I absolutely love the art of hitting a baseball, it is so perfect and imperfect at the same time. There are times when everything clicks for no apparent reason and you feel like you are hitting a watermelon with a tennis racket. On the other hand, in the depths of a slump you find yourself contemplating just how absurd this task really is.
While the rise of sabrmetrics has given us some incredible analytic tools, there are parts of hitting that just simply cannot be explained, like the rapid appearance or disappearance of power statistics. And although these metrics have helped drive powerful insights, we now find ourselves stuck in a time where we feel there must be an explanation for any statistical anomaly. For instance, Justin Turner and Jose Bautista both went from marginal major league utility players to superstars by adding a large leg kick and upper cuts to their swings; this must mean this is the correct approach. Now we have youth academies teaching little leaguers to take exaggerated leg kicks, with the purpose of a hitting a few more home runs as a twelve year old.
I want to be clear, I am by no means suggesting that this approach is a new development in baseball, as trends have always followed techniques that successful players used. All serious baseball players have seen one of the instructional books, including “The Science of Hitting” by Ted Williams, “Hitting is Simple” by Don Mattingly, “Hit to Win” by Rod Carew, and even “A Zen Way of Baseball” by famed Japanese slugger Sadaharu Oh. Simply put, the baseball community loves to assume a that a player having success with new hitting mechanics or approach, means this is a new principle that applies to everyone. When we assume correlation means causation, we ignore the fact that Turner and Bautista were both already MLB players that hit for contact, without high levels of strikeouts. They both could take the calculated risk of raising their strikeouts to try and add power to their game. I would argue that a little leaguer, and even a younger high school player, does not know themselves well enough as a hitter to make that type of judgement.
Ack and I are not professional players, but we were both college starters, and continue to play in a collegiate level summer league. Both of us will tell you that we continue to learn more about ourselves as hitters every single game, year after year. So please, for the love of everything that is great about hitting, stop forcing these ideas on kids. Instead, I propose a return to the words that PFG guest Grandpa Byrne told me when I was younger, “look to make consistent, solid contact.” If you can do that, it does not matter whether you choose a large stride or no stride at all, to rotate on the back foot or to push off, bat on the shoulder or hands above your head. However, for now let’s just appreciate that there are some aspects of the game that still can’t fully be explained.