I look forward to the high school and college playoffs every year to see the best hitters on the best teams. What always surprises me are the home runs and extra base hits by hitters who have swings that are not very pretty, especially softball players. I can often be overheard questioning my television…”How the heck did THAT ball leave the park with THAT swing?” With relatively short home run fences in high school and college softball, some hitters can be fairly successful using only their upper bodies to generate power. This produces some awkward looking swings. In baseball, awkward swings can produce singles and doubles, but baseball hitters typically display pretty solid mechanics when they drive the ball out of the park. Before I make the softball community too mad, I want to review why an awkward or ugly swing can still produce great results.
As I searched for reasons why ugly swings can be effective, I decided to analyze some college softball swings in slow motion. To my surprise, the answer was obvious. Even though the entire swing may not look very good, these hitters still do one or two things really well. For example, hitters who fail to incorporate their lower body to generate power, could still hit the ball a long way by having great extension. Conversely, hitters who don’t necessarily have good extension, could still drive the ball with a powerful load to initiate the swing and good body rotation.
Here is the real problem with an ugly swing……Consistency. Rarely, do you see baseball or softball players with awkward swings hit for a high average. The goal for all hitters should be to hit with power AND consistency. Hitters who accomplish this in baseball and softball do several things very well, and they typically do them in the right order.
The latest buzz word used frequently by hitting instructors is “sequencing”. Basically, this is just the linkage between individual hitting keys. For my hitters, the desired sequence after the proper set-up is a powerful load, independent rotation of the lower and upper body, full extension, and a natural finish. I have written about each one of these hitting keys in previous posts, but it is important they work in concert with one another.
Even good hitters go into slumps. Understanding the importance and impact of sequencing can quickly get them back on track. I always tell my hitters the best way to break a slump or to hit the ball with more consistency is to focus on the beginning of the hitting sequence, which is the “load”. When the body is accustomed to doing something a certain way, any deviation can cause internal confusion. If hitters rush their load, this will cause premature rotation of the lower and upper body. This timing problem will force hitters to rely more on their arms to hit the ball, which will result in poor extension and a weak finish.
However, when hitters load slowly and powerfully, the body remembers this is the first step in the power hitting sequence. After the familiar load, the body will automatically progress through the remaining hitting keys smoothly and naturally. This will lead to consistency that “ugly hitters” have difficulty achieving.
Here are videos I have previously posted of Alex Hugo (University of Georgia) and Miguel Cabrera, which are great examples of the sequencing of hitting keys that lead to consistent power:
I salute all the ugly hitters who enjoy flashes of greatness. There is a place in baseball and softball for hitters who don’t look very good, but get the job done. Sometimes, pure athleticism can overcome poor mechanics, but these hitters are rare. I will continue to shake my head when I see a bad swing result in a home run, but I will now be able to better appreciate some of the beauty in that ugly swing.