Throw Your Hands at the Ball? (Part 2)

By Mike Epstein

(Read Part One of this article here)

Work the hands in front!

The hitter’s hands must work in front of his body for a number of reasons. One of the most important concerns the notion of staying “inside” the ball. However, another important reason is it allows the hitter’s bat to stay as close to 90º to the oncoming pitch as possible. When a hitter does this, he maximizes the exposure of his bat’s “sweet spot” to the pitch. In addition, he has a much greater chance of keeping inside pitches fair, and not hooking them foul.

Downside of being “hands-conscious”

If a hitter “throws his hands at the ball,” none of these advantaged hitting positions come into play. And, if the hitter’s preoccupation is with his HANDS, he will most assuredly “lose” his hips and lower half. Once a player loses his legs, he loses the strongest muscles in his body! This restricts him from taking advantage of the vital separation of the upper and lower torsos (torque) which is the root of all speed and power in the swing!

Perhaps we can get a better picture of this by looking at a pitcher throw. If we isolate a pitcher’s movements into simply throwing—with no lower body movement whatsoever—it is very obvious why no one pitches this way. If the pitcher just stood on the mound and threw the ball solely with his arm and did not use his lower body at all, you’d probably say, “Why would a pitcher do that?” When he throws with his arm only, he loses the most powerful muscles in his body and all the vital torquing, momentum, and rhythmic movements he needs to provide maximum velocity to his pitches.

So it is with a hitter, although it is more “camouflaged” than with the pitching motion. When a hitter has a preoccupation with his hands, he also loses the lower body advantage. When a hitter tells me he thinks “hands to the ball” when he is hitting, I simply ask him if he’d ever consider using a 17” bat? Because that’s what he’s indeed using when he only uses half of his body to hit with.

Before the minus3s, a hitter WAS able to use only his hands and arms because the ultra-light, ultra-resilient aluminum bats made it possible. The bat did all the work. With the heavier, less resilient minus3s, however, this makes little sense. We’ve got to adjust our thinking here. Take a hard look at the players producing all the runs in amateur baseball and you’ll see very few who are not utilizing rotational mechanics. Even though many of their coaches teach “hands to the ball.” Kids are going to do what works; every hitter wants to be successful.

Now, mind you, I’m not saying every hitter must use his lower body and be rotational. Far from it. But after so many years instructing hitters, I am convinced there are many more players capable of really DRIVING the ball to the gaps if they were given a fair shot at mechanics that promote this. After all, can you name one player who wouldn’t want to hit the ball harder (or further) than he is right now? I can’t, either. Yet, we take this ability away from hitters by communicating cues like “throw your hands at the ball” and teaching mechanics which constrain all but the elite hitters from accomplishing this. Go figure.

It’s got to make sense!

But, I think the most salient point of all might be just “plain ol’ common sense.” IF we tell a hitter to “stay inside the ball” because of its importance to productive hitting, how can we also tell him “hands to the ball?” If the pitch is on the outer half of the plate, how can he then stay “inside” the ball—and also let his hands go “to” the ball? It can’t happen, yet we continually instruct hitters to do them at the same time. It is confusing and also frustrating for him.

The American Baseball Coaches Association and other interested groups are at this very moment addressing their concern over the growing number of youngsters who leave baseball early for other sports. Hitting a baseball is a very demanding exercise, requiring a high degree of athleticism, mental toughness, visual acuity, and a strong work ethic. It’s certainly not for everyone. But, far too many youngsters quit for other sports because they don’t hit well. One of the reasons for this shortcoming is the conflicting information coaches dole out without thinking it completely through. Chalk it up to my pet peeve, “conventional wisdom.” We must teach with objective facts rather than subjective opinions.

Hitting isn’t for everyone, but…

Every player can’t be a big leaguer. But, with some common sense teaching from my DVDs, CD-Roms, and books, ANYONE can easily teach the right information and furnish the mechanical blueprint for a player to correctly stay “inside” the ball. A proper hitting technique can give more players an enjoyable and fun experience. In all my years in this game, I’ve never known one player who hit .150 who had “fun.” Having first-rate information is a good start.

When we tell hitters to “stay inside the ball” AND “throw your hands at the ball” in practically the same breath, we defeat our purpose and goal of trying to get the player to hit his potential.

Why make such a tough thing to do—tougher?

Good luck, continued success, and “get a good pitch to hit!”

Mike Epstein is one of America’s top hitting analysts, instructors, speakers, and published writers. His uncanny ability to simplify the complexities of the baseball swing has thrust him to the forefront of America’s hitting coaches. The Collegiate Baseball Newspaper calls Mike “Baseball’s hitting guru.”

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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