This post was originally written January 2014.
I want to touch on a couple of incorrect training techniques that continue to be taught to youth players at both club and representative levels.
These techniques are “squash the bug” and “down and through the ball” with hitting and the glove being pulled back to the hip area when throwing or pitching the ball.
Coaching Techniques From Yesteryear
Before I go on any further, let me say that when I started coaching and going to coaching clinics back in the 80’s and 90’s these were the techniques that were being taught. Like every other coach, I taught these techniques because that was what we were taught by coaches with far greater experience than myself at that time.
It was towards the end of the 90’s that I started to take a greater interest in the techniques being demonstrated by Major League players in the USA when it came to hitting or throwing/pitching that I figured out what was being taught at coaching clinics was not what the MLB players were doing.
With the advent of the internet with video and thousand frames per second cameras, delving into books written by coaches deemed to be the gurus of their particular field, and also being fortunate enough to travel to the USA and make contact with such people, I soon learned: what we believed we saw happen was not what was happening at all. Hence the question “Do we coach what we see or do we still teach what we were taught many years ago?”
Squashing The Bug
Take “squashing the bug” for instance. We were taught that this is what you did when you pivoted the back hip and foot when swinging the bat to hit the ball.
If you take a look at the photo of Roger Maris way back in 1961, there is no way he is “squashing the bug” with his back foot. You will see that his back foot toes are barely touching the ground, that his back knee is very close to his front knee and he is hitting against a very rigid front leg that is angled back at quiet some degrees.
What happens when a hitter uses this technique is they get very good weight transfer to a balanced and powerful hitting position.
If the batter was to “squash the bug” (as we were taught) the weight tends to stay over the back leg which is ok to a point — if they use an alloy bat which has a great trampolining effect — but when using a wood bat it is not very effective if at all.
If you were to look at videos on YouTube of great hitters like Albert Pujols, Yasiel Puig, Ted Williams and the great Babe Ruth you will see quite often that their back foot is off the ground when the bat makes contact with the ball.
By driving the back knee towards the front knee and having their toes just touching or off the ground at contact, the hitter introduces much more power into their swing than by just squashing the bug.
While also looking at the videos take note of how early these great hitters get their bat on the same path as the ball.
To give you an idea, Albert Pujols has been noted to have his bat on the same path of the ball for some five feet during his swing.
The good hitters don’t take the bat down to the ball on an angle and then through the ball. Their bat path is more like the Nike swoosh with the bat getting flat behind their back shoulder at the start of their swing. Check out a video of Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies and you will see how he gets the bat started.
Down and Through
The “down and through” type of swing came into vogue when alloy bats came onto the scene (about the same time as astro turf fields in the USA).
The “down and through” type swing does not work with a wood bat as a lot of college players in the USA found out when they went up to the next level of baseball.
Think about this….you have a pitched ball coming to the plate on a 5-8 degree downward angle (as most pitched baseballs do) and you then take the bat on a downward angle from the shoulder to meet the ball — it does not leave very much margin for error.
Players who use the “down and through” method of hitting tend to pop up a lot and also tend to have a lot of trouble driving the ball with any great power.
Tucking The Glove
The other technique which was a case of what coaches thought they saw but wasn’t happening at all, is the technique of pulling the glove down to the hip area when throwing or pitching the baseball.
Coaches were of the opinion that when pitchers threw a pitch the pitcher gained extra momentum by pulling the glove side arm back at the same time as the throwing side arm was going forward.
Once again, through the advancement of technology we now see what actually happens is when the thrower delivers the ball their chest goes to the glove instead of the glove back to the body.
As shown in the image on the right of the “blocked off front side” (click on it for a larger view), you will see how the glove stays in front and within the frame work of the body and in doing so keeps the head more on line with the target and reduces stress on the throwers body and throwing arm.
If you look at young players pitching (if they have been taught to pull the glove back to the body) you will see that a right-handed pitcher will miss to the outside of the home plate to a right-handed batter more times than not. By pulling the glove back to the body their head has the tendency to fall away to the first base side hence pulling the throwing arm along with it.
Keeping the glove side blocked off and firm and also having the elbows pass in front of their body not only allows the young pitcher to have better balance and more control over their body, which allows them to throw with a more consistent action, but also they have all of their energy going towards home plate.
The other big benefit from this is there is less likelihood of suffering from a sore arm, elbow or shoulder.
Till next time,