The History of Swing Mechanics in Baseball - Old School, New School, and Me
It's important to know the history of a teaching so you locate yourself within the "story," and properly move past the misunderstandings that exist within the current paradigm. Right now we are in a period of swing instruction where the "old school" style of teaching is all but dead, and the "new school" style is the popular way. In this video, I explain what the old school and new school methods are, how they developed, and why both have major flaws that are effecting your performance at the plate.
You may recognize the old school and new school representatives that I have on the front picture and video thumbnail of this post. On the left is Charlie Lau, and in the middle is Mike Epstein.
Lau was the father of the old school method. His teachings, possibly just by coincidence, came at the perfect time in the 1970s, when artificial turf fields were starting to pop up all over Major League Baseball for the first time. In Lau's approach, later called "linear hitting," the hitter shifts his weight well onto the front side in the stride, and then his hands take pretty much a straight path to the ball. This is a style of swing that can work well for having a high batting average, but it is pretty much impossible to employ for any power.
Mike Epstein, the guy in the middle, is the father of the new school method that is primarily taught today. Epstein called his approach "rotational hitting" because he saw the linear style that was being taught and proclaimed that it was flawed because it didn't take into account the importance of the player's rotation. Epstein said that instead of focusing on punching outward toward the ball with his hands, the hitter should work on allowing their rotation to hit the ball and be more loose with his arms.
Epstein wrote his book in 2003. At that time, I had also been studying the swing for many years and was beginning to speak out about the flaws of the linear approach, but it took me until 2008 when I first started working with MLB players to finally get my thoughts on paper. That's when I wrote Positional Hitting. Positional Hitting was neither linear nor rotational, however it was certainly speaking out against the conventional linear approach that was popular at the time.
Today, we don't really say "linear" and "rotational" anymore. The rotational approach that Epstein advocated has morphed into what is referred to today as the "new school" approach, and Lau's linear approach is now called "old school." I would guess that ninety nine percent of swing coaches today are new school and only 1% are still old school. When I wrote Positional Hitting, I would say it was more like 25/75, new school to old school.
Now, with Swing Cheat Code, which I wrote in 2019, and the Front Arm Dominant approach explained within it, I have changed the game of swing mechanics for good. The front arm dominant approach to the swing, I believe, will eventually end the game of swing mechanics, as there won't be a question anymore of what mechanics produce the most power and consistency possible. And there won't be a reason for anyone to choose anything but the swing that produces the most power and consistency. Imagine a time when there are no more questions in swing mechanics - no more debates as to what is the best way to swing. That time is coming.
Let me explain just how my concept is different. Both the old school and new school approach put "speed to the ball" - in other words, how fast you can get to contact - as the primary function of improving swing mechanics. This is a mistake. Being faster to the ball is important, but it's not something you improve upon through a change in swing mechanics. It's something that you improve upon in the weight room. The old school tries to accomplish being faster to the ball by taking their hands straight toward the pitch, even swinging in a downward fashion. Hence the tendency to hit ground balls with the old school approach. The new school tries to accomplish being faster to the ball through rotation and not pushing the hands outward toward the ball, and instead letting the ball get deep.
The new school adds an additional layer of complexity by saying that it's not just being quick to the ball that's important, but also being "on-plane" with the pitch. "On-plane" is one of the new school's favorite phrases. And while being on plane IS something that can be adjusted through swing mechanics, despite what the new school coaches say, it's just not something that's important for hitting. They claim that swinging more up will add consistency because you are on a plane that matches the directional line of the pitch. And they also claim that it will add power by altering the average launch angle of your hits - giving you more balls in the air as opposed to on the ground. Both of these are false. As I've said many times, if swinging up more was important, the swing would have been figured out a hundred years ago, when home runs first started gaining popularity.
So the two main priorities of the old school and new school approach to swing mechanics - being quick to the ball and being on plane - I don't even consider important at all.
With my approach, I have three priorities. They are 1) to create a long moving fulcrum, 2) to create as much forward bend as possible through contact (this means being quick THROUGH the ball, not quick TO the ball), and 3) to have a more connected position at contact. The two main pillars that these three priorities are serving are increased consistency and increased power. Each of my three priorities are serving an increase in one or both of these pillars.
If you currently work with a swing coach, and he wants you to make a change, ask him exactly how this particular change will increase power and/or consistency. More specifically, how is the change increasing your odds of square contact (consistency) or increasing the force with which the bat travels through the zone (power)? If he can't answer this, or if you simply can't understand him, it's probably time to find another swing coach.
As a student, you need to question your teachers and make sure you fully understand their approach. If you are blindly following your swing coach, or any other coach for that matter, you are not taking command of your career, and this is always going to lead to disappointment. You must fully understand how your swing changes are increasing power or consistency.
I hope you enjoy the video. Please post below so everyone can learn from your comment or question.
Changing the direction a bit, you guys have looked at film of different hitters from different eras. How do they compare to today’s hitters _ the swings , how they set up in the box etc?
Kevin Benzing: You disagree power is lacking in the Lau approach? Unless you’re really big and strong, it’s just not a powerful way to swing. Not to be a jerk, but I would think that is pretty clear.
You say Gwynn chose to not hit home runs. Why would you choose to hit a single rather than a home run? If you’re doing that, you must have the belief that power must be traded for consistency. But that can’t be true because guys like Ruth and Williams showed us that you can have extremely high levels of both. With the front arm dominant approach, which Ruth and Williams employed, there is no need to trade power for consistency. The FAD approach optimizes both.
Why is the game better with the stolen base, the bunt, and the ground ball? It’s just more entertaining to you? In what way is it better?
Why do home runs HAVE to go hand in hand with strikeouts or lower on-base percentage? Can’t you have both? Why would you prefer to slap the ball then to hit it over the fence? Isn’t that working harder than you need to?
I guess I’m just not sure why you would want a hitter to slap the ball rather than have power.
I’m not into the swings of Ruth, Gehrig, and Williams because I long for the olden days. I’m not nostalgic like that. I’m solely interested in what the best mechanics are to optimize power and consistency. And the FAD approach is what I’ve found to be the best way to accomplish that.
I coached college baseball for nearly 20 years and worked closely with a gentleman from the Kansas City Royals organization during the “Lau” days. I disagree that power is lacking in that approach. Yes, the dominate hitters of the day hit more for average than power but much was by choice. Tony Gwyn commented that he could have hit 30-40 homeruns a year but felt that hitting .330 was better. Remember a linear hitter named Frank Thomas aka the “Big Hurt”. Very linear but very powerful. I believe strongly in that the swing is both linear and rotational and to say that the old and new aren’t related and have no elements of the other is wrong. Is todays modern hitter making the game better? I guess so if you like seeing strikeouts and all runs scored in a game due to the “long ball”. I and many others feel the game is right with the stolen base, the bunt and the ground ball to the right side with a runner on second and no outs. Today talk is of banning defensive shifting! How about learning to control the barrel and use the whole ballpark!