The 4 Approaches To Baseball Swing Instruction
You can see my video on this topic here. Let me first explain what I mean by "approach." By "approach," I mean the main thing that these swing coaches or "camps" believe is the key differentiator between the great hitters and everyone else. As a swing coach, when you have an "approach," you should be able to decipher it in two ways. First, you should be able to point out what your swing looks like on video, and second, you should be able to describe the feeling in as simple and concise way as possible so that someone can easily pick up a bat and feel it.
Approach #1 - Deceleration
The first method I'll cover is referred to as "deceleration." It's unclear what exactly this camp is saying. They're excitedly raising their hands and stating that they have studied their 3D motion graphics and discovered that deceleration happens in the swing, (as if we didn't already know this) and basically decided to launch a marketing campaign around it. From what I can tell, the idea of deceleration being important was an idea started by Greg Rose, who is mostly in golf (Titleist Performance Institute, or TPI), and subsequently started a baseball branch of his company (On-Base University).
So what is deceleration? It's simply the idea that we don't spin continuously when we swing - that there is rotation open, and then a slowing down of the rotation to deliver the barrel. To say this happens in the swing is one thing. To say deceleration is the KEY to great hitting, is another matter altogether. And if that is what they are saying (which apparently it is), what exactly ABOUT deceleration is important? Is it important to overexaggerate the move so that you are stopping your rotation absurdly early? Is it important to focus on doing it late? Is it important to do it abruptly? It's unclear. But these guys have gone all in on it and from my perspective, focusing on and/or exaggerating deceleration could be the most deleterious of approaches.
The reason deceleration is not a good thing to exaggerate is because it will promote a more disconnected position at contact, and pretty much the one thing that truly does separate the greatest pound for pound hitters from everyone else, is clearly a more connected position at contact. There are two reasons for this - one, being more connected at contact means more mass is behind the hit and therefore more overall force, and two, it will allow you to adjust on pitches better. Because deceleration makes you more disconnected at contact, it will not only make you less powerful, but it will also have you often waving at pitches way out in front because you have almost no ability to adjust. Below are two examples of their students' positioning at contact. You can see just how disconnected they are.
The deceleration camp are the ones who claim that they are the only true approach to the swing because they're backed up by "science." But rarely do groundbreaking ideas come from the scientists. They almost always come from outside of science, from practitioners on the edge - guys who know the science but feel it's missing something, guys who don't have the expensive tools, but have the time and desire to roll ideas around in their head for hours and hours. As the late, great strength coach, Charles Poliquin said, "If you wait for science to catch up you’ll be waiting forty years." And that isn't an exaggeration. Science trails far behind those who make great discoveries.
Like I said, the main problem with the deceleration camp is that they noticed something that happens in all swings, and extemporaneously decided to sell it as being the essential difference of the greats.
Approach #2 - HLP
The second approach is the "High Level Pattern" (HLP) approach. This is the most popular method right now, simply because the best hitter of 2022 works with Richard Schenck (aka "Teacherman"), the creator of HLP. People pay no attention to the fact that this hitter is literally the strongest hitter to ever step into a Major League batters box. Oh, and also the theory is based on Barry Bonds' swing, the hitter who gained the most muscle mass in MLB history by taking steroids. See a pattern? Should HLP really stand for "Hulk-Like Pattern?" This is why it's important to look at and model the best pound for pound hitters, not just any hitter.
So what do the HLP followers say? For one, they say you should coil on the back femur as you wait for the pitch, and never shift your weight in your stride. They say the weight should shift after you start your swing. Two, when you're ready to swing, they want you to combine this coiling action with a snapping action of the wrists and a tilting back action - both happen very fast. When the wrists-snap and tilt happen, the coil you created in your back femur will automatically release and carry you through the swing - creating the most possible speed, they say. The justification for this approach is that it will optimize launch quickness. Here are my common responses to the HLP method:
1. It's based on the strongest hitters in history. Shouldn't an approach to swing mechanics be based on the weakest hitters who were able to still hit with consistent power?
2. It seems to only be concerned with launch quickness. There's much more to a great swing than launch quickness.
3. Why do you have to be so still? Just because you don't know exactly when you're going to swing, doesn't mean you have to be completely still and hanging back on your back leg prior to swinging. There are ways to delay and stall your movement that don't require a complete lack of movement altogether. When you don't get off your back leg at all, you can't transfer the mass of your bodyweight into the hit. You can see Schenck below prior to contact in a very weak position that doesn't have any body mass behind the swing. This may be a position that is "ok" (still not ideal) for muscle-bound hitters, but for most guys this is going produce a lot of weak hits. His method also tends to lead to, once again, a less connected position at contact, which you can also see below. None of the greatest pound for pound hitters got into a position like this as their baseline position at contact.
Schenck also believes that shifting your weight is bad because it creates a time he calls "limbo" in which you aren't ready to swing, and if the ball gets to you during this time, you won't be ready. Isn't this just a timing issue? Doesn't this just mean you didn't properly time the fastball? This is simply a separate issue from swing mechanics. If this is happening to a hitter, it has more to do with the fact that he's not seeing enough live pitching than anything else. This is a common problem because kids are hitting almost exclusively off pitching machines in practice. There's a certain "dance" you perform with the pitcher that kids from the sandlot days were much better at, because they saw more live pitching than kids of today. This dance has to do not just with the timing of the start of your stride as the ball is being released by the pitcher, but also your ability to adjust mid-stride. If you look at the best pound for pound hitters, you can see them use this ability to adjust on video. I call it the "secondary cushion" move, where you momentarily pause, or delay, your swing in the middle of your stride. I talk about this in my book Front Arm Dominant. You can see Griffey doing in his swing on the right below.
4. The final reason Schenck's theory doesn't work is, well, Griffey. The one player everyone says has the sweetest swing, violates all the HLP rules. Griffey wasn't muscle bound. He only weighed 195 lbs. He didn't hang back on his back leg. He didn't snap the bat. Yet, we all agree that he had the most effortless and beautiful swing. I'd love to hear what Schenck has to say about Griffey. There are others - Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Albert Belle - who violate his theory, but Griffey is the best confirmation that something is amiss with his theory. Below is a video of Jeff Frye saying that Griffey, not Bonds, had the best swing he's ever seen, and Richard Schenck having nothing to say about it.
Approach #3 - Go Back to the 80s
The third approach to the swing is more of a counter-movement to all the swing gurus and nonsense going on. So many people are so tired of all the poor theories out there, and all the charlatans, that they throw up there hands and say, "let's just go back to what they were teaching in the 80s." Jeff Frye and the Shegone movement is an example of this. Although frye doesn't really get into the mechanics of the swing very often. Mostly, he's just ripping on other gurus. But he does occasionally touch on what he believes are "fundamentals" of a great swing - swing down, keep your head on the ball, extension...all things we heard in the 80s and early nineties. All I have to say about his is, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because there are a lot of poor theories of the swing, doesn't mean we need to go back to the 80s. I mean, the theories from the 80s are the whole reason we are searching so hard now. They didn't work and people want something better, including myself.
Approach #4 - Back Arm Spaghetti
This brings us to my theory of the swing. Since you're reading this, you probably already have a good idea of what I promote but I'll sum it up. There is a science-backed correlation between hitters who's front arm is coordinated (they either wrote or threw with their front arm or "lead arm") and an increased likelihood of being great. The reason for this correlation is because if your front arm is capable, your back arm is likely less capable. After all, if one arm is more capable it's probably because you are using it more often than your other for more tasks throughout daily life. The key factor here is that this means that these great hitters who had dominant front arms likely had slightly less dominant back arms. And therein lies the key to a great swing - great baseball swing mechanics have to do with having a back arm that doesn't over-exert. The less coordination you had in your back arm when you learned the swing, the better chance you have of developing a great swing and being a great hitter.
A "less coordinated" back arm when learning the swing stays with the hitter for the life of his career. What happens is when he's learning the swing, his body creates a swing structure that is unique and different from someone who is more back arm dominant (which most people are). This can be seen on video - a tendency to get more compression of the front arm into the chest at the start of the swing an even, at-times, at contact, and a tendency to be more connected at contact - back arm more bent and/or front arm, again, closer to the chest. Below is a picture of Tommy Morrissey, the great little league hitter who has only one arm - and he uses it as his front arm when hitting - and Ken Griffey, Jr., who is said to have the sweetest swing in the history of baseball, and was the paragon of a hitter who's back arm does not over-exert through the swing. You can see the similarity in their swings.
As I said in the beginning, a good theory should have a simple way to see the approach when analyzing video, and also a simple way to feel it. And the simple way to feel my approach (which I'm currently calling "back arm spaghetti" because "front arm dominant" I afraid puts to much emphasis on the front arm and not enough emphasis on the importance of a non-exerting back arm, which I'm starting to believe is more important) is to simply go through the front arm progression.
So there are the four current approaches to the baseball swing. If you feel I missed anything, please comment below one of my youtube videos. You can support the movement at www.patreon.com/jaimecevallos. Thanks so much!