The importance of a hitter’s stance is often overlooked and neglected. Many athlete’s copy the stance of their favorite player or they piece together their stance by having false assumptions about what the different aspects of the stance actually do. In my experience I have found that many flaws in a hitters swing are the result of flaws in their stance. Our goal as hitters is to repeat proper mechanics as often as possible. Many times a hitter’s stance gets in the way or doesn’t allow for swing repeatability. Many times a hitter will choose a stance that makes it more difficult for them to repeat proper mechanics.
Since we want to repeat proper mechanics as often as possible, doesn’t it then make sense that we should set ourselves up in such a way that makes it as easy as possible for us to repeat these mechanics? Why would we ever do anything that would make it more difficult on ourselves to perform a mechanically sound swing? Most of the time hitters piece together their stance to cover up other mechanical flaws that occur later in the swing. Most coaches realize that their is a problem in the swing however they don’t really know how to fix the problem. As a result they have the hitter over compensate for their flaw by placing some sort of “fix” in the stance. For example: let’s say that a hitter is having a hard time “staying back” on the ball. Some coaches may recommend that the hitter put more weight on their back leg. While most of these “fixes” might help cover up the initial problem the fact that the hitter is compensating which will cause some sort of breakdown later on in the swing. You may be able to win the battle but unless you fix the real issue and make sure that the hitter is in a position to allow their mechanics to be repeated then you most certainly are going to loose the war.
So what is the correct stance? How can you make sure you are in proper position to allow your mechanics to be repeated?
To answer this question we are going to start from the ground up. There are some pictures above that will help give you an idea of what the stance should look like. I will try to go over the different aspects of the stance and why they are important.
Starting with the feet, it is important that the hitter has a parallel stance. The toes of the feet should be in a straight line. Now I know you have probably seen major league players with both open and closed stances. Both the open and the closed stance make it much more difficult to get maximum hip rotation and a direct bat path. In order to maximize hip rotation and to ensure that their has no extra movement that might affect the swing somewhere later on down the line it’s important that the hitter starts with their feet in the parallel position. In addition it’s important that the hitter make sure that their feet are pointed straight ahead. Look at the picture above, you can see that in addition to the feet being parallel they are also straight. Sometimes a hitter may be slightly duck footed or pigeon toed in their stance. When a hitter has their feet in either of these positions it inadvertently affects hip performance. When the feet rotate in or out they also prematurely open or close the hips. Either way the performance of the hips will be affected which will in turn affect the power production and bat speed of the hitter.
After the feet are set in the parallel position the hitter must have some slight bend in the knees. You have a little room to play with here as far as how much bend and it is entirely up the comfort of the athlete. However there must be at least a slight bend in the knees. This puts the body in an athletic position but most importantly it has a tremendous affect on the posture of the athlete. Maintaining one’s posture is extremely important when a hitter is trying to repeat proper mechanics. If a hitter is stiff legged their will have a tendency to change their posture when they stride or begin the swing. Any change in posture will cause mechanical breakdown somewhere in the swing and make it incredibly difficult for achieving repeatability.
The next aspect of the stance deals with weight distribution. This is where I kind of go against the mainstream and what it commonly taught. As you can see in the picture the weight of the hitter is distributed evenly on both legs. You might here hitting instructors or coaches say that there should be more weight on the back leg then on the front. I have found that an even weight distribution allows the posture of the hitter to stay consistent and most importantly allows the hitter to rotate their hips faster. You see, when there is more weight on the back leg it prematurely tilts the shoulders. When the shoulders are prematurely tilted they will continue upon this course later in the swing. This will lengthen out the swing causing the hitter to be “long” which slows bat speed and a whole host of other problems that we don’t have time to get into. In addition it affects the angle of the spine. When the angle of the spine is altered it again doesn’t allow for maximum rotational speed making it more and more difficult to produce a desired result.
After a hitter gets their feet set and knees bent they must have a small bend in the waist. This again is important for rotation. The spine has a small window where it is in the optimal position for rotation. If the athlete is too upright the spine becomes locked and won’t rotate affectively. It the athlete is too bent over their center of gravity becomes altered and they again won’t be able to rotate affectively. You can see in the picture above that the hitter has a small degree of bend at the waist. It is important that hitters make sure that they don’t bend any more or any less then what is shown in the picture.
Once the hitter is bent at the waist it is time to set the hands. The hands become very important when the hitter is trying to have a direct and repeatable bat path. At the very least the hands should be set at the top of the strike zone. I recommend that hitters hold their hands as high as the back shoulder. This will ensure that the hitter is able to take the downward path (the optimal path) to any pitch thrown. If the hands are too low the hitter will be forced to drag the bat through the hitting zone and won’t be able to produce the backspin necessary to produce maximum carry. It is also important that the hitter has some bend in both arms. This will allow the hitter to take that same path to the ball. Finally make sure that the hitter’s front shoulder is facing the pitcher. Sometimes when a hitter sets their hands they have a tendency to roll the front shoulder in too far. This activates the front arm and causes the hitter to pull the bat through the zone. Again this won’t allow for the generation of backspin. You can see from the picture above how the front shoulder is pointed straight ahead. Any more than what is shown and the hitter will be forced to pull the bat through the zone.
The angle of the bat is also extremely important when trying to allow for mechanical repeatability. Think of the bat like the hands on a clock. The ideal position for the bat would be about 11-o-clock. If the bat is at 10-o-clock the front arm is again activated forcing the hitter to pull the bat through the zone. If the bat is at 12 or 1, the bat head has a tendency to continue to drop throughout the swing causing the hitter to be long. The 11-o-clock position makes it easy for the hitter to take the direct path to the ball.
Lastly, shoulder position can go a long way in ensuring mechanical repeatability. The bat will always follow the the body’s posture. Since we want to take a downhill, direct path to the ball the best way to set up the shoulders is to have the front shoulder slightly lower than the back shoulder. I have found that this posture makes it much easier for a hitter to take the correct path to the ball. Since the front shoulder is down the bat will follow the body’s posture, this will allow the bat head to get to the hitting zone in the shortest path possible and allow the hitter to generate backspin. Just like the bat head will drop when the back shoulder drops the bat head will follow the downhill posture of the front shoulder. In order to make it easier for yourself to take the correct path to the ball make sure you set up with the front shoulder slightly down.
Mechanical breakdown always has an origin. If you want to make it as easy on yourself as you can to repeat proper mechanics pay special attention to your stance. Your stance goes a long way in simplifying the swing. Master the stance and you will be more likely to master the swing.