There are a lot of hitting cues out there. Some are universally bad while others are merely problematic; they can solve some problems and help some players but are just as likely to hurt a player's swing.
The most common bad or problematic cues are...
- Knob to the ball.
- (Take/Drive the) knob to the ball.
- Push/Take your hands (directly) to the ball.
- Throw your hands up the middle.
- Take your hands straight to the pitcher.
- Push your hands through the strike zone.
- Throw your hands at the ball.
- Punch your hands forward.
- Drive your hands to the contact point.
- Take/Pull/Push the knob of the bat to the ball.
- Drive the hands to the contact point.
- Punch the ball with the knob.
- Hit the ball with the knob.
- Keep the barrel above the ball.
- Keep the barrel above the hands and the ball.
- Keep the barrel up.
- Drive your hands down (to the ground).
- Down to it and hard through it.
- Pull the knob to your hip.
- Stay on top of the ball.
- A to C hand path.
- Swing down on the ball (for backspin).
- Extend and make the Power V at the Point Of Contact.
- Level Swing.
- Keep your shoulders level.
- Don't drop/dip your back shoulder.
- Keep your eyes level to the ground.
- Stay tall (from the waist up).
- Get your front foot down early.
- Stand up straight.
- Get your barrel up.
Other bad or problematic hitting cues include...
- Keep your front elbow down.
- Keep your front shoulder closed.
- Stay on top of the ball.
- Hit the top half of the ball.
- Hit the ball out front.
- Swing with your wrists.
- Keep your front shoulder closed (aka "Don't fly open").
- Roll your wrists at the Point Of Contact.
- Line up your door knocker knuckles.
- Push off with your back foot.
- Keep your weight on your back foot at the POC (aka "Stay behind the ball").
- Finish high.
- Squish the bug
- You want your shoulders to finish where they started.
These hitting cues, which grow out of a number of myths about hitting, create a huge number of problems for hitters.
Knob to the Ball
The problem with taking the knob to the ball, throwing your hands at the ball, or some other variant of that cue is that, while in some cases it can produce good results, in many cases it can lead to a problem with Push Disconnection. I know that the development of the swing of my top client, Andres Torres, was hindered by his attempts to follow this cue. It was only when I taught him about Connection that Andres was able to hit consistently at the major league level. I discuss the problems with this cue in greater detail in this piece...
Keep the barrel above the ball
This family of cues is designed to keep the bat head from dropping below the hands and creating a loop in the swing. The problem is that "chicken-winging" is a hallmark of good Alignment and is how, along with Tilt, good hitters create the slight uppercut that allows them to match the plane of the swing to the plane of the pitch. If you aren't chicken-winging then your swing isn't as efficient as it could be. In fact, keeping the front elbow down can create a significant swing flaw called Dropping the Hands.
A to C Hand Path
I'm not sure who he learned it from, but I believe that Don Mattingly popularized the cue to take the hands directly to the ball, using the logic that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and because that cue keeps the barrel above the ball. While this makes logical sense, that fact is that no good swings, including Don Mattingly's, look anything like the swings you seen in hitters who try to follow this cue. I explain this in more detail in my piece on The Myth of the A to C Swing.
Swing Down at the Ball (for Backspin)
While it is possible for golfers to put a certain spin on a golf ball, they can do so because a golf ball is not moving. It is much harder to try to put a certain spin on a baseball that is coming in at 90+ MPH and moving in multiple directions. To hit a ball with backspin, you have to be able to hit the bottom half of the ball. If you think about the flight path of a baseball, you will see that as a ball descends through the strike zone, there is no way to get to the bottom half of the ball unless it is in the top third of the strike zone. Unless you simply get lucky, if the pitcher is doing their job and keeping the ball down in the strike zone then in most cases swinging down on the ball and trying to put backspin on it will only cause you to hit the top of the ball and pound it into the ground. If you do happen to get a ball that is up in the strike zone and manage to hit the bottom half of the ball, you are more likely to pop the ball up than you are to hit it just right. That is why no good major league hitters actually swing down on the ball. Instead, they all swing with slight uppercuts that match the downward plane of the pitch.
Extend (and Make the Power V) at the Point Of Contact
As I explain in greater detail in my piece on Extension, Extension is the effect of a good swing and not the cause of a good swing. That is why, in good swings at least, you only see extension after the Point Of Contact, not at the Point Of Contact. The only time you will see extension at the Point Of Contact is when the hitter is fooled just a bit and has to make a Z-Axis Adjustment.
Last year I had a hitter with a "perfect" level swing; every one of his swings came through at exactly the same height in the strike zone. Unfortunately, and really as a result of his level swing, he was unable to hit any pitch that wasn't thrown at exactly the right height. Instead, all you had to do to strike him out was to pitch him up or down in the strike zone.
I find that the biggest proponents of the level swing are new dads who haven't seen anything other than coach pitch, machine pitch, or the first year or so of kid pitch (in which the pitchers are just trying to throw strikes). Anyone who has seen higher level baseball or softball knows that good pitchers stay away from the middle of the strike zone, which leaves level swingers out of luck. As a result, the question to ask someone who is a fan of the level swing is, how can a hitter adjust to hit pitches up and down in the strike zone while still swinging level to the ground?
One reason why people started to advocate the level swing is because, if you look at clips of hitters who played prior to 1950 or so (e.g. Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Babe Ruth), their swings look more level to the ground because they were. Back then, umpires called a higher strike zone, which enabled hitters to swing relatively more level to the ground today. However, with today's lower strike zone, and the resulting greater emphasis on keeping the ball down in the strike zone, it is quite rare to see a high level swing that is even close to level to the ground.
In general, the problem with teaching the level swing is that it can hinder at hitter's ability to adjust to pitches and can cause a hitter to drop their hands rather than adjusting by Tilting. The result can be a top-down, arm-y swing that is inefficient and vulnerable to Bat Drag.
Get Your Front Foot Down Early
Planting the heel of the front foot starts the swing. If you don't get the front foot down in time, then you are going to be late. However, getting the front foot down too early is just as bad because it is going to reduce the efficiency of your swing and rob you of power. The problem is that many people, including professional hitting instructors like Rudy Jaramillo, want hitters to get their front foot down MUCH too early, usually at the release point. The result is that the hitter's Timing is ruined and they either have to slow down through the point of contact or they have to go from a flat-footed, dead stop and/or have what looks like a hyperactive front foot/leg. When I talk about the front foot with hitters, I tell them that they want to get their front foot down on time, not early.
Stand Up Straight
The other day I went to the batting cage and observed a father telling his daughter to, "Stand up straight." I assume he was worried about what he saw -- or had been told -- was a problem with dropping her back shoulder. However, after telling her to, "Stand up straight," he then proceeded to get on her because, as he (correctly) pointed out to her, "You're dropping your hands."
What this dad, and many people, didn't understand is that he was giving his daughter two completely contradictory pieces of advice.
How are you supposed to hit a low pitch, while standing up straight, except by dropping your hands?
The fact is that, "Stand up straight," is a bad cue because it keeps a hitter from being able to Tilt to adjust to hit the low pitch and forces them to either drop their hands or adjust by squatting down, neither of which are things that good hitters do. Yes, an excessive uppercut can be a problem, but "'fixing" it by telling the hitter to, "Stand up straight," can create its own problems.
To be honest, I'm still trying to understand exactly what problem people think they are solving when they use this cue.
I have seen some people talk about how standing up straight can help you see the ball better, but I don't see how tilting forward over the plate is supposed to hurt your ability to see the ball.
At a minimum, telling a hitter to stand up straight will put them in a very un-athletic position.
Some people advocate this because they look at video of hitters like Ted Williams and see that he stood up straighter and swung more level to the ground. However, and again, what they are failing to take into account is that Ted Williams played in a different era with a different (and higher) strike zone. I don't know if I have a single clip of Ted Williams hitting a pitch below the belt, much less around the knees. Obviously, if you are swinging at belt-high fastballs, you can stand up straighter and swing more level to the ground. However, that strategy isn't going to work in today's game when pitchers are taught to keep the ball down in the strike zone.
Get Your Barrel Up
I've been hearing this cue at the batting cages more and more over the past few years. As I explain in my piece on Launching the Swing from a Vertical Barrel Position, it's based on a flawed understanding of the swings of Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Barry Bonds, and other good hitters and can create a problem with Dumping the Barrel.
Other Bad Hitting Cues
I don't think there's any reason to ever use the hitting cues listed below because they are based on a fundamentally flawed understanding of the swing.
Keep Your Front Elbow Down
I have seen this cue create numerous problems, including difficulty hitting balls at the top of the strike zone. That is because of the numerous Problems with the A to C Swing.
Keep Your Front Shoulder Closed
I used to think that people didn't mean this literally; that they just want you to keep the front shoulder closed so that the hips have time to open up underneath it. That actually makes sense if not taken literally and is likely why the cue persists.
However, I know that multiple high-level hitters think that the front shoulder should stay closed through the Point Of Contact on every swing. For instance, Jose Canseco emphasizes that you need to keep the front shoulder closed through the Point Of Contact.
I have also heard David Wright say that the shoulders need to finish where they start, which implies no movement of the shoulders.
Stay on top of the ball
I have no idea why people think that hitting grounders is a good thing when that is exactly what every pitcher wants you to do (because grounders are never going to result in a home run and are usually some of the easiest balls for a good fielder to make a play on).
Hit the Ball Out Front
I'm not sure why David Wright has struggled over the years, but this piece in the New York Post makes me wonder what happened...
"I want him to be ready earlier," said Johnson, who has a strong working relationship with Wright. "I want him to hit the ball further out front." Essentially, Wright allowed the baseball to travel in too deep toward him last season...To get the meat of the bat on the baseball, Wright will work on setting up earlier and attacking the ball. That will be the focus throughout spring training...But it all starts with being ready to hit and hitting the ball out front.
I'm not sure what Howard Johnson is trying to accomplish by using these cues, but I assume the goal is to improve his Extension and fix a "problem" with Alligator Arms. Of course, the reality is that most people don't understand when extension happens or why, and Alligator Arms is a Phony Flaw. What's more, these cues can lead to a whole host of problems including Arm Bar and Casting and Push Disconnection.
To be honest, I don't know what the point of this cue is or what it is supposed to fix. However, I do know that it can cause problems in a swing because, in truth, in good swings the height of the finish depends on the height of the pitch. For pitches down in the strike zone, good hitters will finish high. However, for balls up in the strike zone, hitters will finish more around than up.
You can end up with a very strange, and flawed, swing if you try to finish high while hitting a ball that is up in the strike zone. As a result, and as long as the hitter is finishing at an appropriate height for the location of the pitch, I treat the height of the finish as a no teach.
Keep Your Front Knee Soft
I once had a very prominent local instructor, and former major leaguer, tell one of my players that one of the things he needed to focus on was keeping his front knee "soft." By this, the instructor meant that he didn't want the player to lock out his front knee. Instead, wanted him to keep it bent throughout his swing.
The problem is that this isn't what you see in good swings; in good swings, hitters will generally come close to locking out their front knees. They do this because it helps them rotate their hips.
Squish the Bug (aka Pivot on the Back Foot)
Squishing the bug reflects a misunderstanding of what a good hitter's lower body does when they swing the bat. Generally, this cue will tend to hurt a hitter's hip rotation.
Problematic Hitting Cues
Listed below are hitting cues that may work for some hitters but are just as likely to ruin a swing as they are to help it.
Don't Drop Your Back Shoulder
While the use of this cue is appropriate in the case of a hitter who has an Excessive Uppercut, in too many cases the use of this cue keeps hitters from being able to correctly and efficiently adjust to balls up and down in the strike zone. If you are tilting over the plate to make a Y-Axis Adjustment, then you have to drop your back shoulder or else you will be forced to Drop Your Hands.
Keep Your Hands Inside the Ball
While casting is bad, and this cue can help a hitter hold the Vertical V position, in many cases when I see people demonstrate how to keep the hands inside the ball they demonstrate a very pushy, linear swing rather than a good Curved Hand Path.
Take Your Hands to the Ball
I have found that in some cases telling a hitter to take the hands to the ball can help ensure that the hands rotate ahead of, and with, the back shoulder. However, this cue can very easily create a problem with a Push Disconnection. As a result, I very rarely use it, and only use it with hitters who have a severe problem with arm bar.
Attack the Ball
I'm not sure what the point of this cue is; maybe it's to get the hitter to be aggressive and swing hard. While that can be a good goal, and can help some hitters, I have found that being taught to attack the ball is a major cause of lunging and disconnection.
Keep Your Front Shoulder Closed
Trying to keep your front shoulder closed during the start of the swing can help to create Separation and improve the odds that your hips will pull your shoulders around. However, if you never open your front shoulder, then all you can do is swing with your arms or wrists.
Pull the Knob to the Ball
While this cue may help some hitters, I have seen it create problems with a Leaky Back Elbow in some higher-level hitters. In order to pull the knob, they slide their back elbows forward of their hands.
 A study by Alan Nathan showed that a much more effective way to ensure backspin was to hit curveballs, since the spin of the ball off the bat gets reversed.
 In Ted Williams' book The Science of Hitting, Ted Williams proposes that hitters adjust up and down in the strike zone by hinging their back knee. Mike Epstein also incorporates this idea into his teaching. The problem is that no good hitters actually adjust that way. Instead, they adjust up and down by varying their tilt over the plate.
 I recently went to a college baseball game and saw St. Joseph's play St. Louis University. One thing I noticed about the St. Joseph's hitters was that they all had what was basically a double or triple stride; they would stride very early, pause, and then, right before the point of contact, would stride again (or re-lift and then drop their front heel). While I'm not sure what was going on, what I believe was happening was that the St. Joseph's hitters were taught to stride early. However, their bodies knew that they were much too early. As a result, their bodies found a way to restore some rhythm to their swings, which was by doing a second (or even third) stride after their first, much too early, stride.