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Rotational Hitting 101

Science of Hitting by Ted WilliamsRotational Hitting is the most common term people use to describe Ted Williams' thoughts about hitting as he lays out in The Science of Hitting and elsewhere.

Ted Williams' focus on the rotation of the hips stood in sharp contrast to the emphasis on weight shift, extension, and swinging down for backspin that were the focus of Charley Lau and his disciples like Walt Hriniak.

But can my approach to teaching Rotational Hitting work for anyone besides Ted Williams? I think my experience with Andres Torres, who helped the Giants win a world championship in 2010, answers that question.

I know about training, but hitting was difficult. And then in ’08, I was working with a lot of guys. There’s a guy named Chris O’Leary (a St. Louis fan who kept online flip books breaking down Pujols’ swing). He’s online. He talks about Rotation. He's got video examples of Pujols and I watched that.
Barry Bonds Demonstrating Rotational Hitting

Barry Bonds Demonstrating Rotational Hitting

Mike Epstein & Rotational Hitting

Rotational Hitting is often associated with Mike Epstein, who was influenced by Ted Williams.

In my (direct) experience, Mike Epstein's ideas and approach were a significant advance over the approach of Charley Lau, Walt Hriniak, Don Mattingly and others that I was taught. However, and also in my experience, Mike Epstein's approach to teaching Rotational Hitting was far from perfect.

The problem is that Mike Epstein's approach to teaching Rotational Hitting is incomplete.

It's an interpretation, not a direct implementation, of Ted Williams' ideas.

As I found when using Mike Epstein's ideas with my older son and his friends, important parts of Ted Williams' thoughts and swing -- in truth, the core of Ted Williams' approach to generating power -- aren't discussed by Mike Epstein.

What's worse and as I touch on in my piece analyzing Dave Hudgens' views on hitting, in some cases what Mike Epstein teaches runs counter to, or worse inhibits, what Ted Williams did.

Why Rotation?

Given that the high-level swing combines both linear and rotational components, and the term Rotational Hitting carries with it significant baggage due to Mike Epstein, why would anyone still focus on Rotation and not something else?

While I use the term the high-level swing to characterize what I teach, I continue to talk about the importance of Rotation, and use the term Rotational Hitting, because it...

  1. Encapsulates the thing that Ted Williams emphasized; the rotation of the hips ahead of the hands.
  2. Contrasts with the conventional wisdom that too often -- and, in my experience, increasingly -- views rotation, and being rotational, as a bad thing.

I was reminded of the value of the concept of Rotation during the fall practices of the college baseball team I work with.

The problem was, when looking at video of their swings, too many of our hitters were using terms like "Flying open" to criticize what were, in truth, good swings. Then, in an attempt to fix something that wasn't broken, they developed an actual problem with covering the entire plate with power, I believe in part due to their efforts to not fly open.

Don't get me wrong.

Cues like"Stay closed" and "Keep your front shoulder in" can and do help some hitters. When they are interpreted advantageously.

However, those cues are just that.


Not reality.

In truth, when it makes things better and not worse, telling a hitter "Don't fly open" works by DELAYING the start of rotation, not by PREVENTING rotation.

As our head coach so effectively summed up to one of our hitters, trying to not fly open works by altering the TIMING of Rotation.

Not by eliminating Rotation.

Josh Donaldson Home Run

Josh Donaldson Demonstrating Rotational Hitting

I simply don't know how else to describe what Josh Donaldson is doing in the picture above other than to say that he's rotating his hips, hands, and shoulders.

A lot.

The reality is that the high-level swing is powered primarily by the rotation of the hips. The hips then pull the shoulders and the hands around, allowing the hands to focus on adjusting to the location of the pitch.

The problem is that it's easy to find people who at best talk down rotation and, in the worst case, try to eliminate it from their hitters' swings.

Rotational Hitting 2.0

Since 2008, first with my Rotational Hitting 101 DVD and today with my client site and supplementary webbooks, eBooks, and flipbooks, I have been working to bring Rotational Hitting closer to what Ted Williams laid out in The Science of Hitting.

Andres Torres, shown below hitting a home run during the 2010 World Series, was my first client.

Andres Torres used my DVD to help turn around his career and help the San Francisco Giants win a world championship in 2010.

Since then, I have helped a number of major league baseball players either get to the major leagues or improve their performance. That includes...

My Story

As a kid, I loved the game of baseball. However, I was never a great hitter. While some of my problems were admittedly due to my not wanting to wear my glasses, most of my problems were due to poor hitting instruction.

I wasn't taught to do what great hitters (actually) do.

I was taught to transfer my weight from back to front, to keep my hips closed into contact, and to hit the ball at full extension and make the Power V at the point of contact.

George Brett

George Brett

Just like George Brett did.

Or so I thought.

As I had kids of my own and coached them and their friends, I resolved to teach them better than I was taught. In my case, I started with Jack Mankin and then, following the lead of everyone I knew, moved on to Mike Epstein.

However, and following some very good advice, I eventually realized I needed to drill down to and read Ted Williams' own words and ideas, not Mike Epstein (and Steve Ferroli's) interpretations of them.

All the while, I was independently studying what the best baseball players (actually) do, starting with my flipbook analysis of Albert Pujols swing.

Mike Epstein Vs. Charley Lau

To understand why the term Rotational Hitting made -- and still makes -- sense, you have to understand what Charley Lau and his disciples like Walt Hriniak were teaching during Mike Epstein's day and, in many cases, still teach.

Greg Luzinski

Greg Luzinski

In sum, the Lau approach, at least when it comes to the lower body, is that all the power comes from the stride. As you can see in the clip above of Greg Luzinski, which was taken from Charley Lau's DVD, the hips stay closed into the Point Of Contact. There is no separation or torque. The hips, shoulders, and hands move together because it is believed that any rotation of the hips will cause the front shoulder to fly open.

Joe Thurston

Joe Thurston

Joe Thurston's swing was the closest I've ever seen to a textbook Lau swing in a (more) recent player, and he barely made it work in the major leagues.

Mike Epstein & Rotational Hitting

When you talk about Rotational Hitting with people, in many cases what is going to come to mind -- both good and bad -- is how Mike Epstein teaches hitting.

For instance, when Dave Hudgens describes the problem with Rotational Hitting and when people grill me about Rotational Hitting as they do in my Rotational Hitting FAQ, they are generally reacting to, and criticizing, how Mike Epstein teaches Rotational Hitting.

However, while Mike Epstein's approach to teaching hitting was a vast improvement over Charley Lau's, as many people have pointed out there remain a number of differences between...

  • What kids are being taught by Mike Epstein and his instructors.
  • What the best baseball and fast-pitch softball hitters actually do.

In my (direct) experience, what Mike Epstein and his instructors produce is a swing that resembles, but at the core is significantly and critically different from, the high-level swing.

Among other things, one of the chief problems with what Mike Epstein teaches is that there is little to no stride. Instead, Mike Epstein's hitters tend to just spin in place. While that works at the lower levels and with hotter bats, as Pete Kozma's Swing demonstrates, the pure rotational approach doesn't work at the highest levels of baseball.

In my opinion, Mike Epstein either didn't completely understand Ted Williams' ideas or, more likely, in an effort to deal with problems like lunging, stripped Ted Williams' approach down too far and took out the thing that is its true secret.

The result is an approach to teaching hitting that is better than Linear Hitting and Extension Hitting but that doesn't deliver the results that can be achieved by thoroughly understanding and applying Ted Williams' ideas.

Beyond Mike Epstein

As I explain in greater detail in my discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of Mike Epstein's system, when my older son started to struggle with his hitting, everyone I knew told me to get Mike Epstein's books, CDs, and DVDs. I did, and found them to be a significant advance over the nonsense I had been taught about hitting.

However, while my older son's swing improved significantly, he continued to struggle with fundamental problems like Bat Drag, which Mike Epstein's materials didn't alert me to or help me with.

As a result, I decided that I had to go beyond Mike Epstein's materials. That meant doing two things...

  1. Buying a high-speed camera, attending 50 to 75 major league games per year, and studying what the best hitters actually do.
  2. Reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading Ted Williams' The Science of Hitting and literally everything he wrote and said about hitting.

The High-Level Swing

Since 2006, I have been studying the swings of the best baseball and fast-pitch softball players and working to understand the high-level swing. As part of that process, I have collected large amounts of high-quality, HD and slow motion video of the best baseball and fast pitch softball players.

Albert Pujols Home Run Swing Video Clip

Albert Pujols

The goal is to bring Rotational Hitting instruction closer to its roots; to what Ted Williams talked about in The Science of Hitting and, more importantly, to how great hitters actually swing the bat.

Why & How I Teach Rotational Hitting 

There are a number of reasons why I teach what I teach.

Why Focus on Rotation?

In my work with minor league and major league hitters, I have found that most higher-level hitters' problems result from a lack of Rotation. That problem tends to get worse, not better, the higher you go up the instructional ladder.

For instance, Andres Torres' problem when he came to me wasn't his ability to make contact. Rather, his problem was his inability to hit the ball hard enough to get it past major league defenses. The root cause of his problems came down to a problem with Rotation; he was trying to power his swing with his hands and not his body.

Similarly, I have recently been talking to a minor leaguer whose swing caught my eye due to its uncanny resemblance to the swing of Mickey Mantle. However, he hasn't lived up to the potential that I saw in that picture. Why? The problem is that his coaches are taking his swing in exactly the wrong direction. Rather than focusing on Rotation, they are taking it out of his swing and teaching him to swing with his hands.

Don't Rotational Hitters Pull off the Ball?

The major objection to the concept of Rotation is that it will lead to pulling off the ball. That may be true if the only thing you teach is Rotation. However, while Rotation is the first concept I teach, it is only one of many. First, there's a reason why I use the term "Curved Hand Path" and not "Circular Hand Path." Second, concepts like Timing and Adjustability enable my hitters to hit for both power and average.

What About the Stride?

One, in my opinion valid, criticism of Mike Epstein's hitters is that many take a small stride or even a negative stride. I follow Ted Williams' advice and example when it comes to the stride.

Andres Torres Home Run Swing Video Clip

You Don't Have to Move a LOT if you Move WELL 

In the clip above, which shows Andres Torres hitting a home run to right field, he takes a stride. Yes, it's a small one, but it's enough to give him room to Load and create Separation.

Rotational Hitting 101 DVD

Rotational Hitting 101 DVDIn 2008, I took much of the information that had been blogging about, organized it, added to it, and put together Rotational Hitting 101 and my client site. They reflect the lessons that have been learned about the high-level swing over the past ten years. They build on the strengths, but also address what in my experience are the weaknesses, of Mike Epstein's approach to teaching hitting.

Since I first published Rotational Hitting 101, I have shipped more than 2,000 copies of my DVD to people all over the world including Andres Torres, my first professional client.

Andres used the information on my DVD, and in particular my information on Connection, to rebuild his swing and his entire approach to hitting. The result was a swing that helped the San Francisco Giants win the 2010 World Series.

Andres Torres Home Run Swing Video Clip

Andres Torres
Home Run to Right Field
2010 World Series

Major League Experience

Andres Torres isn't the only major league baseball player I have worked with.

At last count, I have three other clients in the major leagues, two clients at AAA, one client at AA, and two clients playing for independent minor league teams and trying to get back on the road to the major leagues. I have also worked with a number of D-1 college baseball and fast pitch softball players.

I don't give out the names of these players because I don't want to get them in trouble with their coaches. While they, and I, believe in what I teach, most of the time it contradicts what their coaches are saying, so they have to keep it to themselves and we have to work on the down low. If you are a minor leaguer and are looking for help, e-mail me and we can talk about how you can get access to my client-only web site.

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