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Ruined!

As a result of my experience working with college, minor, and major league baseball players, I have come to believe that many, if not most, college programs and major league organizations are unintentionally, but systematically, ruining their best young hitters.

Hitters Who've Been Ruined

I believe the swings of a number of hitters have been ruined by well-intentioned but ill-informed hitting coaches.

David Freese became the toast of St. Louis with his performance in the 2011 World Series. However, in the 2013 World Series he was largely a non-factor.

David Freese

David Freese

What happened?

Sometime after 2011, somebody -- likely in the Cardinals organization -- taught him that he needed to keep his front elbow down.

This reflects a misunderstanding of the swing plane that I touch on in my piece on the A to C swing. The problem is that this can create a (real) flaw that I call a True Loop.

Yasiel Puig

Yasiel Puig

Somebody, perhaps Mark McGwire, taught Yasiel Puig the same thing; that he needed to keep his front elbow down. I would argue that explains his recent struggles.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan

I don't know if Michael Jordan would have made it as a major leaguer, but he was also taught the same thing and I would argue that his career was over before it ever began.

A current example of a hitter who has been, and continues to be, ruined is Jason Heyward. In his case, his biggest issue is the movement of his head.

Jason Heyward's Swing

Jason Heyward 2010

When he first came up, and put up his best numbers, Jason Heyward had a fairly typical head movement pattern. However, over the years he has developed a problem that results from trying to do something that is impossible; seeing the ball hit the bat.

Root Cause

Teams are recruiting, signing, and drafting hitters because they can hit the ball well. Then, as soon as they get those hitters in their system, they change their swings and hitting mechanics and then act surprised when those hitters stop being able to hit well.

While it may surprise people that this could be going on, I know for a fact that this is happening. This scenario describes the experiences of most of my clients at the college, minor, and major league levels.

There are a number of reasons why hitters are being ruined by their teams and coaches.

Low Priority Position

I have had many people tell me that part of the problem is how some minor league hitting instructors are selected in major league organizations.

Many minor league hitting instructors tend to be former speed guys. Because of their speed, more often then not they were taught to swing down on the ball, just put it in play, and try to beat out the throw. As is common in life, these instructors now teach what they themselves were taught, so the cycle perpetuates itself.

Of course, you have to question how good the hitting instruction they received really was if they are coaching rather than playing.

As an aside, you see the same cycle perpetuating itself in the world of youth hitting instruction. I have never understood why some parents are so eager to take the hitting advice of a former minor leaguer who washed out due to his inability to hit and who now teaches the same stuff that likely ruined his swing.

Incorrect Use of Video

Some organizations don't use video at all, and most of the rest do not use video correctly.

In my experience, most evaluation of hitters is done with the naked eye, which simply isn't up to the task. What really matters in the swing is the moment between the planting of the front heel and the Point Of Contact. The problem is that that happens too fast for the human eye to get more than a basic sense of what's going on.

When video is used, it is often used to review a hitter's approach and not their mechanics. While that is a valid use of video, the problem is that too often that video is used during the game itself, which can lead to thinking and analysis paralysis.

The Conventional Wisdom is Wrong

My contention that hitting instructors aren't using video at all, or correctly, is born out by the persistence of the conventional wisdom about hitting. If hitting instructors spent even a few minutes, much less hours, looking at video of the best hitters in the world, there is no way that they could continue to believe the things they do.

Most major league hitting instructors seem to teach the same basic stuff -- which I roll up under the umbrella of the A to C Swing -- most of which doesn't match up with reality. It's as if everyone has read the same, terrible book about hitting. That includes very prominent people like...

You can see the same swing being taught at other levels...

All of these guys, and most people at the college, minor, major league level, teach the same linear, extended, downward-chopping, level swing at the Point Of Contact.

Kevin Long Swing Advice

What Kevin Long Teaches

Unfortunately, what you see in the picture above doesn't match up with how the best hitters actually swing the bat.

Alex Rodriguez Swing

Alex Rodriguez's Actual Swing

The Opportunity

Of course, this creates a huge, Moneyball-esque opportunity. Some smart major league baseball organization is going to start mining the piles of discarded former top picks and find some very cheap diamonds in the rough. Yes, they will have to sort out the guys who flamed out because of their inability to hit a good curveball, a lack of plate discipline, or another fundamental reason, but that can be done very cheaply.

Why Do I Know This?

My experience with Andres Torres makes me sure that this opportunity exists. Andres was exactly the kind of person that I am talking about; someone who is extremely gifted but whose swing was ruined by well-intentioned, but ill-informed, hitting instructors. Before we met, he had never been taught what good hitters do. Once he learned how good hitters actually swing the bat, his career took off.

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