The baseball world marveled over the patience, discipline, and timely hitting displayed by the Kansas City Royals as they beat some of the best pitchers in the Majors on their way to a World Series Championship. The New York Mets pitching staff known for gaudy strikeout totals, was frustrated by the Royals hitters who were rarely over-matched and frequently came up with clutch two-strike and two-out hits. What was the secret to their hitting success?
The key for the Royals hitters during the season and the playoffs was their hands. Specifically, it was how quiet their hands were before they offered at pitches. Major League hitters start with their hands in many different positions, but most eventually get to the proper “launch position”. The Royals hitters wasted little motion getting their hands in the right launch position and they kept them there as long as possible!
Here is a picture of Eric Hosmer of the Royals in the ideal launch position:
Even though some Big League hitters enjoy success with very active pre-swing hand movement, I have always contended that any hand movement is wasted movement, especially for amateur hitters.
Take a look at the swing of Alex Gordon. Notice how still his hands are until AFTER his body has already initiated the swing.
The main problem with too much pre-swing hand movement is once the hands (and bat) start to move, hitters lose some degree of control. As soon as the hands move, so does the bat. The more the bat moves, the earlier hitters are forced to commit to swinging at the pitch, no matter where it is.
If hitters get the pitch they are looking for, they may get away with some pre-swing hand movement. However, hitters rarely get the exact pitch in the exact location they are expecting, so this unnecessary hand and bat movement makes them susceptible to good breaking balls and change-ups. Pitchers love hitters who have active hands, because it makes it easier to identify weaknesses or “holes in the swing”.
The Royals proved in the World Series that quiet hands not only enabled them to successfully hit off-speed pitches in critical situations, they were also effective against the fastballs from the flame-throwing young Mets pitchers. The harder they threw, the more controlled the Royals hitters appeared in the batter’s box. The Royals used their quiet hands to react quickly and powerfully to whatever pitches the Mets were throwing.
Here is another video of Alex Gordon’s swing. In addition to his quiet hands and bat, he has a powerful and controlled leg lift, he enjoys great extension at impact with the ball, and he maintains this extension until the swing is completed.
It is important to also notice how his hands and wrists barely move at all during the swing in both videos. Like clutch athletes in any sport, he relies on the big muscles in his body to generate power, not the little ones. I previously wrote about the importance of keeping the hands and wrists perfectly still not only for power, but for more consistency. Small parts of the body like the hands, wrists and arms don’t contribute to real power. In fact, they tend to lock up in pressure situations. Here is the link to a post I titled “Wrist (In)Action”
I can’t prove this, but I believe if the hands move first, a message is immediately sent to the brain that the hands and arms are going to lead the swing. Conversely, if the body is the first to move while the hands remain still, I think the message to the brain is the hitter wants to use his or her body (legs, hips, and shoulders) as the force behind the swing to generate power.
The Royals used their quiet bats against the Mets to spoil great pitches and make contact for timely base hits. However, throughout the playoffs, they also displayed power when they needed extra base hits or home runs. A quiet bat does not mean a weak bat!
I know baseball and softball hitters like to develop their own style, which includes all sorts of crazy pre-swing movement. For some, it is a timing mechanism. For others, it’s just a way for them to stay relaxed. Unfortunately, all these gyrations serve as poor examples for young hitters who try to emulate the swings of their baseball and softball heroes. I have seen too many high school and college hitters suffer from lack of power and low batting averages due in large part to unnecessary pre-swing hand and bat movement.
Congratulations to the Kansas City Royals for winning the World Series and for showing the baseball world a fresh (and quiet) approach to hitting.