In baseball circles there tends to be much debate over the proper bat path when it comes to delivering the bat to the ball. For the most part it seems that most hitters, coaches, and instructors fall into two categories as to which bat path they believe is the correct one. The debate seems to be over whether a hitter should take a downward path to the ball or take more of an upward path to the ball. While most people involved in baseball agree that a hitter should take the most direct path possible and have a “short, compact” swing they differ on how this “short, compact” swing is achieved.
The predominant belief today is that the bat should be taken in an upward trajectory toward the pitch. This belief was first sparked by Ted Williams and his book, “The Science of Hitting”. Ted Williams believed that the bat must “get on plane” with the ball early matching the downward slope of the pitch. Since the pitch is moving downward (due to the pitcher on the mound throwing to a squatting catcher) Williams reasoned that if you get your barrel on plane with the pitch you increase your likelyhood of hitting the ball squarely. The argument also believes that this allows you more room for error since being on the same plane as the pitch (in theory) allows you to drive the ball even if you are not perfect with your timing.
Even with the advantage of video there is still a large majority of the baseball world that buys into this theory. They see that hitters have a small upward motion in their swing and naturally assume that the swing is in fact a slight upper cut. The problem is this theory is severely flawed and doesn’t allow the body to perform at it’s maximum capacity. Oh sure, you may think you see a small uppercut in a hitter’s swing but this generally happens during the follow through portion of the swing after the point of contact. An uppercut swing does much more harm than good and limits what a hitter is able to accomplish. Things such as: slower bat speed, being in weaker point at the point of contact, and the bat leaving the hitting zone early are some of the consequences of swinging in this motion.
What Ted Williams didn’t know and what most proponents of this bat path don’t know is that a downward swing works better with the body’s natural biomechanics. It allows for repeatability and gives the hitter more room for error. In addition there is a huge increase in a hitter’s power. The downward swing increases power by allowing the hitter to be in a stronger position at the point of contact as well as allowing the hitter to create backspin which aids in carry. But let’s look at the three main reasons as to why an downward bat path is best….
Increased Bat Speed
When a hitter uses a downward bat path they will notice a tremendous jump in bat speed and as a result they will be able to wait on the ball longer which helps with their pitch recognition. The increase in bat speed is due to a couple of reasons. First of all, this bat path allows the hitter to take the most direct route to the ball. When trying to get to the point of contact it only makes sense to take the barrel of the bat to the point of contact in the shortest distance possible. Swinging down allows the hitter to take the barrel from point A to point B as direct as possible shortening the distance the barrel has to travel to the ball.
Secondly, since we are gong “down” at the ball we are able to use gravity to aid us in the production of bat speed. That’s right! Gravity becomes our friend when we use it properly in hitting. Just like any other object that is traveling down our bat is pulled by gravity. The pull of gravity plus our own physical effort equals greater energy delivering the bat to the ball. In the upper cut model of swinging you have to fight gravity in order to generate your bat speed. While it may not seem like this could make that big of a difference remember baseball is a sport that is measured in 1/100 and 1/1000 of seconds. If you are off by just a small amount that could be the difference between a hit or an out. Between a homerun and a fly ball. Remember that the difference between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter in the major leagues is 1 hit a week. Just 1 hit a week puts you in Cooperstown, wouldn’t you want to do what ever you could to help yourself out?
Finally, you are able to generate more bat speed because with the downward bat path the barrel is able to stay tighter to the body during the rotation phase of the swing. Think of a figure skater spinning. When they tuck their arms in they spin faster, when they extend their arms their rotation slows. It is the same in hitting. When you take the downhill path to the ball the barrel stays tighter to the body allowing the body to rotate faster. Obviously the faster the body rotates the faster the hitter’s bat speed.
Increases Power Production
Power production is obviously going to be affected by more bat speed however in addition to more bat speed the downhill bat bath aides your power production in other, more important ways.
First and probably most importantly the downhill bat path allows the hitter to get into their strongest position at the point of contact. Our posture at the point of contact is greatly effected by the bat path we take. When we use the “uppercut” swing our posture is altered in such a way that puts us in a weak position at the point of contact. Our hips, shoulders, and head tilt which is a much weaker position at the point of contact. However, the downhill bat path allows the hitter to keep the hips, shoulders, and head in a strong position which instantly increases the power production of the hitter. Think about it! I mean, if you were going to punch a punching bag would you hit it with your hips and shoulders tilted. You would make sure that your hips and shoulders were square and level so you would be strong and able to hit the punching bag as hard as possible. The same goes for hitting. You must be in a strong posture at the point of contact and the downhill bat path enables you to do that.
Secondly, the downhill bat path aides in power production by allowing the hitter to produce backspin. Backspin is important because it produces “carry” on the ball. When you watch a big league game you may have noticed two types of homeruns. The first of which are the towering, high fly balls that make it a few rows past the wall. The second type are the hard hit rising line drives that appear to gain height the farther they travel from the hitter. The second type is a ball hit with backspin. These balls travel farther and higher as they travel away from the hitter and usually produce balls that travel well beyond 400 feet. But, backspin isn’t just about hitting homeruns. If you hit the ball perfectly, sure backspin will help you hit the ball really far. However, you aren’t going to hit the ball perfectly every time. Backspin allows you to still get your hits by producing the hard skipping ground ball or line drive that gets through the infield as opposed to the high, choppy, slow ground balls and lazy fly balls that are caused by topspin. Either way, backspin helps you produce results as a hitter and the way to get it is through the use of the downhill bat path.
Allows more room for error
The downhill bat path allows more room for error because believe it or not it allows the bat to stay “on plane” or “through the ball” longer. This is the irony of the whole debate. The proponents of the upper cut swing believe that getting the bat “on plane” early allows the bat to stay on plane. However the way the body works doesn’t allow the bat to stay on plane when its gets on plane early. When a hitter gets the bat on plane early they are longer to the point of contact and shorter through the point of contact. As a result if you are not perfect with your timing then your bat will have left the hitting area before the pitch gets to you.
With the downhill bat path your bat gets to the point of contact sooner and as a result of the path you are taking stays in the hitting area longer allowing you to still drive the ball even if you aren’t perfect with your timing. In addition I have never seen a hitter hit a pitch behind them. So then why would you want to get your bat “on plane” before the point of contact? It doesn’t help you at all and limits the results you can produce.
Finally, you have more room for error because you are stronger at the point of contact. Like I mentioned earlier the bat path drastically effects our posture. When we use the downhill bat path your posture is in a stronger position at the point of contact. As a result you can mishit balls and still get your hits because your are so strong at the point of contact. If you are in a weaker position you have to hit the ball squarely in order get the ball to travel with any kind of velocity. If you don’t hit it perfectly you are so weak that you will produce lazy fly balls and ground balls and won’t maximize your ability to get hits. The downhill bat path or swinging down on the ball enables you to be in this strong position giving you more room for error.
So can you be successful using the uppercut swing or getting your swing “on plane” early? Sure you can! Many have done it. Especially bigger players as they have more mass and can get away with more flaws. However, why wouldn’t you do whatever you could to maximize your success? If you are having success, why wouldn’t you do everything possible to experience more success? Don’t limit yourself in any way. Adjust your mechanics accordingly and take you performance to new heights.