He has never had a hitting lesson. His baseball shoes are sandals. He has never seen a baseball game on television. He practices on a patch of dirt surrounded by tiny homes in a village that is lost in the middle of a sea of sugar cane. He plays baseball all day and often into the night. His swing is beautiful and his power is prodigious. He has a major league smile and he loves the game of baseball. He is a natural!
In my last post, I wrote about a young hitter I met during a visit to Olivares, a small sugar cane village in the Dominican Republic. His name is Alex and his favorite baseball player is former Major League slugger and fellow Dominican, Sammy Sosa. I was amazed and mesmerized as I watched Alex hit during the seemingly endless pick-up game with his friends. How did he develop such sound hitting mechanics with little or no formal instruction? My theory is Alex’s hitting mechanics have been “naturally” refined and improved from the first day he picked up a bat, or something that resembled a bat. He must have figured out by trial and error what adjustments were needed to hit the ball harder and farther. I think my instant bond with Alex was due to the fact that this is exactly how I learned to hit. The countless hours hitting on the fields and pavement in my hometown when I was Alex’s age molded my swing and formed the basis for the hitting mechanics I teach today.
His Power Source
Alex must know that real power comes from the ground. The pictures below show Alex and Dominican star Jose Bautista at the peak of their “load” positions. Like Bautista, the majority of Alex’s weight is stacked on his back leg, extending down through his back foot into the ground. From this position, Alex is perfectly poised to effectively use the valuable weight he transferred during his “load sequence”. This will be the driving force behind his powerful swing. Hitters who don’t load like Alex and Bautista sacrifice bat speed and power, because they rely primarily on their arms and wrists to hit the ball.
Depending on where the pitch is thrown, this balanced position also allows Alex to make the fine adjustments necessary to drive inside or outside pitches with authority. For example, if he wants to hit a pitch on the outside corner powerfully with his body to the opposite field, all he needs to do is recognize where the pitch is coming and then put his front foot down toward home plate. Conversely, if he wants to pull and drive a pitch tracking inside, he will simply place his front foot down slightly to the left of where it started. Hitters who choose not to pick up their front foot during the load sequence don’t have the luxury of making these slight, yet important adjustments as the pitch approaches the strike zone. These hitters have to reach for the outside pitch and are more susceptible to getting jammed on inside pitches.
I can prove using my Swing Speed Radar or my Zepp sensor that the position of the hands immediately before the initiation of the swing can be the difference between a long fly ball and a long home run. In my post, The Calm Before The Lightning http://torque-hitting.com/2013/06/21/the-calm-before-the-lightning/ , I describe how important it is for hitters to give themselves enough “runway” to generate maximum bat speed. A hitter can have a perfect load and the most powerful body rotation, but if the runway for the swing is not long enough to achieve maximum batspeed, then most of the pre-swing power generation is wasted. In the picture above, Alex’s hands start near his head, but by the time he is ready to initiate the swing, his hands are extended back towards the catcher (pictured below).
No matter where the hands start, all great hitters eventually get to this strong launch position. I tell my hitters to think of the correct hand position like an airplane ready to head down the runway. All airplanes need enough runway to reach the required speed in order to take off. The knee jerk reaction I often get from critics of this hand position is it will make the swing too long. Instead of reviewing here why this criticism is just plain wrong, read my post on the difference between a “quick” swing and a “fast” swing. http://torque-hitting.com/2013/12/14/whats-better-a-quicker-bat-or-faster-bat/
Finally, look how Alex and Dominican baseball star Hanley Ramirez watch the pitcher with both eyes. When they move their hands back toward the catcher, their front shoulders naturally coil around their heads. Not only will this position result in more power, it enables them to turn their heads fully to see the pitch clearly. Hitters who don’t move their hands back often look at the incoming pitch across their bodies, which gives the pitcher a decisive advantage.
Alex and Ramirez also know that when the rotation of the upper body is finally triggered after the complete rotation of the lower body, this slight coil of the upper body before the pitch translates into even more batspeed. I estimate this small adjustment increases batspeed 2-3 mph.
Heck, even the logo for Major League Baseball depicts a hitter in this powerful launch position.
I promise not to lecture again on the benefits of great extension at or immediately after impact with the ball, although I’m tempted. Instead, I will let the pictures (below) of Alex and Sammy Sosa make my case. No one taught Alex how to extend his arms in a “Power V” at impact. Like all of his mechanics, I believe it was out of necessity that he learned to extend his arms. At some point, Alex figured out on his own that if he wanted to hit the ball over his home and into the sugar cane field, he would need some “lightning” in his swing. http://torque-hitting.com/2013/06/16/how-to-put-lightning-into-your-baseballsoftball-swing/ He discovered that extending his arms was the natural way to generate maximum batspeed at the moment of contact with the ball. Also, notice how Alex’s head is locked on the ball at impact…..textbook!
As a side not, I was also impressed with how violently Alex rotated his lower body. One sure indicator that a hitter is rotating properly is the back foot often “pops” off the ground. In the picture above, Alex rotates so powerfully into the ball that his back foot is forced into the air. Hitters who fail to fully rotate the lower body become “stuck”, with the back foot too connected to the ground. They are unable to achieve the same leverage as hitters like Alex.
Here is a picture of my favorite player of all-time, Roberto Clemente hitting a home run. Although Clemente is not from the Dominican Republic, he was known for the violent rotation of his lower body, which would cause his back foot to naturally come off the ground.
Even though Alex and his fellow countryman Robinson Cano have violent swings, they both finish totally under control. These final poses are the culmination of hitting mechanics designed to hit with power and consistency. All that is left for them is to watch the ball as it rises above the crowd and far into the sugar cane field or the bleachers at Yankee Stadium.
Alex may not have a television, but at some point he must have seen a video of his Dominican hero. Or, maybe this is just how Dominican baseball players were born to celebrate Home Runs.
Here is the full video of Alex’s swing. I have watched it dozens of times since returning from the Dominican Republic. I even loaded it on my iPad, so I can play it in slow motion for my baseball and softball hitters. The responses are always the same….”He’s a natural!”