Too many hitting instructors, including -- and often particularly -- at the highest levels of the game, teach movements that are different than what the best hitters (actually) do. As a result, many hitters are coached out of good movement patterns and, eventually, baseball.
I have dealt with this problem personally and repeatedly in my work with major league hitters like Mark Trumbo, Andres Torres and Tommy Pham and my interactions with countless minor league hitters.
I first discussed this problem in a piece entitled Ruined, where I explain how the swings of a number of major leaguers have been ruined...
- David Freese
- Jason Heyward
- Yasiel Puig
In this piece, I discuss how that could happen and what can be done to fix the problem.
The Problem with Hitting Instruction
Early in 2012, after the Cardinals had completed their improbable run to their 11th World Series title, I stumbled across a picture of David Freese that I instantly fell in love with.
If you asked me to give a hitting clinic, but only let me use one picture, I could build a one or two hour hitting clinic around just this picture.
What's more, that picture of David Freese led me to stumble across my favorite picture of Mickey Mantle and one of my favorite hitting pictures, period.
That picture of Mickey Mantle then led me to the picture below of a minor league baseball player. That, sadly, is where this story takes a turn for the worse.
If you compare the swing of that MiLB hitter to the swing of Mickey Mantle, you can see that they are an almost perfect match.
MiLB Hitter and Mickey Mantle
The problem is that, as I monitored that hitter's progress, I didn't see the success that I expect to see. Instead, first his ability to hit for power disappeared then his ability to hit for average disappeared.
As of the end of 2016, he has been released by several major league organizations.
So what happened to that hitter who was a clone of Mickey Mantle and 2011 World Series hero David Freese?
A well-intentioned, but ill-informed, (now MLB) hitting coach is what happened.
He coached that hitter out of Mickey Mantle's swing and into a swing that is very commonly taught and that in no way resembles what the best hitters (actually) do.
The Limits of the State of the Art
The majority of hitting cues and drills, while they may work for some people in some circumstances, tend to do (far) more harm than good.That is because they are inconsistent with reality.
They don't teach hitters to do what the best hitters (actually) do.
I know that from my experience working with hitters like Mark Trumbo, Andres Torres and Tommy Pham, hitters who I first had to teach what a good swing (actually) looks like before they were able to be successful at the major league level.
What kinds of cues am I talking about?
Listen to pretty much any baseball game or to MLB Network's break-down of swings and you will hear them saying things like...
- Take your hands directly to the baseball.
- Keep your hands inside the ball.
- Keep your front elbow down and the barrel above the ball.
- Get on top of the ball.
- Don't dive over the plate.
- Get your front foot down.
- Get your arms extended.
- Full extension at the point of contact.
- Stay tall and maintain your leverage.
- Stay on the ball and don't pull off of it.
- Keep your front shoulder in.
- Take your hands/the knob directly to the baseball.
- Pull/Lead with the knob.
- Swing down on the ball for backspin.
- Load up on your back side and transfer your weight to your front leg.
- Level swing.
- Flick your wrists.
- Squish the bug.
- Rotate onto the point of your back foot.
- Throw your hands at the ball.
In the case of the MiLB hitter I mention above, what killed his swing was a combination of some of those cues and a particularly problematic approach to powering the swing.
An approach that may also end up killing Tim Tebow's (IMO realistic) chances of achieving his baseball dream.