the back of my head. If I am instructing an individual, I try to place my hands in the exact same position as the hitter, which will make the illustration more impactful. Next, I take a few swings (in their bat position) using as much power as I can generate, to come up with an average bat speed number. Then, I move my hands back toward the catcher, which results in almost total extension on my front arm, approximately 6 inches behind my head. It usually only takes one swing to make my point, because this swing typically registers over 10 mph faster than the imitation swing with my hands near my body and head. The reaction is always the same—Wow!
I then immediately proceed to walk off 50 feet from home plate to reinforce the message that for every additional 5mph of bat speed, the ball will travel 25 additional feet (as described in the Sport Science video on bat speed in the video section of this site). By merely moving my hands back toward the catcher, I realized 50 additional feet of distance. After this illustration, hitters are usually anxious to move their hands back toward the catcher and away from their bodies. This dramatic increase in bat speed from merely adjusting the position of the hands disproves the myth that hands close to the body make a hitter quicker….it actually restricts their bat speed. I continue to be focused on increasing bat speed, because it allows hitters to read a pitch for a split second longer, which is a huge benefit to the average hitter, in addition to greater power.
Two additional natural benefits of a bat position back toward the catcher and away from the body are hitters will be forced to look at the pitcher with both eyes over the front shoulder, and the body will automatically coil slightly for more power. Why are both of these important? Let’s start with the eyes. I always ask hitters how many eyes they look at the pitcher with. Of course, there are only two possible right answers, and I usually get both. I believe the answer is simple. It is easier to do anything athletically, except maybe shoot an arrow or a gun, with TWO eyes. When hands and the bat are back, the body naturally coils, allowing hitters to easily turn their heads directly over the front shoulder to see the oncoming pitch with both eyes, as opposed to looking across the body with only one eye. Observing the release point, determining the spin of the pitch, and watching the ball as long as possible, is much easier with both eyes. This may seem elementary, but most hitters look out of the side of their head when the pitch is thrown.
As for the body coil, all I mean by this is if you move your hands back toward the catcher, the front shoulder naturally turns inward. I refer to this as the slight coil of the upper body, which will make a contribution to optimizing power later in the swing. I tell hitters it’s like a spring. When a spring coils and then releases, more power is generated than if it was never coiled in the first place. A slight coil of the shoulders may not seem like very much, but if it increases bat speed by only 1-2 mph, then that is another 5-10 feet of additional distance the ball will travel, which could be huge in this “game of inches”.
To summarize, holding the bat close to the body and away from the catcher, results in slow bat speed, minimal power, and shorter reaction time to the pitched ball. On the other hand, a bat position away from the body and back toward the catcher, will result in high bat speed and increased power. The higher the bat speed, the longer hitters can wait to see the ball before swinging. This is the real meaning of being “quick to the ball”. Try it!
Here are pictures of hitters who have great bat position: