In the social media age of baseball instruction, there is a lot of different buzzwords and terminology that get thrown around, which can leave people confused and unsure which person to listen to. No matter what you want to refer to it as there is one movement in the swing that is always a main focus of mine when working with or evaluating hitters. Lets start by taking a look at one of the best to ever do it.
Clip from @Bj1Brent
The part of the swing I would like to focus on is the action of the barrel working back behind him. I believe that this movement is a major factor in separating the best hitters from average hitters. If you are a student of the swing then you have heard terms like, direction, getting on plane, working deep in the zone, this is where all of these things start. And hitters that are not efficient with this movement often struggle all the before mentioned characteristics. The first point to make is we need to think of swing length in terms of time, not distance. If you were to take your hands straight to the ball, as many are taught, you could think of this as a “short” swing, in terms of distance. However when you start to judge the swing in terms of time, you see a much different picture. If as the ball is traveling towards the hitter, he begins to take his hands towards the ball two things will happen. First the distance between the bat and ball is getting shorter, as you take the hands forward you are in fact losing time, so even though the path the bat is taking is “short”, in distance, it is actually a “long” swing. The second factor to consider is as the hands and bat work forward the hitter is not creating any bat speed. The hands pushing forward is a very slow movement and again when thinking of time, if something is moving slowly we are falling into the trap of a long swing. Continuing to use Bonds as the example, lets take a deeper look at what is he is doing. As you will notice very quickly what Bonds is doing is not the pushing motion mentioned above, it is a much different more effective pattern.
After the gather, and the barrel works out over the plate, you will begin to see him reading the pitch. This is where is gets interesting. As the ball works towards the plate notice as the bat begins to work back AWAY from the ball, not towards it. As the body begins to rotate, the barrel is creating resistance against that rotation working in the opposite direction. In doing so the bat is working into the zone at its deepest point, and as it is entering the zone it is moving with some speed. So while the bat path is much longer in distance than the push forward, it allows the hitters to be able to catch the ball much deeper in the zone, and is making the swing much faster. Both of which, in terms of time, are creating a much more efficient and adjustable swing, allowing for a much bigger hitting zone and more time to make decisions. Timing in hitting is everything, the more time you can give yourself to decide to swing and to read the pitch the more advantageous your swing is going to be.
Derek Florko (@SaberCoach) works with the Prospect Team with Baseball Prospectus.