to the Ball is one of the most common phrases, and most
important concepts, when it comes to hitting ,
regardless of whether you're talking about...
- Fast Pitch
The problem is most discussions about the concept of
being Short to the
Ball are detached from reality.
They don't reflect what actually happens in the swings
of complete hitters; hitters who can hit for BOTH power AND
Hitters like Albert Pujols...
Albert Pujols Home Run 2009
...at least in his prime.
Instead, they are too often based on...
...and ignore some of the...
...of how the human body works.
Or, at least, works BEST.
The result is a set of problematic concepts...
...that don't reflect -- or, worse, lead to players being
coached out of -- what the best baseball and fast pitch hitters do.
As a result, they too often focus on what I call
Combine that with carnival attractions like HitTrax
and a myopic focus on Exit Velocity at the expense of Swing
Length and you've got a toxic -- and too often fatal -- to
hitters' swings and dreams combination and a rapidly growing but still largely
Short to the Ball
talks about how hitters need to be short to the ball, but what
does that mean?
What do the best hitters do?
I ask because, while being short to the
ball is one of the keys -- if not THE key -- to
swing, and to hitting at the highest levels of baseball and
fast-pitch softball, a surprising number of people
still seem to have no idea what the best hitters do.
The HitTrax Effect
What's more, it's becoming increasingly
difficult to achieve a swing that is (truly) short to the ball due to
the proliferation of tools -- or, in my opinion and experience,
carnival attractions -- like HitTrax that encourage hitters to
develop long swings.
I look at clips of hitters on YouTube, I'm seeing more and more
of what I call HitTrax Swings; swings that look great in a cage
-- that produce LOTS of towering cage bombs -- but don't work in
games. In fact, I suspect HitTrax contributed to the struggles of Tommy Pham in 2016.
when I was
working with the hitters at HSSU and had free access to a HitTrax system, I NEVER used it. Instead, I focused on whether my hitters were
(truly) short to the ball.
And everything else fell into place.
The thing that got me thinking about the problem with hitting
instruction -- and how badly the concept of short to the ball is
taught -- was the release of Kevin Long's 2010 DVD.
And its cover artwork.
As soon as saw that picture, I knew there was something wrong with it, but I couldn't put
my finger on what that was.
And then David Freese went off during the 2011 world series
and I came across this picture of his Game Seven double.
And I saw it.
Then, when David Freese fell apart in 2013, was a non-factor
during the World Series, and was traded to the Angels, I saw it again.
Or, really, the absence of it.
At the same time I was researching the idea of a "long
swing" and was finding quotes like this one by Dave Hudgens
-- that I reference in my piece on
David Hudgens and hitting mechanics -- and that made clear to
me the mainstream, MLB view of what they thought it meant to be short,
and long, to the ball.
During the swing, the back elbow should come close to
the rib cage and the barrel of the bat should stay above
the hands. With a high back elbow, the elbow has to
travel a much greater distance and at a much faster rate
of speed. When this happens, the barrel of the bat will
drop below the hands, the front elbow will rise, and you will have a
long swing. If this goes on for very long, you have created
a habit - a very bad habit.
I compared the words in that Dave Hudgens quote to what the video clips I was shooting showed.
Look at the clip above and focus on what Albert Pujols' back
elbow does and compare and contrast it with Dave Hudgens' words.
And that led me to start digging into the reality of what the
best hitters do and why.
The biggest problem I see when people talk about the
concept of being Short to the Ball is a basic one...
Focusing on BAT SPEED
and EXIT VELOCITY
Bat Speed is great because it creates Exit Velocity and helps
to get the ball to and over the wall.
But all the Bat Speed and Exit Velocity in the world are useless if you can't
catch up to the fastball, while also giving yourself time to
recognize, and adjust to, the
That makes how QUICKLY you
can develop Bat Speed THE key and brings to light a
Focusing on SPEED
Rather than ACCELERATION.
Unlike in slow pitch and golf,
where the ball is moving slowly or not at all, in baseball and fast pitch
the pitcher is trying to strike you out.
And is throwing HARD as a result.
That changes everything.
And brings up the third mistake...
Focusing on DISTANCE
Rather than EFFICIENCY.
When Time becomes the main concern, Efficiency
However, and as the Brachistochrone Curve demonstrates, the quickest and most
efficient movement and/or path is sometimes complicated.
Yes, a straight line is the SHORTEST distance between two
points. But, as the Brachistochrone Curve shows, and because of
outside, hard to see, and hard to understand factors -- a
paradoxical subtlety -- it isn't always
the QUICKEST way to get there.
In the case of the Brachistochrone Curve, that paradoxical
subtlety is the force of Gravity.
It gives the ball on the red slope a greater acceleration
then the ball on the slanted slope.
The human body is similar.
For reasons of efficiency, biomechanical and otherwise, when
you're talking about the human body, the
most DIRECT path to the ball isn't always the FASTEST path to the ball.
In the case of the human body, that paradoxical subtlety is
the Stretch Shortening Cycle.
And that's why so many discussions of what a short to the
ball swing SHOULD look like don't match up with what the best
hitters ACTUALLY do.
Which is why so many hitters fail to live up to their
There are a number of ways that the concept of being short to
the ball can help a hitter.
Hands Inside the Ball
One of the main phrases that you will hear in terms of being
short to the ball is, "keep the hands inside the ball." The
general idea is to keep from barring out the front arm and
casting or sweeping the barrel around to he point of contact.
Applied correctly, that can increase the rate at which a
hitter will be able to get the barrel around to the ball.
However, one of the problems that I have with teaching the
concept of teaching
the point of contact is that it can very easily lead to
Keep the Barrel Up
Many hitters with long swings actually have a
problem with Bat Drag,
a problem that typically affects kids but that you can see in
the swing of major leaguer
You can find any number of
swing analyses on YouTube that describe the difference
between a short swing and a long swing. In truth, these analyses are actually
discussing the problem of Bat Drag.
One of the cues that is used to help (try to) create a short
swing is to keep the barrel up. While that cue can create
problems, especially when reinforced with certain drills, in
moderation this cue can help a player develop the high-level
swing by reducing a problem with Bat Drag.
Unfortunately, while some ways of teaching being short to the ball
will help hitters, the truth
is that the best hitters aren't as short to the ball as
is widely believed or taught. As a result, many
well-intentioned fixes will tend to take hitters farther away
from, rather than closer to, the high-level swing.
Hands Directly to the Baseball and Hitches
According to Don Mattingly, one of the characteristics of a
swing that is short to the ball is that the hands go directly to
the baseball. However, and as I discuss at greater length in my
piece do as they did,
not as they say, a problem quickly crops up if you compare
Mattingly's actual swing to the swing that he
While Don Mattingly may feel like he takes his hands directly
to the baseball, in truth he loads his hands just before he
launches his swing.
In many cases such loading movements are referred to as a
hitch, particularly if they are relatively significant. However,
this ignores that fact that you can see hitches in the swings of
many of the best hitters.
You can see a small, Mattingly-esque hitch in the swing of
Albert Pujols has a slightly larger hitch in his swing.
Barry Bonds, one of the greatest power hitters of all time
(regardless of the steroid thing) had a very large hitch.
I'm not saying that a hitch is never a problem. Of course, it
can be. What I am saying is that too often, in a
well-intentioned attempt to simplify the swing, you can
over-simplify it and remove the thing that makes it effective
(much less powerful).
Chicken Wings, Loops, and Uppercuts
While I absolutely loved watching Tony Gwynn hit, his hitting
instruction tends to make me cringe. The biggest problem is that
he coaches people out of doing what he himself did.
To Tony Gwynn, one of the biggest flaws that lengthens the
swing is when the front elbow rises up, causing the barrel to
drop and loop around the hands. The problem is that you can see
Tony Gwynn do just this in the clip below.
As I discuss at length in my piece on
keeping the barrel above the ball and the hands, that may
work for some as a cue, but it doesn't reflect reality.
Perception vs. Reality
While the hitter's perception may be that they are taking the hands and the barrel directly to the ball,
the reality is quite different.
Again, that isn't necessarily a problem when used as a cue,
and it can often be helpful, but problems arise when those cues are
reinforced with drills.
Given that the product of this drill is a ground ball, why
would anybody expect the result of this swing to be something
different in a game situation?
At the end of the day, too often the phrase "short to the
ball" is simply used to describe hitters who can hit. Similarly,
the phrase "long swing" is used to describe hitters who can't
hit. While in some cases hitters can hit because they do the
things that people mean why they use the term "short to the
ball," in many more cases hitters can hit despite not being
short to the ball, at least as it's defined. That should lead us
to take a closer look at what we mean when we use phrases like
"short to the ball" and "long swing."
For More Information
I have put together a number of essays that discuss ideas
related to the topic of being short to the ball...
1. One mistake people make is drawing
parallels between very different sports. Baseball and Fast Pitch
Softball are the same basic sport, at least when it comes to
hitting, because both involve a
pitcher who is throwing the ball hard and changing speeds and
locations in an attempt to strike the batter out.
And, no, the RiseBall doesn't change that; when it's thrown FOR
A STRIKE, hitting a RiseBall is no different than hitting a
4-Seam fastball in baseball.
Golf is very
different because the ball isn't moving, which means ideas don't
translate directly. The same is true for Slow Pitch Softball
because the ball isn't moving quickly.