Throw Your Hands At The Ball? (Part 1 of 2)

By Mike Epstein

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. But, I have the toughest time trying to understand how a hitter can be taught to stay “inside” the ball—and to also “throw his hands at the ball”—both at the same time.

What am I missing here? What are we all missing here?

Staying inside the ball
Staying “inside” the ball has become a hot topic over the past 25 years. The problem started with the introduction of the ultra—light, ultra-resilient aluminum bats and linear mechanics in the 1970s—because these two variables absolutely thwart its proper execution.

Until the emergence of linear mechanics, most every hitter was rotational. The introduction of rotational hitting mechanics by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in the early 1900s radically changed the dimension of hitting for years to come. “Babe” Ruth emulated Jackson’s technique, and his unparalleled success single—handedly ushered in baseball’s “Golden Era” of offensive excellence. This lasted for fifty years, until linear mechanics came on the scene in direct response to the ultra-light, ultra-resilient aluminum bats and artificial playing surfaces in the mid 1970s. Since 1995, we have gone back to rotational mechanics for common-sense reasons: today’s ballpark playing dimensions are significantly smaller, hitters have much smaller strike zones to work with, virtually every field today incorporates a natural grass playing surface and, finally, the introduction of minus3 aluminum bats have helped dictate this changeover.

It should be a “non-teach”
If my memory serves me correctly, I don’t ever remember anyone saying “stay inside the ball” when I was an active player. Today, my experience as an instructor tells me the reason. It is what I call a “non-teach.” Rotational hitting automatically—AND NATURALLY—puts the hitter into a “hands inside the ball” approach position. Therein lies the reason why very few players before the advent of the aluminum bat manifested this problem.

The reason “staying inside the ball” happens naturally makes more sense when it is correctly defined. As many of you are aware, my definition of “staying inside the ball” is the hands follow the hitter’s rotating body around his axis.

The ballistic movement of linear hitters, by definition, is a straight line—from back-to-front. Most are taught to hit with a totally-closed front side and front foot. When hitters are taught to stay closed like this, their bodies never rotate; their movement continues forward in a predefined straight line. So, if the definition of “staying inside the ball” implies that the hands follow the rotating body around the axis, then it becomes clear that the linear hitter is not capable of executing this important physical movement.

As a result, the linear hitter’s hands cannot stay inside the ball! However, we continually implore our hitters to do this, but do not give them the proper “blueprint” for their bodies to carry out the instruction. Why is this? Do we not understand what staying “inside” the ball really means? Do we not know what to look for? Do we teach what we really see?

For a hitter to stay “inside” the ball, his hands MUST be able to work IN FRONT of his body.It is also very easy to see when looking at a photo of a player in the “Power V” position. The rotational hitter’s Power V has him looking straight out his arms and out the end of his bat—directly at the pitcher. The hitter’s arms should extend THROUGH the ball out in front of his body on pitches three-quarters of the plate in. Contacting pitches on the outside one-quarter of the plate will place a hitter’s Power V further back in his contact zone.

Because the linear hitter doesn’t rotate, he is incapable of working his arms around his body. As a result, extension comes much earlier, robbing him of most of his swing’s momentum and resulting power. Linear hitters like the ball out over the plate and up in the zone. I’m sure most of you know by this time that to hit the outside pitch, the hitter must let the ball get deep. Consequently, the linear hitter would be forced to contact the ball, i.e., extend to the ball, further back in his swing than the rotational hitter. This is a primary reason why linear hitting has been the choice of singles/contact hitters over the years, while the runs and power producers have been rotational. Their length of stroke is too “short” (from launch to contact) to generate sufficient power and momentum in the swing. (Next issue: Work the Hands in Front!)

Prior to Mike’s teaching years, he was an All-American baseball player and still holds the highest lifetime batting average of .384 at the University of California (Berkeley). He was a member of the first United States Olympic Baseball Team, leading the team in many offensive hitting categories (Japan, 1964). He was named the Sporting News and Topps Minor League Player-of-the-Year in 1966.His website is http://www.mikeepsteinhitting.com/

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One Response

  1. […] (Read Part One of this article here) […]

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