Well, I survived my bike ride across the beautiful state of Iowa. As expected, each day of riding included some challenging hills to climb. On one particularly difficult ride, I could see several hills lined up down the road. It struck me that each hill rose from the ground at an angle that could help me describe the ideal swing path for baseball and softball hitters. This is the sixth hitting key.
Before the upper body begins to rotate, the shoulders should be at the same level. As soon as the upper body begins to rotate, the angle of the shoulders should slowly begin to change. The back shoulder should gradually become lower than the front shoulder for three reasons. First, by slowly lowering (not dipping) the back shoulder, it will be easier for the hitter to “square up” the ball. If you watch the swing path of great hitters, they typically will have a bat angle of approximately 10% at impact. This angle at the moment of impact will lead to more line drive hits.
Second, a gradual lowering of the back shoulder during the swing will propel the bat on a path that will powerfully rise through the remainder of the swing, just like one of those hills in Iowa. It will still appear that the bat is coming through the strike zone on a relatively level plane, which is good. Sound rotational mechanics ensure the bat remains in the hitting zone as long as possible. However, at the moment of impact, angled shoulders are necessary to drive the ball powerfully to all fields.
Finally, this swing path will create as much leverage as possible. When the back shoulder is lower than the front shoulder at full extension, the hitter should be able to really feel total leverage at the point of impact with the ball. To illustrate this, I playfully tell my hitters that if I try to slap them in the face with the back of my hand with my shoulders square, it would hurt. However, if I lowered my back shoulder and extended my arm fully before hitting them in the face, it would REALLY hurt. The same holds true for the baseball swing. By simply lowering the back shoulder slightly during the swing, hitters can really hurt the ball.
It is important to note that I am not advocating “dipping” the back shoulder, Hitters who actually dip their back shoulder do it very quickly, which usually leads to weak fly balls, I teach the gradual lowering of the back shoulder to make sure the bat begins and ends on the correct trajectory. In the past, I have asked my hitters to think of the ideal swing path like an airplane gradually taking off. After climbing dozens of rolling hills in Iowa, I now have another way to describe the “right path”!