Congratulations to Mike Piazza on his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. As an Italian American, I am proud of his many accomplishments on and off the field.
Using relatively simple hitting mechanics during his playing days, Piazza is widely considered to be one of the greatest hitting catchers of all time. Here is a slow-motion video of one of his home runs and my analysis of his powerful swing:
Mike Piazza was known for his quiet and upright stance. At 6’3″, he effectively used his tall frame to generate consistent home run power. In the video, notice how Piazza’s body (especially his head) remains still as the ball approaches and he initiates his swing sequence.
Linear AND Rotational Mechanics
As the ball approaches home plate, Piazza lifts his front leg and strides toward the pitcher (linear mechanics). The green lines in the picture below show the length of this forward movement. It is just enough forward momentum to generate some initial hitting force. Hitters who stride too far forward lose the benefit of any weight transfer and they are unable to maintain leverage during the swing.
Like all great hitters, as soon as Piazza’s front foot touches the ground after the leg lift and short stride toward the pitcher, his forward momentum comes to a screeching halt. At this point, his lower body immediately begins to rotate violently. In the video, Piazza’s back foot actually pops off the ground as the swing is initiated. It is impossible for this to happen without full and forceful hip rotation. This is a classic sign of rotational hitting mechanics.
Leverage AND Extension
After Piazza’s lower body finishes rotating, his upper body naturally and forcefully explodes into the ball. By not over-striding, he is able to maintain the necessary leverage (diagonal red line) to drive the ball for extra base power.
In addition to his ideal leverage position, he extends his arms fully at impact with the ball. In the picture below, the green circle is the ball a split second after leaving the bat. Notice how Piazza’s arms are both fully extended in the classic “Power V” position.
The lethal combination of good leverage and full extension after the rotation of his upper and lower body was key to Piazza’s hitting power (427 career home runs) and high batting average (.310) over his 16 year career.
Full (Crazy) Finish
The end of Mike Piazza’s swing doesn’t look very pretty, but it was his trademark. Notice how he actually finishes with his front foot connected to the ground on his heel, which is very unconventional. He also wraps his bat around his neck to complete the swing. Even though this finish is unorthodox, it makes perfect sense to me.
I always tell my hitters to “Let the bat finish where IT wants to finish!”. Piazza “allows” his bat to finish in back of his head, without prematurely stopping the swing. The high bat speed he generates through the the violent angular rotation of his long body, forces the bat to finish in this position. The velocity of his swing also causes the front foot to seize up on the heel. Too many young hitters are taught to control the finish of the swing, instead of just letting it happen naturally. I would rather have a slightly awkward finish to a powerful swing than a perfect finish to a controlled and weak swing.
As an avid Cubs fan, it is always hard for me to root for anyone who played for the New York Mets, but I can make an exception with Mike Piazza. I respect the way he played the game and I admired his approach to hitting. However, there is no way I could include pictures of Piazza wearing his Mets uniform. So, I contacted Ezio Rati with the Federation of Italian Baseball and Softball. Ezio graciously provided these pictures of Piazza when he played for Team Italy in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
Mike Piazza will enter the Baseball Hall of Fame wearing a Mets cap on his head, but I am comforted knowing he has Italy in his heart.