By Dan Gazaway
I’ve picked two parts of the baseball swing mechanics I hear taught frequently that are incorrect. I’ll explain why in a bit of detail, but don’t just take my word for it, however, ask around to some of the hitting mechanics gurus you know and trust.
It is always great to get other perspectives. The best thing you can do is to build your own baseball swing knowledge base. Baseball instruction is a funny thing. You can find information and hitting “experts” everywhere. However, please for your own sake make certain that you are qualifying your sources of information first before you accept and apply it to your game. If you don’t, you’ll end up spending a lot of money, and changing your batting philosophy often.
1. Keeping your back elbow up is NECESSARY for a proper and important.
I come across this advice mostly in the younger ages, such as Little League. To be straight to the point, there is no physical advantage or benefit for a hitter to keep his back elbow up high as he prepares to hit. I’m uncertain as to the origination of this idea, but I do know it spreads like wildfire through Little League parks everywhere. It’s like the cure all for a poor baseball swing I guess. When it doubt, it must be the back elbow! You’ve all heard a fan or parent yelling the advice, "Keep your back elbow up,"all too often.
Keeping the back elbow up for younger hitters is often a source of a sluggish and long swing. When the bat head travels into the zone, the elbow of the top arm on the bat is down and relaxed close to the hitter's body (when performed correctly). Because of this, it makes no sense for a younger hitter to move his back elbow from a stiff and upright position in the stance to a relaxed position into the hitting zone. The extra moving parts during a baseball swing simply means less consistency. As a hitter gets older and gains knowledge and understanding of proper swing mechanics, his preference may be of a back elbow that is raised. However, at this point he can make the adjustments as necessary as he begins his swing.
So how do you fix it?
Hitters should be comfortable when in their batting stance. Arms should remain close to the body and relaxed. In this position, most every hitter will find the back elbow is in fact pointing slightly down.
2. Rolling the wrists as your bat comes through the zone is essential for creating bat speed.
I bite my tongue (quite hard actually) whenever I hear the above advice being offered for baseball instruction. While the back elbow up philosophy can be dismissed somewhat as a youth baseball strategy that does relatively minimal damage, this wrists rolling theory cannot be ignored or tolerated if one is going to create a fundamentally sound approach to hitting a baseball.
What “wrist rollers” can’t do:
A. Hit line drives with back spin consistently (these are the ones that carry deep into a gap in the outfield).
B. Hit an outside fastball with any consistency to the opposite field with power (left field as a lefty and right field as a righty).
C. Hit inside fastballs to the pull side (right field as a lefty and left field as a righty).
I make those statements so confidently for the following reason. In order to roll the wrists through a baseball swing, your arms must be nearly straight at the elbows when contact is made with the baseball. Youth hitters can get away with this and escape many time undetected because the velocity of the pitch is not overpowering. Add 10-15 mph to the pitch and those inside pitches will not be hit hard by a hitter (or if they do, it will sting like crazy). Outside pitches will also be difficult because the barrel of the bat will only cover the outer portion of the plate a fraction of the time necessary as the bat is sweeping through the zone.
So how do you fix it?
Teach hitters when swinging at a baseball to have their palm facing up on their top hand as they come in contact with the baseball. As the hands stay close to the body through the swing, the hitter should extend his arms fully only after contact is made with the ball. Creating proper extension is extremely valuable and important for generating good bat speed and maintaining good plate coverage.