Hitting instruction is moving in a "more is more" direction. Instructors seem to be trying to impress people with huge volumes of information and tens or even hundreds of drills. The problem is that, instead of being impressed, many people are feeling overwhelmed.
Knowing that I literally wrote the book on the elevator pitch, one day at a family dinner my brothers challenged me to put together an elevator pitch for hitting.
So here goes.
Chris O'Leary's Hitting Primer
My experience with Andres Torres and then with my other MLB clients and my college hitters taught me that you don't have to give someone a lot of information to make a huge impact on their swing and career. That's why, while this piece is short, it can change your life if you read it carefully.
Andres Torres, who was my first hitting client at any level, first contacted me in 2008. He had stumbled across my flipbook analyses of Albert Pujols' swing. He couldn't argue with what I said; all he had to do was look at the pictures.
However, what I said contradicted everything Andres had been taught.
After explaining to him that what he was experiencing was common, here's how I helped Andres and my other hitters understand the high-level swing.
Why Rotation and Rotational Hitting?
If you asked me to give a hitting clinic and limited me to one concept, it would be Rotation and the general topic of Rotational Hitting.
Because of the importance Andres Torres attributed to the concept of Rotation. Here's Andres talking about Rotation in his own words...
I know about training, but hitting was difficult. And then in ’08, I was working with a lot of guys. … There’s a guy called Chris O’Leary (a St. Louis fan who kept online flip books breaking down Pujols’ swing). He’s online. He talks about Rotation. He got video examples of Pujols, and I watched that.
Certainly, there was more to Andres's success than just Rotation -- complementary and supporting concepts like Connection, Adjustability, and Timing were critical -- but the concept of Rotation was clearly a revelation.
Because it was the opposite of what he had been taught.
Barry Bonds Demonstrating Rotation
The problem is that lately, both when watching major league ballgames and working with my college hitters, I've been hearing a lot of people talk about the problem with Rotation; problems like flying open and pulling off the ball.
I believe flying open and pulling off the ball are phony flaws that don't having anything to do with Rotation. Instead, the problems that people are attributing to Rotation are, in truth, problems with Adjustability and the Timing of Rotation.
Not Rotation itself.
Chris O'Leary's 1-Phrase Hitting Clinic
If you asked me to give a hitting clinic, but only let me use one phrase, that phrase would be this.
Trust, but verify.
When I was coming of age in the late 1970s and early 1980s, my dad bought Charley Lau's The Art of Hitting .300 in an attempt to help me with my hitting.
His assumption was that the information was good and could be trusted, since it came from a major league hitting coach. As a result, I chalked my lack of improvement, and further decline, up to my inability to do what great hitters actually do.
Extension at the Point Of Contact
It wasn't until 30 years later that I realized that the true problem was that what I was taught wasn't what the best hitters did.
I found that, if I wanted to teach my sons better, I'd have to study the best hitters. That was easy, given that I live in St. Louis and I started my process of studying right as it was becoming clear that Albert Pujols was a special talent.
The lesson I learned the hard way -- by having my swing ruined -- is one you MUST take to heart. If you want the best for your hitter(s), you must approach everything you hear with a healthy skepticism and verify it. Fortunately, that's much easier to do than it was when I was a kid, and is even easier than when I first started studying hitting in 2004 or so.
Chris O'Leary's 1-Picture Hitting Clinic
Too many kids get caught up in what is style, not substance.
When it comes to the Stance, the picture above of George Brett shows a stance that will work for every kid, male and female.
I don't think it's a coincidence that Joe DiMaggio, another one of the greatest hitters of all time, employed the same stance,
Chris O'Leary's 1-Milestone Hitting Clinic
While there are a number of important milestones in the swing...
- Toe Touch
- Heel Plant
- Late Lag
...I find that hitters are helped the most when I make sure they understand Contact.
Chris O'Leary's 1-Shape Hitting Clinic
I use a number of shapes to describe the swing, and the first one I mention is what I call the Power L.
Chris O'Leary's 1-Word Hitting Clinic
If you asked me to give a hitting clinic, but only let me say one word, that word would be this one.
While some put down batting tees, and even go so far as to say they should never be used, I use batting tees with my college and professional clients because they are the best, and sometimes the only, way to work on certain concepts.
In terms of youth baseball, the value of a good batting tee was driven home to me on vacation one year. I was staying with my brother and some friends, and they saw me working with my nephew and asked if I could take a look at their son's swing. I set him up at the tee and, after tweaking his stance and how he held the bat, just let him swing the bat. After a few swings, his father exclaimed, "Those are the best swings he's ever taken. Ever."
The fact is that, when their kids are just starting out, too many people spend their money on a good bat when they should be spending their money on a good batting tee (and then a good helmet).
The biggest point of confusion about the batting tee is where to place it. While I do like to place the tee deeper father back in the stance when working with my college hitters, when working with kids I like the tee to be around the middle of the front foot, as you see in the picture above of Matt Carpenter hitting a home run.
For my money, the best batting tees are Tanner Tees.
Chris O'Leary's 1-Drill Hitting Clinic
If you asked me to give a hitting clinic, but only let me talk about one drill, that drill would be one that's based on Carlos Beltran's double-step.
Carlos Beltran's Double-Step
Since I'm encouraging you to buy and use a Tanner Tee, I need to teach you how to use it correctly.
In my experience with hundreds of kids and other new hitters, I have found that when they step up to a tee, they tend to set up wrong; they set up...
- Too far off the plate (toward the dugout behind them)
- Too far forward (toward the pitcher).
Which may explain why some people don't like batting tees.
I like to teach people how to set up using Carlos Beltran as an example because his double-step -- the way he steps back toward the catcher before stepping forward toward the pitcher -- makes it easy for the hitter to locate correctly relative to the tee.
Starting from foot plant and contact, you want the tee to be located at the toe of the front foot or a bit back toward the catcher. Since the forward step toward the pitcher will tend to be longer than the step back toward the catcher, the toe of the step foot should start at or a bit behind the tee.
- The back-step should be roughly 1 shoe length.
- The forward-step should be roughly 1.5 to 2 shoe lengths.
Since the back-step should end up with the feet roughly shoulder width apart, for balance, that means that the back foot should be roughly a shoulder width plus two steps from the back edge of the back foot.
In terms of how far back toward the dugout the hitter should stand, most hitters set up too far off the plate so they can hit the ball at full extension. The problem is, while that may work for little kids, it won't work against live pitching for long.
A hitter wants to set up close enough to the plate that...
- They can still hit a pitch on the outer third of the plate
- Off of the outer third of the sweet spot of the bat
- While still maintaining the Power L.
You will notice that I didn't say anything about the plate.
That is because the point of contact, and thus the placement of the tee, should be based on the position of the body, not the plate.
Chris O'Leary's 10-Minute Hitting Clinic
After you've read everything above, I have a few additional thoughts.
It's the Same Swing!
What's the value of looking at...
- Adults when you're coaching kids?
- Males if you're coaching females?
- Baseball players if you're coaching fast pitch? Or vice versa?
It's the same swing!
If you look at the hitting diaries I have made public, you will see that I taught the same basic things to...
...and to a number of major leaguers, including...
How is that possible?
How can you teach the same thing to a muscle-bound college baseball player and a stick-armed tee-ball player?
A High-Level Swing
In part, because kids (should) play on scaled-down fields and swing lighter bats. They also shouldn't be playing "real baseball" until at least 5th grade.
The first concept I focus on is Rotation, for the simple reason that so many young hitters don't rotate well and are often coached out of rotating.
While the high-level swing is characterized by a curved hand path, not a linear hand path, virtually every high-level swing -- even the ones characterized as no-stride -- contains at least some linear stride. However, as Ted Williams observed, there are problems with striding too much.
Why did Mark Trumbo go from a power-only hitter in 2014 to a complete hitter and lead the league in home runs in 2016?
Part of it has to do with a number of conversations we had about the Swing Plane.
Carlos Beltran's Swing Plane
In the clips above and below, the line turns blue when the barrel drops below the ball.
Carlos Beltran's Swing Plane
While a slight uppercut is the goal, if you have a hitter who can't eliminate an excessive uppercut, no matter what they do or you try, the issue may be Bat Drag.
There are a few milestones that I use when teaching hitting and evaluating a hitter's swing.
The swing starts when the hitter's front foot leaves the ground as they step into the pitch.
It's important that hitters be ready to swing; that they are in an athletic position with their knees bent.
Among other things, and regardless of how it starts, what I'm looking for at Foot Plant is that the barrel is roughly halfway between up and down and the front elbow is away from the chest.
Problems can arise and holes in the swing can emerge if at Foot Plant...
- The front elbow is too down and the barrel is too up.
- The front elbow is too high and the barrel is too flat.
You can tell a lot about a hitter by looking at their swing halfway between Launch and Contact.
When evaluating whether a hitter is keeping their hands inside the ball or not, one of the things I want to see is some flexion in the front elbow, rather than a front arm that is barred out. That is because Arm Bar will reduce the efficiency of the swing.
While it can be a root cause, Arm Bar can also be a symptom of Bat Drag.
The key moment for me, in terms of understanding hitting, was learning what good swings (actually) look like at Contact.
Don't Worry About...
There are a number of things that parents and coaches fixate on that aren't worth worrying about, at least when it comes to newer hitters.
- Front Elbow Down
- Back Elbow Up
- Front Foot Closed at Foot Plant
- Extension (Especially at Contact)
The problem with many of these cues is that they are rooted in any number of myths and misconceptions about hitting.
Bat Drag is the most common and deadly swing flaw in younger hitters and is something parents of younger hitters must be aware of, especially if their hitters have problems with...
- Power, but only to the opposite field.
- Increasing numbers of strikeouts, especially starting around 5th grade.
- An excessive uppercut in the swing.
Bat Drag results from hitters trying to power their swing with their arms, causing the bat to drag behind the hands into contact rather than whipping around them.
Fixing Bat Drag explains how to prevent it and how to fix it if you're too late to prevent it.
- Get the barrel up (vertical)
Swings to Study
There are a number of ballplayers whose swings are relatively simple and who would be good hitters to watch and study.
- Carlos Beltran
- Robinson Cano
- Matt Carpenter
Meh, Good & Bad Words and Phrases
There are a number of words out there that you will here. Here is my opinion of the most common ones.
Even though it's all the rage, for me "Bat Speed" is just a meh word. The problem is that, while some of it is good, as with many things, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
I was taught to get to Extension at the Point Of Contact, and it ruined my swing. The problems with trying to hit everything at Extension is that you will reduce your Adjustability. You will also be right before the point where the wrists will roll.
Leverage is a great thing for golf and for slow pitch softball, but a bad thing for baseball and fast pitch softball. The problem is that there is no need for Adjustability in golf and slow pitch softball, but Adjustability is critical to baseball and fast pitch softball, and by focusing on Leverage, you can't but help to reduce or eliminate your Adjustability.
Where to Go from Here
I have put together a number of other pieces, including my FREE 10-Minute Pitching Clinic.
If you really want to dig into the nitty-gritty of hitty, but in a way that, like this piece, makes it easy to understand, you should consider becoming a client.