The Role of Backspin in Hitting
One thing many hitting instructors spend a lot of time talking about is the idea of backspin.
They believe that...
- You can't hit home runs without backspin.
- When a ball is hit a long way, it's because it
was hit with backspin.
You can see this assumption at work in statements
Hitters that hit with a lot of backspin, you
can tell by the way the flight of the ball and the way it
As a result, they teach a number of mechanical things, like swinging
down on the ball, that they believe will increase the odds that
a ball will come off the bat with backspin.
I've never been particularly comfortable with the idea that backspin is necessary to hitting the ball
a long way and that hitters should, or even can, be taught to hit
the ball with backspin. That is because, while the research I've read says
that backspin is certainly a
good thing, my knowledge of the game says that backspin probably
isn't something a hitter can control while still hitting for
a reasonable average.
I didn't known how to determine whether good hitters are actually
using backspin to hit home runs until one day when I was looking at some clips of pitchers and
correlating the spin of their pitches with the type, movement,
and quality of those pitches. I did this by watching the seams of the ball
using high speed clips that I had shot. After a few days of doing this, and
being amazed at how well I could monitor the spin of the ball
once I got the hang of it, I realized that my clips
might allow me to answer the question of the role that backspin
plays in hitting.
The first thing I did was take a close look at the clip below,
which shows a no-doubt home run to left field hit by a local
independent minor leaguer. I started with this clip because I
knew it was shot in
good light. That is important because you have to have good
light in order to be able to see the seams of the ball and how the ball
Home Run to Left Field
What the clip above shows is a complete absence of backspin.
You can tell from watching the seams of the ball as it
comes off of the bat that the ball isn't spinning much, if at
all. In other words, rather than coming off the bat with backspin like a
fastball, the ball is
coming off the bat with little to no spin like a knuckleball.
Curious whether what I saw in that first clip was a fluke or
something more significant, I then went through my clips again
and found another clip of a home run, this time to the opposite
Home Run to Left Field
Again, you can see that this ball wasn't hit with backspin. Instead, it was hit mostly
flat with just a tick of topspin and sidespin.
In both cases, that means that the spin of the ball isn't contributing much,
if anything, to the ball's trajectory or distance. Of course,
the fact that two hitters can hit no-doubt home runs
with little to no backspin says that backspin might not be as
important, much less as necessary, as people seem to think.
Swinging Down for Backspin
That means that all of those hitters out there who have been
taught to swing down for backspin -- and who have ended up with
hideous swings that make it extremely difficult for them to make
consistent, solid contact with the ball -- are wasting their
time and their talent.
Tony Gwynn on Backspin
Here's what Tony Gwynn once said about backspin and whether
you should practice creating it.
For me the most effective way to practice hitting is to use a
batting tee and a bag of wiffle balls. Tee it up and start
hacking. The sooner you can hit a wiffle ball cleanly off a tee,
the sooner you will become a better hitter. When you hit a
wiffle ball off a tee correctly, it acts like a knuckleball. You
can hear the air going through the ball. When you don't hit it
correctly, you create spin on the ball and it goes all over the
place. When the ball spins alot, I make adjustments to correct
my swing. Even after 18 years in the big leagues, every winter I
go home and break out the tee and wiffle balls. It's not the
most exciting thing, so you have to be creative. I put my
headphones on and listen to my favorite music while I
concentrate on my hitting technique.
Notice how he
focused on hitting the ball square, not cutting the ball and
trying to create backspin.