I’ve been thinking a lot about that video with Josh Donaldson on his approach to hitting, and I can’t help but think that some of what he was saying got lost in translation when it comes to the topic of The Perfect Baseball Swing.
First of all, most of us didn’t get the whole picture. There’s a famous where he says “ if your coach Telles you to get on top of the ball, tell 'em no?
The clip got shared around online but the video released was an edited version. There was actually a longer version that’d more context to what he was saying and this. leads me to my first point. A lot of good and bad advice gets clumped together because of the semantics of words.
The Art & Science of The Baseball Swing
Hitting is an art just as much as it is a science. Here's a great example - Ken Griffey and Harold Reynolds talking "hitting." The Kid, The Prince, The Phenom - he shares his secrets to success.
Let’s break it down. Notice how some of his talking points run counter to modern hitting philosophies.
Look at his hands…
He’s mimicking “getting on top of the baseball.” A little bit different from Josh Donaldson’s breakdown.You can actually see the movement in a lot of his swings.
He’s heavy on driving DOWN through the zone. The rotation of his hips levels out the swing. It’s how he stays on the plane of the pitch - long and often. It’s almost as if he’s pulling down on a rope that’s attached to a bell.
He’s aggressive on the pull-down.
How GRIFFEY communicates his “feel vs real” is different from today's standards.
Here’s my next point.
Even some of the best hitters struggle to find the right words to articulate what they were trying to do at the plate. Some sound like they’re speaking in code - the words they use are vague and subjective. It’s hard to really understand what they’re trying to communicate. While others speak and it sounds like words of wisdom or a string of pearls. Hitting and reaching peak performance at the plate is such a subjective experience It’s not surprising there are so many different takes.
You can do a deep dive on YouTube and you’ll get two legends explaining the same thing in two different ways.
And another day you’ll Get two different hitting takes that completely contradict each other.
It’s a challenge to explain “feel for what is real”. This is why great hitting coaches - are such a rare breed.
There are plenty of good ones…
But if they haven’t touched it, felt it, or lived the art of failing with a bat in their hands - it’s hard to communicate it. Sometimes - the best hitting coaches are the ones who never played a lick of big-league or pro ball but were nonetheless obsessed with the art of hitting.
Important Hitting Concepts
Getting on top of the baseball.
We hear “get on top” or “work the barrel above the ball“ and some hear “chop down on the baseball.” In many ways - as hitters - we can feel the concept of “chopping down on the ball” and still execute a mechanically sound swing.
That doesn’t mean you’re actually chopping down.
When the hips clear, the bat-path levels out.
Again - feel vs real.
Words are words - how we communicate them, matters.
Instead of adopting a hitting philosophy like its gospel or assuming that an approach is wrong. We simply need to continue asking questions. Never afraid of being wrong or sounding stupid. The goal here is to encourage critical thinking.
"When everyone is thinking alike, no one is thinking at all.”
What’s my point?
Just because everyone is hitting a certain way, doesn’t mean you should too. It’s important to keep an open mind, but not so open your brain falls out. In other words - do your own research and question everything.
Hitting Trends VS Principles
We saw the evolution of the slight up-swing with Ted Williams as a player and coach.
We saw the disciples of Charlie Lau with a more linear style in the swing.
Part of his MO was:
- driving down
- straight to point of contact
- getting on top of the ball.
If you look at hitters like Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs, and George Brett, you really see just how different swings were in the ’80s and early ’90s.
Hitters looked more stiff. Many of them had closed set-ups in the box and were hinged at the hip during the batting stance.
Hard contact, getting the bunt down, moving over base runners, execution, specialty hitting, and small ball - that was an important part of the game back then.
And now we have the era of measuring production.
Slugging %, OPS, WAR. And various other key performance indicators that are designed to predict the future value, success, and performance of a current prospect.
The long ball, extra-base hits, RBIs - that’s what sells today…
And I get it.
As they say, “Numbers don’t lie.” Bunting, singles, and stealing bases over the course of a season - MAY not BE as valuable as slugging percentage but I think there’s one thing we’re not factoring in.
What happens when the pitcher or the opponent makes an adjustment?
Strikeouts Vs The Perfect Swing
Strikeout percentages have increased each for the past 3 years. Since 2017 - there have been more strikeouts and pop flies now than at any point in the history of the game.
2017, 2018, 2019 each had 40,000 + strikeouts.
Almost double than 40 years ago.
In my opinion - Hitters are having trouble with the elevated fastball because their swings are primed for the pitch down in the zone.
In my opinion - I believe it’s because of the ethos of the launch angle and the culture of trying to hit the ball as far as you can instead - hitters now have a hole in their swing.
In my opinion - if you can’t drive the ball consistently to all parts of the field, and be a really tough out with two strikes, you’re just a dressed-up put.
In my opinion - It’s really hard to hit the ball UP in the zone when the first movement is the collapse of the back shoulder.
So here’s my take - what message are we sending young hitters who aren’t even built to hit for power?
Can you imagine if David Eckstein, Dustin Pedroia, Tony Gwynn, or Ichiro Suzuki were taught at a young age how to hit for power by incorporating a lift in their swing?
No FRIGGIN WAY.
Launch Angle VS The Perfect Swing
Look - it’s not that I’m not a fan of the launch angle. I think measuring it has tremendous value - simply because what gets measured, gets managed and that’s always a good thing. My issue is this…
I don’t see a lot of young hitters learning or being taught how to handle the pitch up in the zone - when really this is where they should be doing their most damage at the plate. Some of your furthest balls hit will be the chest-high fastball or breaking ball.
Ever since a pitcher is 9 years old - they’re taught to keep the ball down.
Because the ball up in the zone is the easiest pitch to hit when the hitter is geared up and ready to attack the next pitch. That’s why it’s called a mistake pitch. When we’re teaching hitters to get on a "path" with the plane of the pitch but fostering an early collapse - we’re engraving a hole in their swing.
The 3 Planes of a Perfect Swing
This is a hill I’m prepared to die on. A good swing has three planes. The pitch down, the pitch at the belt, and the pitch at the letters. The higher the pitch is, the less of a hinge and the flatter the path of the bat. The lower the pitch the more of a hinge and collapse with the back side, the less - flat the path of the bat.I believe this is the missing puzzle piece for a lot of young hitters. The ability to be aggressive and attack pitches up in the zone.
From here, they can POST-UP and then adjust down, the same way elite hitters will look away, and then adjust in. Now, the hitter has the discipline to lay off the breaking ball in the dirt because they’re sitting on something up in the zone.
This is hitting I.Q and it’s the way hitters are going to have to adjust to pitchers or are also making adjustments. Baseball is a GAME of adjustments.
Hitting trends change from decade to decade.
But hitting principles will never change.
- Hitting the ball to all fields
- Keeping the head still
- A nice load & separation
- A Controlled and aggressive swing
- Balanced at point of contact
- The bat-head staying on the plane of the pitch, long and often
….in the year 2080, when the umpires are robots, draft picks are being chosen through AI algorithms
hitting tactics will still evolve, but hitting principles will be the same.
Ultimately - this is just my opinion.
I’m still and always will be, a student of the game.
What starts the baseball swing?
The separation of the hands and the balanced stride before the hips fire the hands.
What is the perfect swing in baseball?
The perfect swing starts from the ground up. Balanced at point of contact with the intention to hit the ball with authority to all parts of the field. The bat head should stay on the plane of the pitch as early and for as long as possible.
Why is it so hard to hit a baseball?
It takes 400 milliseconds to recognize the spin, speed, and location of the baseball. It takes roughly 150 milliseconds just for the brain to tell the body to swing. That means a hitter has less than 300 milliseconds to decide whether to swing or not.
As hitters, we have to cut ourselves some slack. Hitting is hard!
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